Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2020

Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2020: How’s it taste? How can I get it?

Each September, the bourbon world gets a little nutty.

Yes, it’s National Bourbon Heritage Month, but it also holds one of the most significant dates of the year: Sept. 2 — the birthdate of Old Forester founder George Garvin Brown, which means it’s also time for the annual Old Forester Birthday Bourbon release!!

Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2020

Happy Birthday to me!

Nothing can stop the Birthday Bourbon from being released, not even a global pandemic! So the powers that be at Old Forester have decided to launch the product on the website, where exclusive bottles have been sold the last few months.

I’m going to venture a guess and say that this might very well break the internet — but you better believe I’ll be one of these keyboard warriors trying to tap into bourbon bliss that day.

A little more about that in a second, but first, here’s a little more about this year’s release.

This is the 20th iteration of the Birthday Bourbon series and will be bottled at 98 proof. It is made up of 95 barrels of 10-year-old bourbon and was selected by Master Distiller Chris Morris and Master Taster Jackie Zykan for its interesting characteristics. According to a news release, these are the notes:

  • Color: Dusty Topaz
  • Aroma: A nuanced balance of white floral notes, magnolia and citrus, spiced with vanilla, buttery leather and cocoa powder. Countering the spice are sprinkles of brown sugar, white chocolate shavings, caramel drizzle and hints of tropical fruit.
  • Taste: Caramel and brittle toffee lead as the tropical character blooms into banana, mango, coconut flakes and macadamia nut.
  • Finish: Long and delicately drying with a hint of anise.

“We really believe that the 2020 version is one of our best yet,” said Old Forester President Campbell Brown in the release. Brown’s great-great grandfather is THE George Garvin Brown this release honors.

I was fortunate to get a small sample of this year’s Birthday Bourbon, and I can verify all of the flavors mentioned above, especially that delightful banana note that comes out in a lot of aged Brown-Forman whiskeys. It tastes how fall feels — a long walk on crisp, fallen leaves; the anticipation of a campfire s’more; the cool breeze that ushers out humidity and calls for sweaters.

It’s viscous, it’s well-rounded, it’s sweet, it’s spicy, it’s fruity and it’s something I want to be sipping on all year long.

So how can you get a bottle?

Well, be sure to sign up for emails at the Old Forester website, and be on the lookout for a special Birthday Bourbon email on Wednesday, Sept. 2. You, along with thousands of others, will be all vying to nab a bottle online. It retails for $129.99.

Some will get lucky, and some will throw their computers across the room.

I kind of wish Old Forester would have went with a lottery system, much like what Four Roses is doing with its annual Limited Edition Small Batch release. But I am but one small ladybug on the windshield of life.

Good luck to everyone!

Tasteless Tastings bottles

Tasteless Tastings: Summer 2020, The Quarantine Edition

Welcome to another edition of Tasteless Tastings, which is exactly what it sounds like: tasting notes from the riffraff. If you follow the liquor industry to any capacity, you probably have come across snooty tasting notes from classy people who make the new spirit sound more like a science experiment than something you consume for fun. I want to shoot gayly forward from the hip and tell you how it really tastes. So each time the nice mailman brings me a sample to try, I’ll gather up some friends and we’ll have a candid, lively and unpolitically correct discussion about said sample.

This month’s gathering was rather limited, since we’re in the middle of a pandemic and all. But rest assured, we all stayed 6 feet apart, except when they wanted seconds, and then it was more like 12 feet. Let’s get to it …

Tasteless Tastings bottles

The fearsome fivesome. | Photo by Sara Havens

What Are We Drinking Today?: 

Rolling Fork Rum

 

What the hell is it?:

After an unfortunate (but delicious) mistake, the Louisville guys behind Rolling Fork Spirits have finally come out with the product they envisioned for their brand: Rolling Fork Rum. This small batch release features 11-year-old rum from El Salvador that has been finished in four different casks: bourbon, rye whiskey, port and sherry.

After spending about two years hanging out in these barrels in Kentucky, Turner Wathen and Jordan Morris mingled them together to create this flavorful, whiskey-tinged rum.

 

Give me the nerdy numbers:

110 proof, 11-year-old El Salvador rum finished in used bourbon, rye, port and sherry barrels. Retails for about $85-$95.

