“The envious man grows lean at the success of his neighbor.” – Horace
Old Forester 1924 is the latest addition to the Whiskey Row Series, and it comes with high expectations from every angle. Old Forester’s Whiskey Row Series is full of critically acclaimed expressions, with the 1910 and 1920 offerings most frequently cited as favorites among enthusiasts. Today, I’ll be considering the obstacles this new limited annual release faces on the road to winning whiskey lovers’ hearts. Those obstacles can be summed up in a single word: competition.
That competition comes foremost in the form of Old Forester’s other well-received expressions. To name but two of them 1920 features a higher proof and Old Forester 100 Proof has the same ABV, but both hit shelves at a considerably lower cost. Hold that thought.
Then there are what I conservatively estimate to be hundreds of competing American whiskeys that also clock in at 100 proof, either due to the restrictions of the Bottled in Bond Act or the attractiveness of round numbers. Rather than delving into the myriad of prominent alternatives, let’s list just one: Early Times Bottled in Bond.
Early Times Bottled in Bond is another 100 proof bourbon Brown Forman has previously distilled and produced, though the brand was sold to Sazerac in the middle of 2020. While the rest of the Whiskey Row Series was distilled by Old Forester, 1924 was distilled by the Brown-Forman Distillery, and so it stands to reason that 1924 is comprised of 10-year-old liquid that was initially destined to become Early Times Bottled in Bond. It may seem like a trifle of a difference, but it’s a notable distinction due to the fact 1924 has a unique mashbill from the rest of the Whiskey Row lineup and the same mash bill as Early Times Bottled in Bond which, again, carries a considerably lower sticker price.
To name yet another noteworthy competitor for Old Forester 1924 there’s King of Kentucky. At times jokingly derided as “barrel strength Early Times,” King of Kentucky shares a mash bill with that brand and now with 1924 as well. Though it’s far more aged than both expressions, with the latest edition aged for at least 16 years, it seems only natural to draw comparisons between the three whiskies.
I wish we could stop there, but I’d like to grant one point that we’ve briefly touched on already the benefit of our full attention. I’m talking about the price. Old Forester 1924’s MSRP is $115 and to parse its aforementioned competitors we have Old Forester 100 Proof at $30, Early Times Bottled in Bond at $25 for a 1L, and Old Forester 1910 at $55. To add another wrinkle there’s the category of “10 year bourbons” which includes Russell’s Reserve 10 Year at $30, Eagle Rare with an MSRP around $45, and Henry McKenna Single Barrel which is priced at about $60 these days. To wit, that means Old Forester 1924 is practically twice the price of its most direct competitors.
As you surely know, dear reader, comparison is the thief of joy. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t painstakingly note all of the above to illustrate that the competition is stiff. I’ll be judging this sample based on what I find in the glass and with regard to Malt’s price-sensitive rating system but assessing “value” certainly requires us to take stock of the rest of the landscape.
As the most expensive expression in the Whiskey Row Series, can 1924 justify its leap in cost because it’s a limited annual release, aged for roughly 3 to 4 years longer, and is “sourced” from Old Forester’s parent company? With other highly regarded, comparably proofed, and competitively priced bourbons on the market, will Old Forester 1924 wow in any one way that will validate such a steep price tag? Should you as a consumer shell out the extra 2-hundo for King of Kentucky or instead search out its affordable-albeit-once-removed relative Early Times Bottled in Bond? These are all questions I’ll address below, but for now: let’s get to the review.
Old Forester 1924 – Review
Color: Typical amber.
On the nose: Rich leather swirls about with clove and sage in tow, followed by barrel char and white pepper. Over time you get more of that classic Old Forester cherry note, which tends to come across medicinal for me, though it’s more of a syrupy black cherry aroma here. Pine sap, peanut shell, and butterscotch soon join the ride. Overall, the aromas are pleasant and play together nicely; consider my thirst whetted.
In the mouth: On the palate there’s a striking amount of rich leather, milk chocolate which bubbles up at midpalate, and black cherry syrup that leaves behind the slightly medicinal aspect of the nose. The mouthfeel is initially robust before shrinking away and revealing itself to be a bit faint. Once the whiskey has a chance to wash over the palate there’s some peanut brittle that forms at the edges of the tongue, which complements the sweet and earthy notes aforementioned. Over time that peanut brittle at the periphery turns into more of a hazelnut that encroaches on the back of the palate along with some well-developed oak and some sprinkles of clove. Surprisingly very well rounded.
In ascertaining whether this deserves billing as Older Times or Prince of Kentucky, I feel an inclination toward the former. The flavors present are delicious – damn near decadent, really – but 1924’s lean mouthfeel doesn’t allow those flavors the full runway to take flight. With an oilier viscosity they would coat the palate with greater ease and enrich the finish, which is short to medium in length at best. That said, this is a surprisingly well-rounded and flavor-packed pour that punches above its ABV, showcases an array of tasting notes that improve on the impressive nose, and features some of the best qualities of well-aged distillate.
As someone who is admittedly not the biggest fan of either 1920 or 1910, I should say here that I do think that 1924 is an experience worthy of an increased asking price, though I wouldn’t be quite so aggressive as Old Forester has been here. Point blank: is it worth the $115 suggested retail price? Perhaps not, and I’d be thrilled to see this bottle priced more in line with the rest of the Whiskey Row Series, with $75-$80 being my threshold. It’s simply too tall a task to justify that price tag when considering the myriad of other options out there, some of which I mentioned, and many which I did not.
I’ve already polished off my sample bottle and I feel inclined to buy one myself (this sample was generously provided at no cost by the brand) because the flavors in this whiskey strike an impressive balance and scratch an itch for well-aged bourbon. But with regard to the steep cost, I feel inclined to dock it a point under Malt’s price-sensitive scoring rubric. Where we land is on a final rating fit for a prince, if not a king.