Over the last few years, the Old Forester brand has been releasing a number of whiskey expressions dubbed the “Whiskey Row” which are intended to showcase the history and development of their whiskey. Today we’re looking at the final expression to be released, one that commemorates a specific moment in time for the company which had the potential to bring their whole operation to an end.
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.
The 1910 Old Fine Whiskey pays homage to a specific moment in the history of the company. On October 22nd, 1910 a run of bourbon had just been taken from their barrels and was waiting to be bottled when a fire broke out in the bottling plant. Unable to continue production, the whiskey was placed into a second new barrel to wait until things were back on track. This accidental “double oaking” of their whiskey is celebrated in this bottle.
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).
Following that first aging process, and paying homage to the 1910 bottling plant fire, the whiskey is transferred to a second barrel where it ages for an additional period of time before being bottled.
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 blue 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 really set them apart. In this case the white label on the front lets you know the recipe dates back to 1910, and the blue stamp gives the “Old Fine Whiskey” name that it’s marketed under. It’s a nice visual touch and I like it.
The smell coming off this glass is fantastic. It’s like Mom’s chocolate chip cookie mix with a twist — brown sugar, vanilla, and a bit of caramel thrown in for good measure. It’s roughly the same as you get with the “standard” Old Forester bourbons… but somehow just a little bit richer.
Taking a sip, there’s a little bit more weight to it than the usual 86 proof variety; however, without the alcohol bite that you see in the 100 proof bottling. It’s generally a smooth experience, but the flavor profile is significantly more earthy and rich than usual.
The first thing I get is some charred oak flavor, almost like sitting next to a campfire. It’s similar to the Balcones Brimstone — but nowhere near as strong in flavor. As that smokey flavor fades, there’s some rich caramel and chocolate flavors that start to appear along with a hint of cherry, and the whole thing finishes back with the charred oak along with a nice peppery note that has some spicy qualities from that rye content.
What I’d like to point out is, unlike with the other Old Forester variations, the flavors don’t take a second to develop for me. The flavor is instantaneous and powerful in this version.
With a bit of ice and dilution, the charred oak takes a back seat in the flavors. It becomes a little bit lighter in tone, with more emphasis on the caramel and vanilla. I don’t get the same cherry as before, though, so something interesting has indeed been lost.
Again, this is a departure from the normal version. With the standard varieties of Old Forester, there really isn’t much change as I go from one presentation to the next, but here the flavors are changing and evolving with the added ice.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
This is a really delicious cocktail right here.
With an Old Fashioned, the best thing you can do to start is have a rich and dark flavor profile to start. What you’re doing with the bitters and the orange zest is trying to balance out those dark notes, making it a lighter and more enjoyable cocktail. Add in some complimentary cherry flavors and you’ve got a winner.
In this case, it’s a home run. Those rich flavors from the whiskey pair excellently with the bitters and orange. If there’s one thing I’d mention, it’s to make sure you muddle the sugar when you’re preparing the drink, as it will need a touch of sweetness to pull it all together.
Normally, with a bourbon-based mule, it’s a lighter and sweeter affair… but here it’s more of a rich and dark experience. And I’m not mad about it. While the caramel and vanilla from the bourbon do a great job balancing the bitterness of the ginger, those charred oak notes creep back in to add a whole new layer of complexity to the cocktail.
What I look for in a mule is for the whiskey to add some uniqueness to the drink that wouldn’t be there otherwise. In this case, I think it’s a great addition, and makes for a really complex and delicious beverage.
In a “double oaked” version of a whiskey, you often find darker, richer flavors. This version is no exception, and personally I’m a fan. I like the smokey notes, and I especially appreciate that they are somewhat more subtle than the Balcones Brimstone (where it’s almost like putting your face directly into a chimney). Old Forester has created a good balance of all these flavor profiles, with just the right strength.
It’s roughly three times as expensive as the standard edition Old Forester, to be fair. But that said… I’d rather have one bottle of this than three bottles of the normal version any day of the week.
|Old Forester 1910 Old Fine Whiskey|
Produced By: Old ForesterOwned By: Brown-Forman Corp.
Production Location: Kentucky, United States
Classification: Bourbon Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 46.5% ABV
Price: $54.99 / 750 ml
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Overall Rating: 4/5
Happy accidents always make the best stories, and apparently the best whiskey.