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Both the crown jewel and establishing brand of the mighty Brown-Forman Corporation, Old Forester was created in 1870 by pharmaceutical salesman George Garvin Brown. The Old Forester brand was Brown’s answer to a medicinal whiskey market that was hampered in its day by inconsistent and poor quality whiskey being sold to unsuspecting customers. To tackle this, Brown set up the J.T.S. Brown and Bro. firm in Louisville and began sourcing high-quality bourbon directly from three different distilleries. These were blended for quality and consistency and marketed exclusively towards the medicinal whiskey trade. Brown also took advantage of the advances in glass bottle mass production in order to offer an exclusively bottled-only bourbon, making him the first to commercially bottle his bourbon. To distinguish his bourbon further, every bottle of Old Forrester bourbon was bottled, sealed, and carried Brown’s personal promise of its quality as well as his signature to authenticate it as such.
Originally spelled with two r’s, the brand name came from Dr. William Forrester, a leading Civil War physician and customer of George Garvin Brown when he was working as a pharmaceutical salesman in Louisville. Forrester allowed the use of his name to further validate Brown’s claim of the high quality of his medicinal whiskey with the name only changing to its modern spelling after Dr. Forrester retired and the association with his name was deemed unnecessary by Brown.
When Prohibition hit in 1920 Brown’s strict adherence to quality and his already-existing presence in the medicinal whiskey market resulted in Old Forester being granted one of just ten government licenses to bottle Bourbon for medicinal purposes during Prohibition. In fact since 1870 Old Forester has remained the only bourbon continuously distilled, available to buy, and marketed by the founding family before, during, and after Prohibition. It is officially the longest running Bourbon on the market today (approximately 147 years as of 2018).
In modern times Old Forester has transitioned from being a blend of sourced bourbon to instead being a blend of whiskies produced at the Brown-Forman distillery in Shively, KY, under Master Distiller Chris Morris and blended by Master Blender Jackie Zykan. As well as their flagship 86 proof Old Forester, the distillery also produces Old Forester Signature 100 proof, Old Forester rye whiskey, Old Forester Birthday bourbon, their very successful Whiskey Row series, President’s Choice, and Old Forester Statesman.
Started in 2015 to commemorate key historic dates in the brand’s extensive 149 year history, the Old Forester Whiskey Row Series saw a permanent line extension of Old Forester’s core portfolio of 86 proof and 100 proof bourbons. Named the Whiskey Row series in honour of the famous Whiskey Row in Louisville the series was launched in the build up to Old Forester opening their state-of-the-art 70,000 square foot distillery and visitor centre in the same building they had occupied nearly a 100 years previous on Whiskey Row. As an extension to the existing range this series also aimed to introduce prospective and existing Old Forester fans to the versatility of Old Forester’s one-recipe bourbon by producing 4 distinct styles of bourbon through the alteration of several factors.
The second release under Old Forester’s Whiskey Row series, Old Forester 1897 Bottled-in-Bond pays homage to the Bottled-in-Bond Act of the same year which saw the enactment of the US’s first piece of consumer protection legislation. Introduced at a time where unscrupulous rectifiers and middle men were selling their customers whiskey that had been adulterated with all manner of additives (snake head and tobacco spit bourbon anyone?), the Bottled-in-Bond Act sought to protect consumers by stipulating a strict set of guidelines for producers to follow in return for a governmental endorsement of their whiskey product as safe to drink. Having been established 27 prior to the Act as a medicinal whiskey brand, Old Forester, at this point, had already gone to the effort of becoming the world’s first bottled and sealed bourbon in order to ensure the quality of their product to both doctors who were prescribing whiskey medicinally and pharmacists who were selling it to patients. To be labelled Bottled-in-Bond, the whiskey had to be the product of one distillation season and one distiller at a single distillery, aged in a federally bonded warehouse under U.S. government supervision for at least four years, and had to be bottled at exactly 100 proof. Additionally, the Bottled-in-Bond label had to clearly identify the distillery where it was distilled and where it was bottled, if different. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the Bottled-in-Bond designation was used as the gold standard of quality bourbon because it guaranteed a level of purity and quality that unbounded producer’s product lacked. In keeping with their peers Old Forester eventually bent to market pressure, invested in the Mattingly Distillery (one of their sources), and subseuqently released their second permanent addition, Old Forester Bottled-in-Bond. Released alongside their blended 90 proof, Old Forester would retain their Bottled-in-Bond whiskey until the 1990s when it was dropped in favour of a 100 proof bottling that was not all from one season of a single year thus allowing more flexibility in the flavour profile of the final product.
As a significant moment in the history of US whiskey and Old Forester the Whiskey Row series has seen Old Forester return to a Bottled-in-Bond product for the first time in 2 decades. Produced to the same stringent legal standard as 117 years ago this 100 proof bourbon is a minimum of 4 years old and the product of a single distillation season, and one distiller at a single distillery before being aged in a federally bonded warehouse under U.S. government supervision.
Name: Old Forester 1897 Bottled-in-Bond
Age: At least 4 y.o.
Proof: 100 proof (50% abv)
Type: Kentucky straight bourbon
Mashbill: 72% corn, 18% rye, and 10% malted barley
Producer: Brown Forman Corporation, Louisville, KY
Nose: The nose opens with deep notes of caramel, heavy stone fruit and floral notes that fade to earthy toasted oak, a faint hint of fresh cherry, and a kick of ethanol.
Palate: The palate has medium viscosity opening with notes of dark chocolate, quickly turning to dark fruit covered in powedered sugar, and fading to brown sugar, vanilla bean, earthy baking spices, a flash of pepper, dried cherries, and coffee as you continue to chew.
Finish: The finish is long and opens with a peppery warmth followed by sweet red fruit, baking spices, and dark chocolate and floral aftertaste.
If this is what 100 proof Old Forester tastes like then I can see why they’ve had a 100 proof bourbon as a consistent release since 1897. On the palate the red fruit note is pretty consistent throughout with flavours of oak, clove, and black pepper layered over it to round this whiskey out nicely. The oak makes its presence felt with notes of coffee and dark chocolate which frame the pour but don’t interfere with the delicate floral and fruity notes that form the core of this bourbon. It’s mildly reminiscent of the Statesman release but not as spicy or as tannic. A good balance between sweet and earthy with spice tying it all together nicely. The mouth-feel is nice and it coats the tongue with its blend of flavours. This very much tastes like standard Old Forester but with the added complexity that trumps both the 86, 1870, and the Statesman. Old Forester Master Distiller Chris Morris, Master Taster Jackie Zykan, and their dedicated teams have outdone themselves again with a fantastic addition to the Whiskey Row series. In creating the product Morris explained that his goal was to create a bourbon using minimal filtration techniques that would be as true to how Old Forester was made over 100 years ago and this really carries through to the finished product.
Try or Buy?
Buy, buy, buy! So far of all the Old Forester whiskies that I’ve reviewed this is my very favourite. At 100 proof it really brings a strong bourbon game. If this was reliably available in the UK I’d definitely buy a bottle.