Review: Old Forester’s Birthday Bourbon Might Just Be the New Pappy
It's nearly impossible to find a bottle on its 20th release
What we’re drinking: Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, its 20th iteration.
Where it’s from: Old Forester has been around for 150 years and is revered as the first bourbon to be sealed in a glass bottle. The Birthday Bourbon is an annual release to celebrate founder George Garvin Brown’s birthday on September 2nd.
The Birthday Bourbon releases all hail from one day’s production from a particular year; this time out, that means a total of 95 barrels aged 10 years then bottled at 98 proof, though prior years had seen anywhere from 9- to 14-year-old barrels.
Why we’re drinking this: Because we may never get a chance to do so again.
Outside of 2020, the annual Birthday Bourbon is one of those releases where people line up overnight and camp out for a bottle … which is difficult in Louisville, a city with a fairly new law that made sleeping outside illegal. “Last year we just plied everyone in line with coffee,” says Jackie Zykan, Old Forester Master Taster.
So basically, outside of this distillery line, these releases (again, coming from only 95 barrels) are pretty much gone before they officially hit the shelves. “You have to know the liquor store owner,” admits Zykan. But there are some ways around this and grey/black markets; we’ll discuss that below.
How it tastes: There’s a relatively high rye content in the Old Forester mashbill, so that spicy kick is still prevalent but certainly not dominant. New this year are some floral notes and a bit of anise on the finish, while the overall experience is a wonderful and balanced mix of caramel, tropical fruits and a bit of coconut.
Zykan really sums it up well: “Flavor-wise, I think this captures the true essence of what Kentucky bourbon is supposed to taste like: sweet on the front, spicy on the back, a little bit dry, oak forward, but balanced and palatable.”
Fun fact: Some whiskey fans believe the Birthday Bourbon is shaped like a pot still; in reality, the first release in 2002 came about during a rather rushed product launch and only one bottle shape the company liked was available.
Where you can buy it: The retail price of the Old Forester Birthday Bourbon is $129.99, but again, you’ll never see it at this price. Well, with a few exceptions. “Some states will hold on to a few bottles, because we’re releasing this at sort of the beginning of a holiday zone,” says Zykan. “And some stores make it part of their lottery, like with the Pappys of the world.” One hint: If you visit the distillery, they’ll occasionally throw a bottle into the retail shop and you’ll get it at the list price.
Says Zykan: “We actually want people who are going to drink and enjoy this, not just flip it.”
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