Why This Year’s Old Forester Birthday Bourbon Is Unique
We had a taste and spoke with OF’s Master Taster Melissa Rift about what makes the 2023 release so special
Now in its 23rd year of release, Old Forester is doing something a little different for its annual Birthday Bourbon. Not only is the Louisville distillery pushing the maturation age to new levels (12 years), they’re essentially releasing a direct sequel or continuation of last year’s special release.
A bit of history: Old Forester has been around for 150+ years and is considered the first bourbon to be sealed in a glass bottle — it’s also the only bourbon to exist before, during and after Prohibition and the founding brand of drinks giant Brown-Forman. The Birthday Bourbon is an annual release to celebrate founder George Garvin Brown’s birthday on Sept. 2.
The Birthday Bourbon releases all hail from one day’s production from a particular year; this year, this means 103 barrels, filled on May 5, 2011, were curated from Warehouse I (5th floor). Don’t get too caught up in where the barrels are from, however.
“It’s admittedly less about the location in the warehouse,” says Old Forester’s Master Taster, Melissa Rift, who joined the company last November and is participating in the BB release for the first time. “I think everyone likes to romanticize sweet spots, but for us, those don’t really exist … especially when you’re looking at a warehouse with 50,000 barrels or more. It’s more about holding a quantity of a single production date.”
Bottled at 96-proof after a 12-year aging period (a new high mark for Old Forester; Rift doesn’t think they’ll go beyond this age point), what stands out about this year’s release is how tied it is to last year’s release, which I had chosen as my favorite of the Birthday Bourbons. Old Forester had a double lot of those 2022-release barrels; so while last year was 11 years old, this same lot is now getting an extra year. “It’s kind of a fun science experiment to see how much can change by just going from 11 to 12 years,” says Rift.
There are noticeable changes. You’ll still find a lot of candied citrus, but the fruit-forward profile of last year’s release has shifted to what Rift calls “roasty toasty” flavors” with a lot of barrel influence, dark chocolate, caramel, honey and some lingering wood tannins. It’s burlier but equally delicious.
Similar to last year, Birthday Bourbon bottles will primarily be available for purchase through a sweepstakes running from August 24-31 (you can enter here). There’s no in-store distillery release; the sweepstakes prize is the “opportunity” to purchase one bottle of the BB release for an MSRP of $169.99 — a good deal, as older Birthday Bourbons are going for mid-four figures. Winners will have to come down to the Old Forester Distillery Gift Shop in Louisville to pick it up before December 23.
“There’s a lot of celebration when we release this, but it was posing a bit of a challenge in the downtown area — a lot of mayhem,” says Rift, noting the huge lines that used to form as bourbon fans waited for the annual release. “And this way, it’s great for people who just can’t make it to Kentucky.”
That said, “limited” Birthday Bourbon bottles will be available for purchase nationwide at select retailers. And much like last year, the distillery will occasionally sprinkle in some of their rarer offerings, including Birthday Bourbon, within the distillery’s gift shop. “For people taking a tour, we’ll just say, ‘You didn’t know this, but today you’re going to have an opportunity to buy these special releases,’ and it really makes their day,” says Rift.
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