Editor’s Note: This whiskey was provided to us as a review sample by Old Forester. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking the buy link towards the bottom of this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.
Old Forester Birthday Bourbon is a product that is well-known and beloved in the whiskey community, despite the fact that so few are able to obtain a bottle — or even a taste. This vintage line is released annually in early September in an extremely limited number, sometimes selling out within the day. The 2022 release had the added spin of being by sweepstakes only — no store sales.
The birthday bourbons are in celebration of George Garvin Brown, founder of the original distillery (thus the “Brown” in Brown-Foreman). Brown didn’t come at the product from a spirit-loving angle, but from a business one: whiskey as medicine. He was working as a pharmaceutical salesman when whiskey was still being prescribed (and often). The distillery made both Old Forester Bourbon Whisky and Early Times Kentucky Whisky.
The former followed the rules of bourbon and focused on quality to find its niche in the medical market. The brand’s namesake, Dr. William Forrester (no, that’s not a typo – the brand later dropped one of the “r”s), was an influence in the creation of the product, searching for a more consistent product for his patients. The fact that he himself enjoyed Brown’s whiskey probably didn’t hurt.
The company was also the first to sell whiskey in the bottle rather than by the cask (or from one). An important move, considering that it was easy for those selling whiskey to tamper with the product when they controlled the cask.
This became more important during Prohibition, when American whiskey production was required to halt with few exceptions. Old Forester was one of only a few distilleries allowed to keep distilling, in the name of creating medicine. As such, Old Forester has a legacy of being the only bourbon that has been sold before, during and after Prohibition by the same company.
I’ll admit that I get an excitement akin to my own birthday every time I get a taste of one of the birthday bourbons (and due to COVID, it’s been quite some time). The birthday line was a standout to me in my early whiskey education, and I’ve lost no enthusiasm for them since.
Tasting Notes: Old Forester 2022 Birthday Bourbon
Vital Stats: 96 proof, 48% ABV, aged 11 years, 750ml, MSRP $149.99
Appearance: A light honey tone, approaching golden brown but remaining translucent. Few to no legs in sight.
Nose: Perfume-y to the point of light muskiness meets you first in a heady manner. This mellows into a light brown sugar, with notes of clove and almond along the way.
Palate: Thin in texture at first, but gains some chewiness over the course of a sip. A light cola flavor leads into deep vanilla as the boldest flavors. Mid-palate brings a banana flavor, less like fresh fruit and more like the artificial flavoring in bubblegum (in a good way!). The finish brings in hints of latex and a touch of bitter broccoli.
Elegant and true to the character of the Birthday Bourbon line. It’s been several years since I’ve been able to directly compare the expressions of different years, but if memory serves, the 2022 edition holds up. Sadly I didn’t enter the sweepstakes in time this year, but I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for it next year.
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Talia is part of the Portland service industry community, and an alumna of the Multnomah Whiskey Library. She’s an avid spirit and cocktail enthusiast, and likes to experience them both academically and recreationally. When not sipping whiskey she’s a ceramic artist and lover of travel.