Classification: Straight Bourbon
Distillery: Brown-Forman Shively Distillery
Release Date: September 2019
Age: 11 Years
Mashbill: Undisclosed (Previous releases were 72% Corn, 18% Rye, and 10% Malted Barley)
MSRP: $100 (2019)
The 2019 release of Old Forester Birthday Bourbon marks the 19th release of the series. Its 105 proof is the series’ highest proof to date. Brown-Forman states that a total of 120 barrels were distilled on May 15, 2008 and aged on the second floor of Warehouse I. Master Distiller Chris Morris and Master Taster Jackie Zykan selected and proofed this year's limited edition. This year’s bottling is expected to yield roughly 13,200 bottles. For more background, check out the company’s press release.
Warm and rich with inviting baking spices that are immediately noticeable. Inhaling deeper reveals oak, banana bread, vanilla, cinnamon bark, and a touch of summer fruits. While there is a hint of ethanol - which is unusual for Birthday Bourbon - it truthfully is this noses only slight flaw holding it back from being perfect. The scents mingle well and are fantastic overall, foreshadowing the sip to come.
Spice steps out front, with white pepper and light rye spice kicking off the sip. These flavors mingle with sweeter ones including vanilla, caramel, ripe melon, and a touch of honey. The spice and sweet flavors come together and balance one another well. The spice is the prominent part of the sip, yet the sweet flavors help tamper it down and result in a really nice mixture between the two contrasting flavor areas.
Long and lingering. The sweet flavors from the sip quickly fade away as spice, white pepper, oak, and a hint of leather roar to the front. The spice brings with it a mouth-filling heat that lingers well after you swallow. Oak and leather lightly remain with the slightest touches of summer fruits and mint weaving in and out. It’s not quite on par with the nose and palate, but still a nice way to round out the sip.
In 2018 Brown-Forman introduced the highest proof Old Forester Birthday Bourbon at the time. Coming in at 101 proof, 2018’s Old Forester Birthday Bourbon was really good, but the depth of the palate didn’t create the impact I was hoping for. However, it turns out that upping the proof just a few points, targeting a year younger, and moving down a floor in Warehouse I was the magic formula. Always a unique bottling, this year’s edition seems to really deliver a pour that stands out from the crowd and certainly shows that higher proof Birthday Bourbon can be a great offering. The mixture of sweet and spice brings forth a sip with a lot of depth and one that’s both approachable and very enjoyable.
For the first time in a number of years, the Old Forester Birthday Bourbon release has not seen a price increase, instead holding at its $100 price tag from the prior year. Maybe this was always the targeted price that Brown-Forman set when they started slowly raising the price a number of years ago. Staying at $100 firmly marks this in line with other limited releases on the market today. Unlike editions in recent years however, I feel like the value is actually present in the bottle this time around.
In recent years I’ve found Old Forester Birthday Bourbon to be a really good sip, but I couldn’t fully justify the ever increasing price hikes. For the first time since 2012 I think I’ve found an Old Forester Birthday Bourbon that truly lives up to the hype. The increased proof pulls forward a rush of various flavors throughout the sip that make it feel like you would gladly spend $100 on this series every year if the end result was like 2019’s edition. If Brown-Forman can hold its price point at $100 and continue to deliver the flavor profile found in this year’s batch, many would agree that the value is there for your money.
Fulfilling in every way, 2019 finds the Old Forester Birthday Bourbon series not only elevating its proof, but also elevating the sip it delivers.
The Old Forester Birthday Bourbon series is one of my favorite bourbon releases. It’s certainly not for the obnoxious bottle it comes in, which is a pain to pour from and takes up too much space on a bar shelf. Instead it’s for the solid performing sip that it delivers year after year. I will say the last few years have been really good, but none have lived up to the greatness of the 2011 or 2012 bottlings in my book. That changed this year with the 2019 edition.
Old Forester has elevated their flavor profile over the last few years, which includes their Signature bourbon through their entire Whiskey Row Series (1870, 1897, 1910, 1920). While the Old Forester Birthday Bourbon series has always consistently delivered a good flavor profile, this year Brown-Forman delivers a really great edition. The nose is fantastic as always, but the palate and to a lesser extent the finish, are truly special too. While the price might seem high, it’s justified by the whiskey in the bottle. All around it’s a Birthday Bourbon edition that you’ll not only want to seek out, but make sure that you open up to enjoy. It would be a shame to keep collecting dust on a shelf as the whiskey waiting inside is well worth enjoying while you can.
The sample used for this review was provided at no cost courtesy of Brown-Forman. We thank them for the sample and for allowing us to review it with no strings attached.