 

What do we think?:

Rolling Fork Rum bottleBritany: It smells like high school, when we used to drink Bacardi 151.

Miriam: There goes my nose hairs.

Tracy: Starts out smooth and then … whoosh!

Britany: It’s got sort of a tropical note flavor on the tongue.

Bar Belle: I’m getting banana and vanilla. It’s quite smooth and goes down easy.

Kelly: It’s hot and it burns all the way down.

Bar Belle: That’s because you’re a lightweight.

Katie: My throat is numb! But it’s good. I don’t have thoughts. It’s good.

Tracy: Tastes like a snickerdoodle. It’s cinnamon, or maybe that’s the explosion in the back.

Tasters add ice to samples …

Britany: Now that the ice is in it, it’s buttery. I want it in pudding!

Tracy: Like a good butterscotch. It’s porch-sippin’ rum.

Britany: It’s like you still had bourbon in the bottom in your glass and someone poured rum in.

Miriam: It’s still punching me in the nose.

Kelly: I’d put it with ginger ale. Or Coke.

 

Would you quarantine with this spirit?

Tracy: Yes! I would definitely quarantine with this.

Britany: It would definitely brighten my mood. I wouldn’t use it for disinfectant.

Bar BelleThis is a bourbon drinker’s rum. Of course I’d quarantine with it! I bet it does dirty things in a cocktail. Bring on the pineapple!

Miriam: Yes, I like it. Maybe with ginger ale?

Kelly: Sure. To be fair, though, I’d quarantine with anything.

Katie: I would for sure. I like the bottle, too.

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What Are We Drinking Today?: 

Buzzard’s Roost Single Barrel Straight Rye Whiskey

 

What the hell is it?:

Buzzard’s Roost is owned and operated by my buddy Jason Brauner, who also owns Bourbon’s Bistro in Louisville. Jason has been a bourbon connoisseur long before bourbon was hip, and I truly believe he was one of the driving forces behind the big bourbon boom of today, especially in Kentucky.

Jason loves bourbon so much, he decided to release his own brand last year, and it has garnered great reviews and accolades — including recently winning a gold medal in the San Francisco World Spirits Competition for this Single Barrel Rye Whiskey.

Basically, Jason purchases fully mature bourbon from various brokers (Kentucky and Indiana juice), and then he works his magic in the finishing process, adding that bourbon to new, sometimes toasted barrels.

(I did not tell the tasters that I personally know Jason because, you know, ethics.)

 

Give me the nerdy numbers:

105 proof, 3 years old. Retails for about $80.

 

What do we think?:

Buzzard's Roost bottleBritany: Oooh, it’s spicy. My tongue is tingly.

Bar Belle: I’m getting a lot of black pepper. Wow! It kinda reminds me of a morning muffin that is still warm from being in the oven, and the butter just melts right on top. 

Tracy: This is quite nice. It’s fire — in a good way.

Miriam: There goes my nose hairs again!

Kelly: Mmmm, now this doesn’t suck.

Katie: This makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside, like a liquid Snuggie.

Tasters add ice …

Tracy: The ice mellows it out a bit, but it’s still spicy. This would make a great winter drink, sitting by the fire, curled up with a book.

Britany: Curled up with your kitties!

Tracy: Even better.

Bar Belle: I don’t understand you cat people.

Miriam: A-chew!

 

Would you quarantine with this spirit?

Tracy: I would quarankeep it!

Britany: I like this. Yes!

Bar Belle: Yes, it’s so smooth and sweet, yet packs a punch. I need a good punch during quarantine.

Miriam: Absolutely!

Kelly: It’s peppery and hot, so yes, definitely!

Katie: Sure, rye not?

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What Are We Drinking Today?: 

Larceny Barrel Proof B520

 

What the hell is it?:

This is the second release in the Barrel Proof line for this wheated bourbon made by Heaven Hill.

 

Give me the nerdy numbers:

122.2 proof, 6-8 years old, non-chill filtered. Retails for around $50.

 

What do we think?:

Larceny Barrel Proof bottleBritany: Ouch! It hurts! Right up the nose!

Kelly: It does hit the nose.

Tracy: It started off smooth and then — BLAM!

Miriam: I’m not even going to dip my toes in the pool.

