June 2017: Old Forester Whiskey Row

Host: Jay Cary 

The Old Forester brand has been around as long as any other bourbon brand in America. George Garvin Brown, a former pharmaceutical salesman, started what is now the Brown-Forman Corporation (still managed by Brown’s descendants). The name “Old Forester” is thought to be in honor of Dr. William Forrester (the bourbon used to be spelled with the double “r”), who recommended the drink to his patients.

Old Forester’s “Whiskey Row Series,” first launched in 2014. The series is meant to honor both whiskey’s and Brown-Forman’s long tradition, both pre and post-Prohibition. The series highlights Old Forester’s significant milestones and production innovations with each release.

o Name: Morrison Mule
o Ingredients: 4 oz. ginger beer, 1.5 oz. bourbon, Peychaud’s Aperol Bitters, 0.5 oz. lime juice, strip of orange zest
o Recipe: Fill a copper mug with ice, then add the ginger beer, bourbon, Peychaud’s Aperol Bitters and lime juice; stir well. Garnish with the strip of orange zest and serve immediately.

• Bottle 1:
Name: Old Forester 1870 “Original Batch” Old Forester 1870
Distillery: Brown-Forman (KY)
Proof: 90
Mash Bill: Thought to be standard Old Forester mash bill of 72% corn, 18% rye, and 10% barley
Price: $44.99
Purchase location: Jacob Liquor Exchange
Tasting Notes:
Nose: Unusually strong ethanol, musty oak, caramel, vanilla, dill/mint.

Palate: Ethanol dissipates, sweet oak, good body, oily, shortbreads.

Finish: Banana, sweet metallic, leather.

Why this bottle is featured: Old Forester 1870 Original Batch echoes George Garvin Brown’s original 1870 batching process. Back then, Brown batched barrels obtained from three distilleries to create a consistent flavor profile. To emulate that process today, Brown-Forman selects barrels from three warehouses, each barrel originating from a different day of production, with a different entry proof and a different age profile.
The three expressions of Old Forester are then batched together to craft Old Forester 1870 Original Batch. This 90-proof bourbon is said to be minimally filtered, to honor the processes available to George Garvin Brown at that time.

• Bottle 2:
Name: Old Forester 1897 “Bottled in Bond” Old Forester 1897
Distillery: Brown-Forman (KY)
Proof: 100
Mash Bill: Thought to be standard Old Forester mash bill of 72% corn, 18% rye, and 10% barley
Price: $49.99
Purchase location: Jacob Liquor Exchange
Tasting Notes:
Nose: Less ethanol than the 1870, dark chocolate, much less musty oak, corny, fruit.

Palate: Much sweeter and deeper than the 1870, tart raisin, banana.

Finish: long, sweet metal, cereal.

Why this bottle is featured: This 100-proof expression is the second release in the Old Forester Whiskey Row Series and was specially crafted to honor the U.S. Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897. After the U.S. Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897 to be labeled as Bottled in Bond, whisky must be the product of one distillation season, one distiller and from one distillery. The concept behind the Act – the idea of “sealed-in quality” – was something that Old Forester – America’s First Bottled Bourbon – introduced in 1870. Old Forester was the first bourbon to be contained within a sealed glass bottle. This practice was highly regarded by physicians who prescribed the product for medicinal purposes during Prohibition.

• Bottle 3:
Name: Old Forester 1920 “Prohibition Style” Old Forester 1920
Distillery: Brown-Forman (KY)
Proof: 115
Mash Bill: Thought to be standard Old Forester mash bill of 72% corn, 18% rye, and 10% barley
Price: $62.99
Purchase location: Jacob Liquor Exchange
Tasting Notes:
Nose: Plums, ethanol, herbal.

Palate: Cinnamon and rye spice, sweet plums, dark chocolate, salty caramel, mint.

Finish: long lingering butterscotch, caramel, and some smoke.

Why this bottle is featured: This 115-proof expression is the third release in the Whiskey Row series and celebrates the brand’s continued distillation during Prohibition. For 13 years, the production, transport and sale of alcohol was strictly prohibited. However, Old Forester was granted a permit to continue distilling on Louisville’s Whiskey Row. The 115-proof expression represents a barrel sample that company president Owsley Brown would have batched at the beginning of Prohibition.

Bottle 4:
Name: The President’s Choice

Old Forester President's Choice
o Distillery: Brown-Forman (KY)
o Proof: 116.7
o Mash Bill: N/A
o Price: $200.00
o Purchase location: private collector
o Tasting Notes:
Nose: We were nervous about opening this, due to its age, and perhaps discovering that somewhere along the way it had somehow turned bad. These fears were immediately put to rest. The nose contained richmolasses, raisins, burnt sugar/creme brulee. Despite its proof, there was not a trace of ethanol; yet, it also did not have a “flat” effect.

Palate: Wow. This is the definition of full body. You could chew on this stuff. The pours had been resting for over an hour before the tasting (during subsequent refills, we noticed how beneficial this was to the palate). There were full flavors of  tobacco, leather, vanilla, and red grapes. Delicious.

Finish: Long and mouthcoating. There was lingering grape juice, sweet tobacco, leather, and subtle smoke.

Why this bottle is featured: This is a very special bottle in that it was never offered for sale. The President’s Choice was Brown-Forman bourbon offered from the late 1950’s through the early 70’s and were hand selected barrels by Brown-Forman President Garvin Brown II. These bottles were only available to people who worked for or were associated with the distillery. The President’s Choice was also the first Small Batch bourbon according to information we received via e-mail from Brown-Forman.

We have researched the name on the bottle, “M.H. W. Ritchie.”  A separate post on Ritchie can be found here.   In researching we discovered a rather large estate archive listed by Texas Tech University. The list included information about a “Straight Whiskey” bottled by “Brown-Foreman Distillers Corp., Louisville, Kentucky” and otherwise described as “President’s Choice.” This is assumed to be for this bottle. The list included a fill date of December 14, 1959. Because this is an 8-year bourbon, it would have been barreled in 1951.

After trading additional e-mails with Brown-Forman, we were told that prior to 1968, a Single Barrel version of President’s Choice was offered to “Distinguished Gentlemen” that purchased an entire barrel, which appears to be the case with this bottle.

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14 Replies to “June 2017: Old Forester Whiskey Row”

  1. The fact that Brown-Forman was one of the few distilleries able to continue distilling whiskey for “medicinal purposes” during Prohibition is a powerful combination of history and marketing potential, which this bourbon capitalizes upon.

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