Beginning in 2002, on September 2 of each year, Brown Foreman’s Old Forester releases a 12 year bourbon in honor of founder George Garvin Brown’s birthday.
George Garvin Brown was born in 1846. Brown began as a wholesale drug salesman. This career laid the path for Brown and his half-brother, J.T.S. Brown Jr., to begin producing whiskey in 1870 for doctors and area pharmacies. Soon the whiskey would be released for non-medicinal use. After several ownership changes and name changes, in 1890, Brown teamed with George Forman, then bookkeeper, to create the Brown-Forman company we know today. Old Forester (first introduced as “Old Forrester with a double “r” after local physician Dr. William Forrester) would be Brown-Forman’s premier product. Most noteworthy, Old Forester would be bottled and sealed by the distillery, a first-in-time process that ensured quality. The company survived prohibition as family-owned, and Brown’s decedents still hold an approximately 51% stake in Brown-Forman.
This year’s stock was barreled on June 9, 2006. It is always produced from a single day’s production, although that production day varies from year to year. 120 barrels were produced, with a yield of just 39 percent. The result is a release of only around 14,400 bottles nationwide. According to Brown-Foreman, this year’s release was produced from “a total of 120 barrels; 93 barrels matured together on the 3rd floor, on the Northwest side of Warehouse J. The remaining 27 barrels matured together on the 3rd floor, on the Northwest side of Warehouse I.” This is a fairly typical process for Birthday Bourbon, as most years’ releases are a product of multiple floors and/or warehouses.
But what is unique and important about this year’s release? Well, this release is bottled at 101 proof. This follows last years double-release (at 96 and 95.4 proof), and prior releases in the mid-90’s proof to 100 proof.
Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2018 (101 Proof) (12 Year)
Nose: Chocolate (with some Kit Kat crunch); dry oak; butterscotch; light chewy vanilla; berry compote; faint char. This has a very nice nose, that while not overly complex, is very well balanced. (4/5)
Palate: Sweet caramel; rye and baking spice; candy bar chocolate; a little bit of cardboard; a bit earthy and a chewed on spent cigar. Unfortunately the mouthfeel doesn’t scream 101 proof, but a good full spice is there. (3.5/5)
Finish: Medium in length, but a bit drying and waxy; butterscotch and brown sugar; a bit of fruit gum; some late arriving raspberry and under-ripe blackberry; a bit more of that chewed on cigar stump. (3.5/5)
Overall: In my opinion, this is more balanced than the last couple of years. This is not overly oaked, but the 2018 Birthday Bourbon does have some rich chocolate, oak and tobacco notes. It has some flaws (a bit thin with a bit dry and shorter finish), but still this a tasty bourbon. (3.5/5)
Value. Although I want to strongly criticize Old Forester for raising retail on this to nearly $100, up from the $35 less than 10 years ago, the days of 12 year age stated bourbons for less than $50 is nearly over. Premium prices rule. Yes, I’d like this better at $69, but realistically I’m not overly un-satisfied at $100. (2.5/5)
“. . . 2018 Birthday Bourbon does have some rich chocolate, oak and tobacco notes.”
Scott is a co-founder of Flight Club and a frequent writer and reviewer on the Club’s blog.