Bar Belle: It’s not bad for being 122 proof. I can still taste the nuances in this wheated bourbon. This is 100% wheat heat!

Katie: I’d do it if I had to, but I don’t want to keep drinking it.

Britany: I like it better when it’s completely out of my mouth.

Tracy: That’s what she said!

Katie: It smelled like it was going to be sweet, and it wasn’t. Tricky little shit.

Tasters add ice …

Tracy: Even with the ice, it’s more harsh than the other two. Now for a disinfectant, this could be it!

Britany: Better with ice for sure. Compared to the others, it was drastically different with water.

 

Would you quarantine with this spirit?

Britany: As a disinfectant, yes. It is not even better than Bud Light.

Kelly: If it was my only option, I’d drink it.

Tracy: As disiectant, too. You’re gonna kill all the germs with this.

Katie: If I had to. Not by choice. But I’m not going to quarantine without a drink.

Bar Belle: Yes, I think it’s quite tasty. I might save it for the bad days to instantly lift my mood.

Britany: They should change the name Larceny to Arsony. 

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What Are We Drinking Today?: 

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof B520

 

What the hell is it?:

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof is an uncut small batch of 12-year-old bourbon bottled straight from the barrel. This season’s release comes in at a stout 127.2 proof.

 

Give me the nerdy numbers:

127.2 proof, 12 years old, non-chill filtered. Retails for around $70.

 

What do we think?:

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof bottleKatie: That’s much smoother. But there’s an afterburn.

Britany: There’s definitely an afterburn, a front burn, a side burn …

Kelly: This is way better than the last one!

Bar Belle: Even though it’s a higher proof?

Kelly: Yes, for some reason. Maybe I’m weird.

Tracy: It smelled really good, smooth, but also has that explosion of flavor.

Bar Belle: A lot more flavor than the Larceny.

Tasters add ice …

Tracy: This is more complex with the ice.

Britany: It has grown on me with the ice.

Miriam: It’s much better with ice.

Bar Belle: Screw the ice! Ice sunk the Titanic, you know? It’s not to be trusted — or added to bourbon. 

 

Would you quarantine with this spirit?

Britany: As long as I had ice cubes, yes.

Bar Belle: 100% yes! I might put this guy under my pillow.

Tracy: Yes! To quarantine, not under your pillow.

Katie: Yes. 

Kelly: Yes. Even a lightweight would.

Miriam: Do chickens have lips?

Bar Belle: Huh?

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What Are We Drinking Today?: 

Old Forester Single Barrel Barrel Strength

 

What the hell is it?:

This is a new expression of Old Forester, which will only be available at the distillery and/or as a store pick. In fact, the very first release of this just went up on the Old Fo website last week, and it sold out in a matter of minutes. You’ll just have to keep your eyes peeled for this one, because they’ll go quick!

So what’s different about it? It’s Old Forester bottled at barrel strength, which has never really been done before other than some of the President’s Choice offerings. Also, some of the Birthday Bourbons are higher in proof as well, but not 120 high!

Giving us barrel-strength Old Fo a great way to celebrate the company’s 150th birthday, that’s for sure!

 

Give me the nerdy numbers:

125-135 proof, various ages. Retails for $79.99.

 

What do we think?:

Old Forester Barrel Strength bottleBritany: You could get drunk just by sniffing it.

Kelly: It hurts!

Tracy: It hurts!

Bar Belle: Oh my … this is something to behold. It’s amazingly tasty! And smooth. There’s a party in my mouth, and someone just tapped another keg. 

Kelly: Maybe if you want to burn a house down! I feel like it tastes good, but it’s hot.

Britany: This is the ghost pepper of bourbon.

Tasters add ice …

Tracy: Ice calms it down for sure.

Britany: It’s nice with ice. And you can taste it now. Like when coffee is too hot and you let it cool down and you can finally taste it.

Tracy: I can sip this now, and it’s a beautiful thing.

Miriam: Pairs well with Pringles, but it hits you like a freight train.

Britany: I’m picking this over the (Buzzard’s Roost) rye, and that never happens. Once you add an ice cube, it’s liquid gold.

Bar Belle: Gold Forester never disappoints.

 

Would you quarantine with this spirit?

Bar Belle: Yes, and I’m not sharing it with anyone!

