Classification: Straight Bourbon
Distillery: Brown-Forman Shively Distillery
Release Date: September 2021
Age: 12 Years
Mashbill: Undisclosed (Previous releases were 72% Corn, 18% Rye, and 10% Malted Barley)
Color: Reddish Caramel
MSRP: $130 (2021)
The 2021 release of Old Forester Birthday Bourbon marks the 21st release of the series. According to the company, “The 2021 release is from 12-year-old barrels and presented at 104 proof. The batch is comprised of 119 barrels filled on April 16, 2009 and matured in Warehouse G.” For more background, be sure to read the company’s press release.
Candied fruit sweetness tempered by cherry cough syrup and rich oak scents create an immediate impression. With additional layers of fresh baked bread, sugar cookie, and pecans, the aroma provides depth against its sweetness. It’s this dynamic meshing of its compelling fruit side and dense oak nuttiness that makes the nose as infectious as it is.
A parley of red fruit infused brown sugar, rich vanilla, a touch of black cherry, and stout oak forms an exceptional opening to the sip. These notes are skillfully fine tuned and elevated to form a flavor profile that tastes familiar, yet also distinctly Old Forester. It’s sweet in all of the right places, focusing on its red fruit, while gently revealing its robust oak side. Straightforward, yet crowd pleasing in all of the best ways, creates a sip that will make you come back for more...and more.
Impressionable dry oak brings with it heat and a dash of mustiness that is immediately gripping. The finish aptly showcases the bourbon's age with a thin weave of aged oak throughout its lengthy finish. Red fruit is once again the main focus, with strawberry and cherry most prominent. Hot cinnamon and toasted pecans round things out before the finish leaves you with a lingering aftertaste of old oak, beautifully contrasting the nose and palate’s sweeter attributes. Not overly flash in any particular way, the finish comes together in the end providing a first-rate drinking experience.
Beyond its now iconic bottle design, most years, Old Forester’s Birthday Bourbon release has a rather predictable showing. Until the release of the Brown-Forman’s King of Kentucky in 2018, Birthday Bourbon was the company’s cream of the crop: a whiskey that demonstrates the height and distilling prowess of Brown-Forman.
There were a few years - most noticeably 2013 - that Old Forester threw a curveball regarding its flavor profile, but most years, Birthday Bourbon tasted distinctly Old Forester. With the standard Old Forester bourbon often leaning heavily on classic bourbon flavors with red fruits weaving in, its pendulum would swing from sweet to oaky, but never too far from one direction or the other. This is true with the 2021 Birthday Bourbon release focusing on red fruits instead of the dark fruits, heavy vanilla, and spice the Birthday Bourbon brand typically sports. There isn’t anything shocking with the 2021 release, instead focusing on the company’s tried and true flavors, but nailing them with perfect intensity and zeal.
Another reliable aspect that you can count on with Old Forester Birthday Bourbon is its price creep. Having crossed the $100 mark in 2018, and increasing to $130 in 2020, this year’s release continues the brand’s trend of maintaining the previous year’s price before increasing it. Although its drastic $20-$30 swings in price can be jarring, the bourbon continues to deliver year after year. Birthday Bourbon’s current $130 price point does feel high, yet it's in line with what Jim Beam, Wild Turkey, and Four Roses charges for their limited releases. Much like last year’s edition, the 2021 release once again justifies its asking price, forgoing some flashy fanfare for a bourbon that simply delivers with intensity and flavor.
Old Forester Birthday Bourbon once again has a steller showing in 2021, and further showcases the excellence Old Forester’s bourbon can reach.
I’ve reviewed many Old Forester bourbons over the years and have stated the struggles the brand sometimes has putting forth the sparkle that makes their particular bourbon great. For far too many years prior to their Whiskey Row series the company's bourbon releases were simply boring, with their Birthday Bourbon being the only bright spot in their lineup. A lot of that has changed over the last decade and the shift started when the company developed their Whiskey Row series in 2015. Around this time I saw improvement in their Signature 100 Bourbon and single barrel offerings, with a major head-turning point coming with the release of Brown-Forman’s King of Kentucky Bourbon.
While this was happening, the company’s Birthday Bourbon line chugged along releasing quality bourbon year after year with more and more whiskey drinkers noticing the quality and consistency they were putting into their uniquely shaped bottle. It's unfortunate that the Birthday Bourbon brand has gone like so many other limited releases and become extremely hard to find. It’s great the company has products they can profoundly showcase how great their bourbon is; it’s just unfortunate they can’t release more of it.
Old Forester 2021 Birthday Bourbon once again exemplifies everything great about their bourbon: Fruit focused, impressionable oak notes that reveals its age elegantly. This year’s release is a crowd-pleasing bourbon that deserves to be experienced by more people than it will. One can hope that some of this excellent quality will continue to trickle down into their other brands.