Whiskey Review: Old Forester 1870 Original Batch

Over the last few years, the Old Forester brand has been releasing a number of whiskey expressions dubbed the “Whiskey Row” — releases which are intended to showcase the history and development of their whiskey. Today, we’re checking out the 1870 Original Batch release, which pays homage to the roots of the Old Forester brand but with a more unified approach than was possible back in 1870.


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History

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 (and 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’s known today) include Woodford Reserve, Early Times, and Herradura Tequila.

Product

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).

For this 1870 Original Batch edition, once the whiskey has been aged, the distillery pays homage to the blending process that was initially used to combine the whiskey from three different distilleries to produce the original Old Forester. To emulate that blending process, they take barrels from three different warehouses and blend them together to create this unique take on their signature spirit.

Packaging

The bottle design here is an older style, more traditional than their newer versions. It sports a thick base that quickly tapers to a thinner waist, and then expands back to a thicker shoulder before ending in a medium length neck. The whole thing is topped with a red label and a cork stopper.

What I like about this line of whiskey (their historical versions) is that the bottles are all similar, but the color and the stamp vary to set them apart. It’s consistent yet clearly differentiated. In this case, the red label on the front lets you know the recipe dates back to 1870, and the red stamp gives the “Original Batch” name that it’s marketed under. It’s a nice visual touch and I like it.

Neat

This whiskey is really just a hand selection of the “best” barrels of Old Forester, and as such the aromas and the flavors aren’t really a surprise.

Coming off the glass is a medium intensity aroma with some rich and dark notes. There’s the brown sugar and vanilla we saw in their 86 proof edition, but this time they significantly boosted the intensity of those flavors. That brown sugar is almost like a rich buttery toffee at this point.

The intensity of the flavors carries on into the taste, which is a welcome change. In previous versions, it took some time for the flavors to develop but here you are kicked in the teeth with a heavy dose of charred oak almost immediately. But it isn’t raw charred oak, thankfully — there’s some subtlety to it, with specifically identifiable notes. I get a good bit of black cherry, a toasted caramel note, and some blackberry on the finish. Also chasing that flavor up is a good hit of black pepper spice for some added texture.

This is rich, deep, and delicious, without any bitterness or significant bite.

On Ice

Usually, with a little bit of ice, the more delicate flavors drop out of the whiskey but the harsher tones are less of a problem. That happens here as well, and I think the result is still a pretty good version of the whiskey.

The biggest difference is that there’s less of a charred oak favor, and more of the constituent notes. That charring is still there to add a bit of depth, but what I get primarily are some black cherry and blackberry flavors combined with a good bit of inherent sweetness. It’s almost like someone diluted some angostura bitters and added them to the whiskey before we even started making an old fashioned.

Cocktail (Old Fashioned)

This is a really good cocktail, and I think really displays what this whiskey can do.

In the old fashioned, those dark and rich flavors (and especially the black cherry and blackberry) provide a depth and richness to the cocktail. The usual flavors are there as well; solid caramel and vanilla flavors assist the whiskey in balancing with the angostura bitters to provide that wonderful base experience, but it’s the extra components that really make the difference.

What’s especially nice here is the balance between all of these elements. The whiskey is bold, but not too bold as to be out of balance. It’s dark, but not overpowering. Just the right cocktail.

Fizz (Mule)

I’m a big fan of this, and I honestly think it’s just about the perfect Kentucky Mule.

For me, what defines a good mule is two things: first, that the whiskey balances out the bitter ginger beer and second, that it adds some uniqueness to the cocktail (else it might as well just be a Moscow Mule).

For the first criteria, well, there’s definitely balance here. The whiskey has plenty of that caramel toffee sweetness to balance out the bitterness of the ginger beer, and the result is a pleasant and delicious cocktail. But the real trick is what happens next.

Instead of just leaving it at that, there’s two components that make this really different and unique. First, the dark fruit of the black cherry and blackberry really add some interesting unique depth and complexity that you won’t find in may other whiskies. But that’s not all — the black pepper spice from the rye content also adds that little extra spicy kick to the cocktail that, for me, makes the perfect mule.

I’ll be honest — I drank 90% of this bottle in the form of a Kentucky mule.


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Overall Rating

This is one of the least expensive versions of the specialty editions of Old Forester, and you can see why. Unlike their other entrants, where they need extra barrels for aging or a different recipe, this one is literally just hand selected barrels of what they already have. Which isn’t a bad idea — they have a solid base product, and making a “hand picked” version of that existing whiskey was bound to be a winner.

Compared to other stuff in this same price range, this is pretty darn good. Pulls off some nifty flavors, adds some unique things to mixed drinks, and looks nice on the shelf. Absolutely worth the money, and then some.

Old Forester 1870 Original Batch
Produced By: Old Forester
Owned By: Brown-Forman Corp.
Production Location: Kentucky, United States
Classification: Bourbon Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 45% ABV
Price: $37.99 / 750 ml
Overall Rating:
All reviews are evaluated within the context of their specific spirit classification as specified above. Click here to check out similar spirits we have reviewed.

Overall Rating: 4/5
Sometimes you don’t really need to change much to get a great result.


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