Tracy: It’s another quarankeeper.

Britany: Oh yes. It’d almost be better quarantining with this one, because no one else can have it.

Kelly: Yes. If there are ice cubes readily available, and don’t give me that Titanic bullshit.

Katie: Yes, please.

Miriam: Yes!

Birthday Bourbon 2020

Old Forester spills the beans on Birthday Bourbon 2020; Jim Beam to release affordable Old Tub BIB

While summer has only just begun, we’re already talking about the big Fall Bourbon Release season, thanks to Old Forester and its highly anticipated Birthday Bourbon.

Birthday Bourbon 2020

Love the bottle!

Not only does this release — which will be out Sept. 2, on founder George Garvin Brown’s birthday — signify the 20th iteration of this product, but it also comes out during Old Forester’s 150th year in the bourbon business.

According to a press release that came across my desk yesterday, the bourbon will be 10 years old and bottled at 98 proof.

Oh, to be a fly on the wall in that tasting room!

“Being part of the Birthday Bourbon selection process is one of my favorite parts of my job because of the legacy and tradition this expression represents,” said Jackie Zykan, Old Forester Master Taster, in the press release. “We’re really proud of what we’ve produced this year and think it’s a great way to celebrate George’s birthday and Old Forester’s historic anniversary.”

The special Birthday Bourbon will be priced at $129.99 — if you can find it on a shelf.

*  *  *

Old Tub bottle

New Old Tub!

In other news, Jim Beam is releasing a new/old Bottled-in-Bond* product called Old Tub, which is a product that actually dates back more than 140 years and was a viable early product for the Beam family. The bourbon will be about four years old and will be bottled at 100 proof, per the Bottled-in-Bond rules.

“We’re taking bourbon lovers back in time and making a delicious bourbon true to the way my ancestors intended over 140 years ago, when Old Tub was first crafted,” said Fred Noe, Beam Master Distiller, in a news release. “I’m excited to share this one-of-a-kind liquid with our fans and provide a bit of authenticity and nostalgia as we head toward another 225 years in the bourbon industry.”

The best news of all: Old Tub will be available for an affordable $22.99.

**If you’re wondering what Bottled-in-Bond means, here’s the definition, courtesy of Wikipedia:

Bottled in Bond is a label for an American-made distilled beverage that has been aged and bottled according to a set of legal regulations contained in the U.S. government’s Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits, as originally laid out in the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897. As a reaction to widespread adulteration in American whiskey, the act made the federal government the guarantor of a spirit’s authenticity, gave producers a tax incentive for participating, and helped ensure proper accounting and the eventual collection of the tax that was due.

To be labeled as Bottled-in-Bond or bonded, the liquor must be the product of one distillation season (January-June or July-December) by one distiller at one distillery. It must have been aged in a federally bonded warehouse under U.S. government supervision for at least four years and bottled at 100 proof. The bottled product’s label must identify the distillery where it was distilled and, if different, where it was bottled. Only spirits produced in the United States may be designated as bonded.

Old Forester family of bottles

Old Forester beefs up its single barrel proofs (!!)

When I read the news this morning, I immediately heard the voices of Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand singing “Happy Days Are Here Again” echoing through my head and down into my liver. Did you?

If you have no clue what I’m talking about, watch this:

 

So what news am I talking about? Well, I assure you it has nothing to do with politics or the Mexican drug cartel, but rather something more close to home and indeed happy. Turns out Old Forester, a bourbon brand that turns 150 this year, is celebrating this milestone by beefing up the proof on its single-barrel releases.

The Louisville company typically releases its single-barrel bourbon at an average 90 proof, but with consumer demand at an all-time high for higher-proofed products, especially from blokes like me, Old Fo decided to now let those who pick a barrel pick a proof, so to speak.

“Since our founding 150 years ago, we’ve always listened to our customers and looked for ways to innovate to meet their tastes,” said Jackie Zykan, Old Forester master taster, in a news release. “Proof and filtration are both really important factors in the final flavor and complexity of a whisky, and we wanted to be able to share how special some of these barrels are when the product inside is tasted in raw form.”

