I’m sure most people reading this post have had birthday bourbon, that is, bourbon on your birthday. But you may have not had Old Forester’s Birthday Bourbon (OFBB). Each year on September 2nd, the Brown-Forman Distillery, who produces Old Forester, releases OFBB in honor of founder George Garvin Brown’s birthday. OFBB is a vintage dated bourbon, bottled from one single day of production, and aged 12 years. The 2015 release is the 14th installment, bottled for the first time at 100 proof and according to Master Distiller Chris Morris:
“This particular lot of barrels is unusual because it matured in the same warehouse location instead of multiple sites. The lot aged near a window and close to a heat cycling duct, exposing all of the barrels to very high temperatures, resulting in the very robust, intense wood-derived characteristics exhibited by this exceptional vintage.”
Interestingly, Old Forester bourbon is currently being produced out of the Brown-Forman distillery until 2017 when Brown-Forman will complete what will be the new ‘Old Forester Distillery’, located at 117 West Main Street in Louisville’s Whiskey Row where George Garvin Brown once handcrafted Old Forester bourbon himself.
For many this squat, old school decanter style bottle marks the beginning of Bourbon Season. OFBB is usually one of the earliest limited edition releases that comes out of Kentucky each year, and up until recent years was one of, if not the most, value driven limited edition bourbons going for around $39.99 ($46.99 here in CA) MSRP. Up until about 2013, it wasn’t uncommon to find OFBB sitting on some shelves through April, and at a reasonable price not far from MSRP. Needless to say the secondary market took full advantage of this fact and you would more often than not see OFBB flipped for double, triple or even higher. Fast forward to 2015 and OFBB MSRP has now hit a “low” of $69.99 which is a jump from last years $39.99 – $46.99 range. In the spectrum of limited edition American whiskeys, this isn’t really all that high considering most other limited edition releases make up the “$100+ Club” – nor is it surprising in light of where we are today in the world of bourbon. Still, OFBB is one of the “cheaper” limited edition releases that will without question or hesitation be hunted by the masses.
2015 Old Forester Birthday Bourbon
ABV: 50% // 100 proof
Age: 12 years
Nose: Candy shop sweet entrance with watermelon Jolly Ranchers, cherry pie and freshly finished furniture. Some sweet melon fruits – honey dew and cantaloupe. The nose is syrupy like a caramel glaze with moist brown sugars – more elegant than I anticipated considering the placement of these batched barrels and being bottled at 100p. Nosing a little deeper theres vanilla, sweet baking spices, some walnut and notes of wood that aren’t really your typical oak, they’re more sweet and really toasty. Banana, buttered croissants and sweet but very light acetone notes, maybe coming through from the furniture polish. Overall a very pleasant nose.
Palate: The nose deceives you about the rest of this bourbon. A moment of sweetness from the nose teases but fades quickly as acetonic furniture and nail polish lead to bitter barrel char, tobacco spices and cigar smoke. I actually like all of these notes but the acetone is very dominant in an abrasive manner. The mouthfeel is surprisingly light and spice starts medium light about mid palate then everything turns dry which is nice. White and black cracked pepper, some grape juice and vanilla threads through the bitterness of barrel char and the acetone notes still persist through to the end. Black pepper spices don’t leave the tip of your tongue and the dryness turns menthol forming on the back end. Palate is medium in body at best and not oily with some interestingly robust and pronounced notes that are this expressions signature.
Finish: Thick, chewy and medium-long in length. Viscous caramel, vanilla, butterscotch and toffee like your tongue is drenched in it. Layers of warm spices cover every crevice of your mouth. Tobacco leaf, cigar and big smokey notes. Bitterness from the barrel is there but only as a fading memory. Sweet oak, dark chocolate, and black coffee round things out with a final reminder of the acetonic polish notes that accompanied you for the entire journey.
Bourbon and House Rating: 89
I really wanted to like this bourbon more than I did. From the reviews I read early on, which were generally positive, this sounded just like my kind of bourbon – rich flavors, robust character, a little on the hotter side but with a long finish and just a well rounded pour. Alas, the fact that the 2015 OFBB didn’t deliver the latter of those elements took this year’s expression of Old Forester’s finest from an A down to a B and heres why: the acetone. I couldn’t escape it starting from the back nose then dominating the palate and continuing into the finish. It was just too noisy and became intrusive, however it completely adds up based off of where Chris Morris said he selected these barrels from; “near a window and close to a heat cycling duct”. Obviously this wasn’t the ideal place for these barrels to slumber…or should I say perhaps this location wasn’t the best place to pull all the barrels from. Maybe the sunlight and excessive heat got to these barrels. This wasn’t wholly a negative factor but the brash habitat of these particular barrels clearly ran its course producing coarse, acetone notes. I thoroughly appreciated the rich robust flavors (like I do in all bourbon), but the constant acetone just wasn’t pleasant. But hey, I’m not Chris Morris and i’m no batcher or blender – i’m just really into bourbon and to be honest I thought this bourbon was good, very good in fact. I just felt it had potential to be so much more, and I definitely wanted it to be more, based off many previous killer releases of OFBB. One thing i’ll strongly give Chris Morris credit for is taking a chance with these barrels and for me thats huge and partially why I gave this years OFBB a solid 89. Chris took a chance and did something a little risky and different in terms of barrel selection. One can’t say this bourbon isn’t unique. Final verdict: I liked this bourbon. Nose was great and finish was fantastic but the acetone was the most impressionable note from the palate and so it landed a very high 89.
And finally their is the MSRP bump to remember which when combined with the brash aspects of this release factored to why I brought the 2015 OFBB down a few notches. In recent years OFBB was one of, if not the best value driven limited release bourbons of the year. $39.99 is unheard of now, and I fear apart from the quarterly releases of Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, no limited edition releases of bourbon will ever again be seen under $50. At this point expecting anything otherwise is all but wishful thinking and foolishness, after all this is 2015 and like they say “Bourbon is never cheaper than it is today”. Don’t be surprised to see OFBB hit the $100+ Club in the coming years. If you can, try this at a bar or through a friend before purchasing. I won’t be buying another bottle of this but don’t regret the purchase at all. In fact I’m happy to place it next to its birthday bourbon brethren on my shelf – nothing looks so handsome as a retro decanter style bottle on your home bar and i’d like to think over 100 years ago George Garvin Brown would be drinking his bourbon out of a similar bottle, birthday or not.