“What’s your go-to for quality sipping at a reasonable price?”

I recently posed this question on Twitter. A not-insignificant number of respondents to my question suggested the whiskey that I’ll be reviewing today. Repeat readers of this site will know that I have recently repented of my limited edition-chasing ways and have rekindled an interest in everyday pours. In an attempt to add another quotidian quaffable to my queue, I purchased a bottle of Old Forester 100 Proof.

I previously enjoyed the 1910 expression from this same brand. Read that review if you’re curious about the history of Brown-Forman and Old Forester. I won’t recapitulate it here, bar to say that Old Forester is unique in being the only American whiskey brand continually produced by the same company (owned by the same family) since before Prohibition.

Despite its singular longevity, Old Forester doesn’t seem to have fixated fans in the manner of, well… nearly every other bourbon out there. In the current environment of frenzied whiskey fanaticism, it’s hard to imagine describing any bourbon as “overlooked.” However, if there’s a mainstay brand which would still be called a “sleeper” in any meaningful sense, it might be Old Forester.

Oh, sure, there’s a limited edition (dubbed “Birthday Bourbon”) that appears annually to commemorate the company’s founder, George Garvin Brown. These bottles disappear quickly, or are marked up beyond SRP by retailers looking to profit from their allocation. Brown-Forman also generated some mild (in whiskey terms) excitement last year with the announcement that a “Barrel Strength” offering would be added to the distillery’s pick program, in addition to a 100-proof single barrel that mirrors the (batched) retail version that will be the subject of my focus here.

Old Forester’s own page for this expression notes that it is “[h]andpicked from select barrels,” but does not provide any other distinguishing information other than the fact that this is bottled at 100 proof (50% ABV). This is not – it should be noted – a “bottled-in-bond” whiskey, despite coming to us at the legally-mandated strength for that format. However, our guarantee of minimum age is the “straight” designation which, combined with the fact this carries no age statement, means that it is aged at least four years, exactly what we’d expect from a BiB whiskey.

Returning to the original premise: value and accessibility are a large part of the selling proposition here. I paid $25 for this bottle at the grocery store. In a world where mainstay expressions rapidly disappear or become formally allocated, consumers have been trained to become eagle-eyed hunters. Being able to procure a bourbon whiskey with ease seems an almost implausible convenience. Setting that intangible benefit aside: a brief browse around indicates that $25 seems to be the going rate for this whiskey; I’ll be scoring this accordingly.

On the topic of price: it’s interesting to note that the suggested retail price of the 100 proof barrel picks is $50. Whether the allure of the single barrel is enough to justify nearly double the retail equivalent will be the topic of a later discussion. In the meantime, I’m going to relax and take in this repeatedly recommended and plainly priced bottle of bourbon, thank you very much.

Old Forester 100 Proof – Review

Color: Pale brownish-orange.

On the nose: Starts with a marriage of a polished, rounded woodiness with a youthful note of grain. There’s the sticky, gooey sweetness of banana taffy as well as an ephemeral spiciness that hints at cayenne pepper. Some time in the glass reveals an exotic note of kola nut and a subtle nod toward a smoked matiness, in the manner of barbecued beef brisket. As I linger over this more, I come back time and again to a richly sweet fruitiness reminiscent of brandied cherries.

In the mouth: An initial kiss echoes that brandied cherry note, though this quickly dissipates on the tongue into a floral flavor of rosewater. In the middle of the mouth, this inflects towards a sedate nuttiness, with the texture turning somewhat hot. There’s a tannic astringency as this moves toward the back of the mouth, where the wood notes move to the fore. More dried floral notes of potpourri combine with a delicate stoniness through the finish, which takes on a slightly bitter aspect.

Conclusions:

This is not perfect bourbon, by a long shot. Would I even describe it as “excellent?” No, I would not. However, it fits into the category of “very good value for the money” which is all I was after. I’ll happily sip this neat, quaff it on the rocks, or use it as the base for a Manhattan or a highball cocktail, without feeling that I’m casting pearls before swine.

It would be folly to pluck a sub-$30 bottle off the shelf and believe that it should change my life. With correctly calibrated expectations, on the other hand, the world of whiskey is full of treasures hidden in plain sight. I’d encourage everyone to remember this when the siren song of unicorn bottles or the latest annual outturn of allocated expressions next hits the market. Drinking whiskey is so much more enjoyable than chasing it, wouldn’t you agree?

Score: 7/10

CategoriesAmerican
  1. PBMichiganWolverine says:

    One learns really quickly that chasing those unicorns or allocated bottles just gets exhausting. And after so much expectation buildup, if one does open it to drink, there’s a high probability of disappointment. I’d much rather get great VFM that fall in the category “ no stress chasing, and still damn good “

    1. John says:

      Shit allocation, stupid prices and impossible chasing are huge reasons why I moved away from whisky. Other spirits like Armagnac just get so little attention. I can eye a fairly old bottle this month and it’d still be in stock half a year later at the same price. Less stress and much better too

      1. Taylor says:

        John, it’s a shame really. Someone recently commented on here that they feel like they got into bourbon “at the wrong time,” given how hard it is to find the trophy bottles. The point of this review and others of its ilk is that there’s plenty of great whiskey out there that has not (yet) been turned into a collectible. I encourage everyone to go out and find whatever whiskey that is for them, personally. Cheers!

    2. Taylor says:

      PB, not having to chase bottles is a luxury that, in some ways, enhances the whiskey being enjoyed. No having to hoard bottles, or worry that they’ll be deleted too soon without the potential to replace them. As mentioned, this Old Forester ticks a lot of boxes and is one that is refreshingly easy to find. Cheers!

  2. Anders says:

    Thanks for the review! I have been quite impressed with this one as well. It will find its way into my “anyday drinker” rotation along with Turkey 101 and the standard Knob Creek. I find that Old Forester has a very unique profile consistent across the expressions of theirs that I’ve tasted which helps set it apart from the big names in Turkey, Beam, and Heaven Hill–which I find all tend to lean in the more classic bourbon profile spectrum (with some exceptions, naturally). Overall, Old Fo’ is a refreshing change of pace for my palate, at any rate.

    Regarding Bottled-in-Bond–the interesting thing about those that folks seldom seem to comment on is that it needs to be distilled within a single season. Thus, everything in the bottle will have the same general age. While that is certainly interesting and offers an almost vintage-esque factor, simply bottling at 100 proof and not having a specific bonded statement allows expressions like this one, Wild Turkey 101, and many others, to mix in older barrels and hit a specific profile, which can certainly be a strength (I’ve heard some distillers say that the reality these days is that practically all warehouses anywhere are technically “bonded” by the government). I love me my bonded expressions, but that was an interesting thought that occurred to me. And if there’s transparency on top of that, then even better!

    Skål!

    1. Taylor says:

      Cheers for the comments, Anders. I toyed with mentioning the seasonal stipulation but decided it was overkill. Should have known the savvy Malt readership would pick up on it! In any case, I’m not sure it really matters… if anything, as you point out, the opportunity to have older barrels in the blend probably argues more in favor for Straight NAS 100+ proof whikeys that are *not* BiB. Skål!

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