Whiskey Review: Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2018

, | March 22, 2019

Editor’s Note: This whiskey was provided to us as a review sample by Brown-Forman. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review.

For 18 years so far, as summer heat eases up a bit with September, Old Forester has released Birthday Bourbon to celebrate the birthday of one George Garvin Brown – the man who founded the brand in the 1870s.

And while we are now a bit closer to the release of the 19th Birthday Bourbon, released annually around Brown’s birthday on Sept. 2, we would still be remiss to not give attention to this now highly-anticipated premium bourbon, especially the 18th iteration that marked a number of firsts for the series.

Old Forester boasts itself the first bourbon sold in sealed glass bottles, an innovative way of giving credibility to the brand in an era after it first debuted that was infamous for retailers watering down whiskey or even cutting it with potentially poisonous chemicals. Apparently the sealed glass bottle approach still wasn’t enough protection though to keep ammonia and turpentine out of counterfeit bottles, according to The Daily Beast, and to that end the Bottled-in-Bond Act emerged, adding a layer of direct government supervision to bottling.

More than a century after the first whiskey was sold, Old Forester Distilling Company launched the Birthday Bourbon series in 2002 to commemorate Brown with a unique whiskey each year going forward. For the 18th go around, not only is it the highest proof of the series so far, coming in at 101 proof, but the 2018 Birthday Bourbon was also slated to be the first of its series to be bottled at the company’s new location in Louisville’s Historic Whiskey Row – the very same space that the company inhabited before Prohibition.

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Although Old Forester doesn’t provide many details on the mash bill of the 2018 Birthday Bourbon, it does thoroughly explain where each of the 120 barrels used came from that were used to make it, all 12 years old. These include 93 from Warehouse J and 27 from Warehouse I, in all cases specifically from the northwest side and third floor of their respective buildings.

Strikingly, those 120 barrels used in this Birthday Bourbon had a collective yield of just 39 percent, with five of them found completely empty – making it apparently 115 barrels. With that, the distillery reported a total of 14,400 bottles being distributed for sale for a recommended $100 each.

Old Forester 2018 Birthday Bourbon

Old Forester 2018 Birthday Bourbon (image via Old Forester)

Tasting Notes: Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2018

Vital stats: The bourbon came from 120 barrels filled in June, 2006; kept together in warehouses I and J; bottled at 101 proof; bottles were given a recommended price of $100 each, but the remaining bottles on sale may well exceed $300 at this point.

Appearance: Fairly middle-of-the-road amber color, of course depending on the glass you’re using for the dram.

Nose: Starting out as a rich, smoky vanilla scent, the mildly higher proof manifests itself quickly with a gruff punch of cinnamon and light orange-like fruitiness in the background. That then settles back into that smoky vanilla with a note of baked red apple making the bouquet even richer and sweeter than it began.

Palate: Vanilla again takes center stage on entry, though this time brighter and more floral as opposed the smoky, richness of the nose. However, this bourbon wastes little time in showing its biting edge, coming on stronger and faster than usual with notes of cinnamon and nutmeg. That mildly seers the tongue for as long as you can stand to hold onto the sip, gradually developing a smoky, earthy, prune-like sweetness that ever slightly blunts the spiciness.

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Swallowing sends a potent wave of spice throughout the mouth leaving an enduring tingle, even as it tapers off to leave a rich, smokiness that this time tastes burnt enough to be a caramel.

The Takeaway


Initially I thought Old Forester’s latest Birthday Bourbon had too much bite, but I came around to it in the end. While I tend to like delicacy that leaves room for a more expansive palate, this one managed to flow well between sweet and spicy while leaving room for other flavors to make an appearance. While a little less bite would have made this an even better experience, it’s still a worthy sipper on its own.

User Review
4.5 (2 votes)