Classification: Straight Bourbon
Distillery: Brown-Forman Shively Distillery
Released: September 2009
Age: 12 Years
Mashbill: Undisclosed (Rumored to be 72% corn, 18% rye, and 10% malted barley)
Color: Deep Copper
MSRP: $40 (2009)
September 2nd marks the birthday of George Garvin Brown, one of the founders of Brown-Forman. To honor him, Brown-Forman released an Old Forester Birthday Bourbon. This bourbon is a special annual release that started in September 2002 and varies year to year based on age, warehouse location, number of barrels used, and so on. It comes in a special old fashioned glass bottle and the 2009 edition marks the 7th year that Brown-Forman has offered this bourbon.
According to the information on the bottle, the 2009 release is crafted from a 98 barrel batch of 97C19. These barrels were stored in the small warehouse B and larger warehouse J, on their 5th and 8th floors respectively. These upper floor locations exposed the barrels to a great degree of heat during the summer months.
This bourbon has a very refined smell to it. For a 97 proof bourbon, I was surprised at how upfront the alcohol was in the nose. Immediately past the alcohol smell is a delicious mixture of aged wood, caramel, raisins, and a hint of vanilla. The scent took me right to an aging warehouse in the KY countryside on a cool autumn day with all of the barrels aging. It could be the name influencing me here, but the combinations of smells gives off a sense of a delicious day old baked holiday cake. Really just a great nose on this bourbon.
You can tell that this bourbon has spent some time in the wood. The palate is best described as a slightly sweet earthy flavor. It starts with a mixture of light honey and leather and lingers on an oaky charred wood flavor. The combination plays nicely in your mouth together.
The finish on this bourbon was very long, dry, and mild. Hints of butterscotch initially appeared up front, however, the finish was predominantly spicy, akin to a mild ground black pepper. While not bad, it didn’t blow me away like the nose did and was a distinct step down from the palate leading into it.
Don’t be fooled by thinking that this bourbon is just a marketing stunt due to the unique bottle shape chosen by Brown-Forman for this birthday series. Each yearly release of Old Forester Birthday Bourbon is completely unique when comparing it to the years before and after. Since the Birthday series usually uses the normal Old Forester Mashbill of 72% corn, 18% rye, and 10% malted, you get to see how aging has varied over time based on years spent in the barrel, location of the barrels, aging conditions, etc.
You also get to try Old Forester at a higher age and unique proof than what is normally offered. Higher in proof than Old Forester Classic (86 proof), slightly lower than Old Forester Signature (100 proof), and aged longer than both, it proves to be a nice variation for fans of Old Forester. Less than 100 barrels are bottled on a yearly basis, which makes this one of the more consistent quality limited edition offerings on the market.
I’ve always found the Old Forester Birthday series to be a great value and the 2009 version was no exception to this. At $40, this was a great value back in ’09 when it was purchased. While it’s near impossible to find today and the price will be much higher on the secondary market, it’s being judged on the price that was paid at retail. Compared to say the yearly release of Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch which usually retails for $100, this bourbon is a great deal at less than half the cost. You get a one-off unique bourbon that is full of flavor and can hold its own against newer releases on the market.
Who says you can’t have your cake and a bourbon to go with it too.
I was really impressed with the 2009 version of the Old Forester Birthday Bourbon series. Brown Forman bottled a great above-average bourbon that nicely pays homage to George Gavin Brown. It’s a shame that the palate and finish can’t keep up with the really great nose. It really starts the bourbon off on such a high note.
My only real complaint comes to the bottle design. I realize that they’re trying to play up the fact that it's a celebration bottle and brought it to retail in an "old fashioned" style bottle. However, it takes up a lot of shelf space and is a pain to pour from, often spilling down the sides of the bottle. That being said, this bourbon is well above average and one that I would definitely recommend to anyone.