Review 012: 2012 Old Forester Birthday Bourbon

OFGlassOld Forester Birthday Bourbon | 48.5% ABV | $53

Old Forester is a brand that has been around for 143 years and is credited as being the first bourbon to be sold exclusively by the bottle, prior to this whiskey was generally sold by the barrel. The Old Forester brand was the brain child of George Garvin Brown, who along with his brother started the whiskey firm that would eventually become Brown-Forman. Today the brands under the Brown-Forman umbrella include Old Forester, Early Times Kentucky Whiskey, Jack Daniels and Woodford Reserve.

Since 2002 Brown-Forman has been honoring their founder with a special annual small batch release of Old Forester. It varies year to year but is usually between 11-14 years old and mid to high 90 proof. The 2012 is 12 years old and 97 proof. The distillate used in the Birthday Bourbon is from one single day and then placed on the fourth floor of Warehouse H to age until Master Distiller Chris Morris deems it ready for bottling. The 2012 is a little different from years past in that it doesn’t use the standard 72% corn, 18% rye and 10% malted barley mash bill. According to Morris the day the bourbon was made the mash floor operator accidentally added a little too much barley, around 2% more than the standard. But enough talk let’s see how the 2012 stands up.

Appearance: Rusty copper with thick slow-moving legs

Nose: Right off the bat the oak comes rushing in along with those notes of leather and sawdust that comes from older whiskeys. You can really pick up on the influence the time in the wood has had on this bourbon, even at 12 years it’s a bit of an old soul. It has some nutty notes in there like almonds and peanuts. Then the sweeter notes start opening up. Hints of banana and sweet sorghum along with some beautiful vanilla. The bouquet on here won’t let up it keeps showing it’s depth and every time I go back to nose there’s always something new; maraschino cherry, dried dates and cinnamon. Unbelievable.

Palate: On the front entry there’s that sweet vanilla with a nice mix of maple. The nutty notes that come through in the nose are also present. Some faint flavors of brown sugar and cinnamon are swirling around in there too. Midway through the oak and the alcohol become increasing present leaving the palate dry and hot. This is where a whiskey would fall apart entering the finish but that dry woodiness and heat from the alcohol get a nice balance of sweet honey and spicy rye. Make no mistake though the mouthfeel is very dry and viscous. The finish is warm and long leaving behind barrel char and rye notes.

Overall: Absolute stunner. Yes it’s oaky and dry but it’s depth and complexity show you that there is much more going on here than just wood. The bouquet is one of the best I’ve nosed this year. Just layers upon layers of sweet, dry and nutty aromas. And on the palate, where it would be easy to just be a dry oak monster, the sweet notes upfront and the rye kick that comes towards the back help add balance to what would normally be seen as an overly woodsy bourbon. After reviewing this all I can say is thank you Mr. Mash Floor Operator because of your little ‘blunder’ we have a delicious whiskey today. If you can still find one of these at your local liquor store it would be a mistake to pass up.

Rating: 92 / * * * * S

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