By Richard Thomas
This is our first time writing up an Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, marking their September 2nd anniversary, but this is as good a time as any to start. This year, 2016, marks the 15th anniversary of the limited edition expression.
Old Forester Birthday Bourbons are drawn from stock distilled on the same day. For 2016’s batch, that single day’s stock consisted of 93 barrels were matured together on the west side of the 5th floor of Warehouse K at Brown-Forman’s property in Louisville, Kentucky. The day in question was June 4, 2004, making this year’s release a 12 year old. The yield this year was reportedly 14,400 bottles, a thousand more than last year’s. It’s a joint creation of Brown-Forman Master Distiller Chris Morris and Old Forester Master Bourbon Specialist Jackie Zykan, marking Zykan’s first participation in a Birthday Bourbon, and was bottled at 97 proof (48.5% ABV).
The appearance of this bourbon in the glass is a very coppery, clear amber, one that has a delightful way of catching the autumn light, thereby matching its “birthday” season very well indeed. The nose is like a thick cherry cobbler with a ginger cookie crumble on the top, with a trickle of oakiness running straight on through it.
On the palate, the whiskey has a hefty mouthfeel, and runs somewhat on the dry and woody side, and carries a hefty load of spicy cloves. It’s only after these aspects have fully settled in on your tongue that the cherries come back. The found the bourbon a little hotter than I expected, especially for a whiskey under 100 proof. That little bit of burn isn’t so much bothersome as adding a bit of character, a point I’m sure even a novice enthusiast will agree with me on.
The finish is a tad bittersweet, and smacks of damp earth. As the whiskey was already running a little hot, it leaves behind a warm, strongly tingling afterglow.
What makes the Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2016 so interesting is how much it’s flavor profile runs away from what one traditionally expects from a bourbon. Sure, the vanilla is there, but is so faint as to scarcely justify a mention. Instead it’s a fruity, woody, spicy thing, so try to check it out before buying it. Some people might come away genuinely surprised (and disappointed) by it’s divergence, but in my book that just makes it worthy of a more generous pour.
This is one of the shrinking handful of autumnal limited bourbon releases you not only should have relatively few problems in securing, but also should pay for at (or at least close) to the recommended price of $79.99.