Old Forester Birthday Bourbon is one of fall’s most eagerly anticipated whiskey releases. It’s launched each year on September 2nd to mark the birthday of George Garvin Brown, one of the founders of Brown-Forman Distillery and the alleged inventor of bottled bourbon. (Well, bourbon sold in the bottle, at least—in the early days, you were expected to bring your own bottle to the bar or shop, where it would be filled from the barrel, kind of like a beer growler.)
This year marks the 17th release of this sought-after limited-edition whiskey. As always, all of this whiskey was distilled on single day – the very first birthday of this year’s Birthday Bourbon was May 27, 2005. Along with the sample, Brown-Forman gave us lots of information about what’s in the bottle. The bourbon is made from a vatting of 210 12-year-old barrels drawn from two different warehouse locations:
- 93 barrels from the fourth floor of G warehouse, “yielding an extremely spice-forward expression”
- 27 barrels from the fifth floor of K warehouse, “contributing a rounding sweetness to the blend”
In a rather unusual twist, there are also two different strengths of Birthday Bourbon this year, as the distillery informs us that “during the transfer of bourbon from the holding tank to the bottling line, alcohol vapors were lost during bottling, causing the proof to drop.” Florida and Georgia will be receiving the marginally weaker Birthday Bourbon (95.4 proof), while the rest of the country will be getting the 96 poof version. Kentucky, of course, will get both. Happy hunting, Kentuckians!
Tasting Notes: Old Forester Birthday Bourbon
Vital Stats: 12 years old, 96 proof (for most—including my sample). Suggested retail price of $79.99.
Appearance: Medium copper
Nose: A big, rich, dense, fruitcakey nose with lots of classic bourbon character: cinnamon, clove, prunes, dried cherries, caramel, and vanilla extract. Clean and integrated, there’s a delightful lack of that solvent/paint note that sometimes crops up in higher-proof bourbons. After resting for 15 minutes, a pronounced bubblegum aroma emerges.
Palate: During my initial sip, my first thought was “sweet!” followed quickly by, “oh no, wait…” The cascade of flavors in the entry are, indeed, typically associated with sweet things—preserved cherries, marzipan, rose pastilles, Luden’s cherry cough drops—but the whiskey isn’t actually sweet at all. Instead, it’s fruity but dry, in that brain-teasing way of dry Riesling or New Zealand sauvignon blanc.
A deep spice character emerges in the mid-palate, serving up dark chocolate, dried chili, curry, and mint. The finish is, likewise, quite dry, with notes of cocoa dusted dried cherries and beeswax. A bit of water opens up the nose but kills the palate, making it feel flat and disjointed—I’d drink this one neat.
This is an engaging and unusual bourbon. The nose doesn’t quite match up to the palate for me, but I appreciate the density and quirkiness of the flavor. It’s not a bottle I’d reach for on the regular—these days I’m looking for a little more lushness and generosity in a bourbon—but for a person whose tastes tend towards the more structured and spicy, this will be a very satisfying purchase.
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Margarett Waterbury is the author of Scotch: A Complete Introduction to Scotland's Whiskies and a full-time freelance writer and editor. Her work has appeared in Whisky Advocate, Food and Wine, Spirited Magazine, Artisan Spirit, Edible Seattle, Sip Northwest, Civil Eats, Travel Oregon, Artisan Spirit, and many other publications. She is...