Old Forester’s Birthday Bourbon was one of the OG’s of limited edition bourbon before limited edition bourbon was really a thing.
Ever since the inaugural bottling was released at the turn of the millennium, Old Forester has kept the distinct bottle shape along with the same release date (George Garvin Brown’s birthday of September 2nd) every year.
Each Fall, right around bourbon release season, the anticipation and hype around Birthday Bourbon grows as more enthusiasts come into the scene.
Not everyone views OFBB with such enthusiasm though. Some enthusiasts claim that the proof is too low, making it seem outclassed by some of the higher proof bruisers (like the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection for example).
But the point of Birthday Bourbon’s ever-changing bottling proof isn’t to overwhelm your senses into barrel-proof oblivion, it’s to revel in the perfect proof that each batch tastes best at.
That’s why every year, the tasting panel at Old Forester convenes to taste through that year’s batch at every proof point from barrel proof (whatever that may be) all the way down to 80 proof.
This is all done in an effort to identify the sweet spot of exactly where the best flavors exist. For 2012, the proof that was determined to be the best was 97.
Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2012 Release
2012’s release is somewhat interesting because Old Forester claims that the typical Old Forester mashbill of 72% corn, 18% rye and 10% malted barley was adjusted during the fermentation process by adding in an additional 2% of malted barley.
This is not as unusual as it sounds! Most people don’t realize that MGP and Four Roses use the same mashbill (as well was sharing the same V yeast strain) even though they tweak them slightly to look different on paper. In reality, they will adjust their malted barley content by up to 2% each way to compensate for variations during fermentation.
So now that we know the specs behind this release, let’s see how well they did. I sampled this neat in a glencairn.
Nose: Scents of almond paste, saddle leather and cedarwood show off the age and depth of the barrels used. As is typical with Birthday Bourbon releases, there are a ton of fruit flavors that open up when it gets proofed down; cherries, fresh cut pineapple, mango, fig, caramelized banana and even some sweetened coconut all jump out.
It’s indescribably good and may be the best feature about the nose. Additionally, scents of tobacco, toffee and even vanilla candle can be found. The layers of scents seem to go on forever.
Palate: Cinnamon and oak spice combine together to give you the rush of a much higher proof with the spice of a much higher rye content. I’m not complaining though because they really amp up the experience.
Flavors of old, dusty fruitcake (that hard, petrified kind) team up with Hot Tamales candies and Mike & Ikes. Each sip reminds you that sweet notes aren’t really a strong point of Old Forester bourbons but they also don’t have to be either.
The layers you can find without a ton of sweet sugars getting in your way really show you just how complex it can all get when you find stone fruits like apricots, leather, cigar butt and allspice.
There’s even crème brulee, Imperial Stout Beer and furniture polish that literally make your taste buds tired from all of the different flavors that come at them.
Finish: The finish gets very dry, but there is enough sweetness remaining to keep the good times rolling instead of making you reach for water. It’s all worth it to just be still for a moment as notes of toasted coconut, apricots and tropical fruits can be found moments later.
There are flavors of almond cookies, allspice, clove and cinnamon while lots of drying oak and old leather remain. Overall, the balance is impeccable and could really have gone in either direction if the proof had been adjusted differently
It’s really hard to find something that I didn’t like about this 2012 release of OFBB. It is just so masterful with its delivery of complex flavors and scents.
Many people often complain that it doesn’t hold a candle to the high proof competitors that are released each year, but they’re missing the point. For years, Old Forester championed the fact that their bourbons are at their best when water is added to them. This is why it has taken them so long to release barrel proof versions of any of them; they believed that this was not the best version of their products.
For whatever the scientific reason would be, the fact is that Old Forester’s heat cycled warehouses end up producing bourbons that don’t always play by the same rules as their competitors.
It’s hard to describe what it is but when you taste it, you know it. Most other distillery’s will produce a more watery tasting bourbon when they proof them down, but with Old Forester, proofing them down seems to unlock the flavors that were being covered up by the heavy, dominant tannic scents and flavors that exist at barrel proof.
This is why it’s so hard to judge other limited editions against this one. OFBB needs to be experienced alone to recognize its superior characteristics. Don’t go putting it up against a barrel strength bourbon and expecting a fair fight. This one is best enjoyed slowly and in a relaxed environment to fully take in all that it has to offer.
1 | Disgusting | Drain pour (Example: Jeffers Creek)
2 | Poor | Forced myself to drink it
3 | Bad | Flawed (AD Laws 4 Grain BiB, Clyde Mays anything)
4 | Sub-par | Many things I’d rather have (Tincup 10 year)
5 | Good | Good, solid, ordinary (Larceny, Sazerac Rye)
6 | Very Good | Better than average (Buffalo Trace, OGD BiB)
7 | Great | Well above average (Old Ezra Barrel Proof, Old Weller Antique)
8 | Excellent | Exceptional (Michter’s Barrel Proof Rye, Four Roses Barrel Strength)
9 | Incredible | Extraordinary (GTS, 13 Year MGP or Canadian Rye)
10 | Insurpassable | Nothing Else Comes Close (William Larue Weller)
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