Old Forester bottles

Love the new labels! | Courtesy of Old Forester

So say you’ve got like $10,000 in your pocket and you want to buy a barrel of Old Forester. Once you and your group of friends (which better include me) pick your barrel, then you get to decide if you want it bottled at a nice 100 proof or an even nicer barrel strength, which could hover around 125 or higher!

Thus, why happy days are here!

It seems higher proof bourbons are on a rise these days, and for good reason. They pack more punch — and flavor, in my opinion. Let the consumer add water if she likes — that decision should be up to her, not added for her.

Take the recently released Weller Full Proof, or Booker’s, or George T. Stagg, or the 1792 Full Proof as examples of higher proofed bourbons that are successful and quite tasty. Heck, even Old Fo’s sister brand, Woodford Reserve, released a stout Batch Proof last year that was 125.8 proof.

Old Forester Single Barrel bottles can sometimes be found in the distillery’s gift shop, but mostly they’ll be at the stores and restaurants that actually spent the money to buy the barrel. Just keep your eyes and ears open for single-barrel offerings, as I’m sure they’ll be rolling off the line very soon.

I’m guessing all the major (and not so major) liquor stores in town already are in the barrel-pick calendar, as are bars and restaurants that sell picks — like Silver Dollar/The Pearl, 21c, Butchertown Grocery, Bourbons Bistro, Merle’s Whiskey Kitchen, Taj, etc. So just pay attention and stop in from time to time.

The suggested retail price for the 100 proof Old Forester Single Barrel bottles is $49.99, while the barrel strength bottles will go for $79.99.

Anyone lucky enough to be heading to the distillery soon for a barrel pick and needs some help, I’m no master taster, but I would like to master the tasting experience! I’ll even let you slide into my DM for that invite … or whatever the kids say.

Anyway, bravo, Old Forester! Happy days are here again …

Old Forester family of bottles

Great, now I need more shelf space. | Courtesy of Old Forester

Jackie Zykan

Old Forester Birthday Bourbon comes out today!

Jackie Zykan

Old Forester Master Taster Jackie Zykan throws a party for Birthday Bourbon No. 19. | Photo by Sara Havens

Today we celebrate two things.

No. 1: It’s Labor Day and most of us have the day off. Woot!

No. 2: It’s George Garvin Brown’s birthday, which means it’s time for Old Forester to honor its founder by releasing Birthday Bourbon! Double woot!

Now, most of us did not stand in line overnight to score a bottle at the distillery, but I have hope I’ll be able to snag one eventually … I’m just not certain of where or when. But good things come to those who wait, right? And I’ve got all year to try to find one.

So what makes BB so special other than having the same initials as the Bar Belle?

Well, this one, the 19th of the series, is both high proof and older — sitting at 105 proof, the highest proof to date for this special expression, and 11 years old. I was fortunate to sample this year’s juice next to the previous year’s and can attest it is delicious and worth any effort you might give to track down a bottle or shot from a liquor store, bar or tasting room.

“Birthday Bourbon selections have ranged from 9 to 14 years old since the expression was first launched in 2002,” said Jackie Zykan, Old Forester Master Taster, in a news release. “When selecting the barrels for this year, we found something truly exceptional in this lot, and we’re proud to call it our 2019 Birthday Bourbon.”

About 120 barrels all distilled on the same day in 2008 were selected for this BB, which was chosen by Zykan and Old Fo Master Distiller Chris Morris. And according to the release, Zykan detected notes of rich oak spice and black currant coupled with light maple, caramel cake and white floral notes.

When we did the media sampling at the distillery with Zykan, she actually served the bourbon with caramel cake so we could try them side by side. The bourbon is so velvety and smooth, I didn’t even need the cake for comparison — but of course I took a few bites anyway.

Birthday Bourbon

Old Fo’s Birthday Bourbon is always released on Sept. 2. | Photo by Sara Havens

I could have sworn I also got some rich chocolaty notes as well, and of course that hint of banana that sometimes appears in older Brown-Forman bourbons.

A little over 13,000 bottles of the 2019 Old Forester Birthday Bourbon will be released nationwide starting Sept. 2 for a suggested retail price of $99.99. And 72 people who stood in line more than 24 hours this morning were the first to purchase them — but like I said, hopefully we can get lucky if we’re patient and kind.

As a reminder, my birthday is Oct. 5, so the universe can do with that what it will.