Old Forester is a bourbon that deserves its name. Historic and well respected in the community, it’s considered by many to be the benchmark for a good bourbon. Today we’re taking a look at the higher proof 50% ABV bottling of their flagship bourbon.
The ‘old’ in Old Forester isn’t just a marketing ploy. The oldest bourbon in continuous production, it was first sold in 1870 (the first bourbon to be sold exclusively in a sealed bottle) and it continued production through prohibition as one of only 10 brands authorized for medicinal production.
Founded by a former pharmaceutical salesman named George Garvin Brown, the original version of Old Forester was sold to pharmacies as a medicinal product. Named after Dr. William Forrester (originally bottled with the double “r”), who endorsed its consumption, it is said that the second “r” was dropped to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest with the doctor.
The original Old Forester bourbon was a mixture of spirits distilled by other distilleries in the Kentucky area; however, starting in 1902 they purchased Mattingly’s distillery in Saint Mary, Kentucky to be the sole source.
While the company went through a series of mergers and acquisitions over the years, and is currently a publicly traded company, the original Brown family still owns over 70% of the shares of the company and has de-facto control of the company.
Old Forester was the company’s best selling product prior to prohibition and continued production through that dark time; however, in post-prohibition era, Jack Daniels (coincidentally one of the company’s other brands) took the lead and remains the most popular whiskey in the world to this day. Other spirits produced by the Brown-Forman company (as it is known today) include Woodford Reserve, Early Times, and Herradura Tequila.
This specific bourbon, the 100 Proof “red label” version, is higher proof than the standard “flagship” 86 proof product but still uses the same manufacturing process.
Pretty much all of the Brown-Forman whiskey products start from the same grain bill: 72% corn, 18% rye, and 10% malted barley. This one is no different. Once that fermented mash is distilled in their Louisville, KY plant, the spirit is socked away in charred oak barrels for approximately four years (although the bottle has no age statement beyond the “Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey” appellation) prior to bottling.
Looking through the older photos of this product, it appears that the branding has had a recent refresh. Instead of the older version, where the lettering was apparently painted onto the bottle, this new version simply has two stickers with the branding information on the front and back.
The more prominent front sticker is a white background with gold border, and the main feature is the brand logo. There’s a red border just inside the gold border, and at the bottom is a gold text box that contains the information about this specific product. This gold box appears to be a consistent feature from the old design, remaining through the re-branding process.
With the re-branding, the biggest distinguishing factor is the accent color. Where the 86 proof version is blue, this version is red, and other varieties sport different colors.
The bottle itself is fairly normal, nothing to write home about. It flares slightly as it approaches the shoulder and has a relatively short neck, which is topped with a metal screw-on cap (which also has some red accents).
The spirit is a rich dark brown color in the bottle and in the glass, almost the color of coffee.
The first thing I smell is brown sugar, with a bit of caramel backing. There’s also some vanilla thrown in the mix to round out the typical bourbon profile. It smells a little stronger than the original 86-proof version, adding a touch more punch to the aroma.
The spirit has about the same weight as the 86 proof version, not particularly thicker or more weighty than the lower proof offering. Once you take a sip, the flavors start to develop and you slowly get the idea that you just licked the inside of a charred oak barrel. There’s the caramel and vanilla mixed in once again, but I’m also getting a bit of nutmeg and cinnamon spice added to the mix before the heavy charred oak flavor completely dominates the rest of the experience.
There’s almost a light licorice aftertaste going on here, once the liquid is gone, mixing with a a tiny bit of peppery spice finish on the end thanks to the rye (but not nearly as much as I would expect from the 18% rye content in the grain bill, I should note). While the lower proof version finished smoothly, there’s a bit of a bite here that can almost be described like the tannin from a good bottle of aged red wine.
Pretty much what you’ve done here is proofed the whiskey down to the 86-proof level by adding a bit of water. And, in my opinion, the changes are all for the better.
The tannin-esque bite is gone, the oppressively heavy oak flavors are taking more of a back seat, and the finish is more caramel and vanilla than the licorice I was getting earlier. Solid improvements, I think.
That said, the flavors are still bold and strong. There’s more than enough here to conquer the cocktails.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
Just like with the lower proof version we tried before, this balances really well.
Typically, with the added orange bitters, a drink tends to either become too bitter or the orange doesn’t have enough firepower to make itself clear through whatever else is going on. In this case, the orange is present but so is the caramel and vanilla. It’s a good balance between sweet and tangy with some added delicious orange zest.
Fizz (Kentucky Mule)
With the original 86 proof version, I said that it might be the perfect bourbon for a Kentucky Mule. Just the right flavors and level of boldness so the bourbon comes clearly through all that ginger beer, but also not so overpowering that the drink stops being refreshing. It’s absolutely delicious.
In this case, much of the same still applies. The flavors are still well balanced and delicious, but there’s just a hint more of the deeper and richer tones coming through than you had before. There’s also a touch more of the peppery spice than I seem to remember in the neat or rocks versions, which can only be a good thing in my book.
As you’d might expect, this is pretty much a version of the standard 86 proof bourbon that packs an extra punch. The flavors are richer and bolder, and while that might be good for experienced bourbon drinkers, this might be a little too harsh for newbies. The good news is that if this seems a bit much for you, there’s always the option to add a little water or some extra mixer to tame the beast and make it more palatable. (The bad news is, in that case, you just paid extra only to water down your bourbon.)
|Old Forester 100 Proof|
Kentucky, United States
Classification: Bourbon Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 50% ABV
Price: $21.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 3/5
A solid bourbon, but it doesn’t pack anything to truly distinguish it from its lower-proof counterpart… except a higher price tag.