Old Forester is no stranger to limited edition bourbons these days. However, for its first release in 2002, bourbon was nowhere near as popular as it was today. Back then, releasing a special limited edition bottle in the shape of a birthday cake with a candle on top was a big risk. Old Forester Birthday Bourbon was designed to take specially selected older barrels (usually around 100 of them ranging from 10-12 years old) and blended them together. They would then proof down the batch until they found the perfect flavor profile to bottle it at. This is why every year’s release is slightly different in terms of proof and age.
Birthday Bourbon is a highly coveted bottle and has seen its retail price increase over the years as well as fetching a pretty penny on the secondary market. In 2020, the secondary market price of Old Forester Birthday Bourbon surpassed Buffalo Trace’s George T. Stagg and Thomas H. Handy bottles for the first time ever. But is the effort of obtaining a bottle really worth tracking one down? Let’s find out.
Nose: This is a breathtakingly complex nose right off the bat. Notes of sandalwood, cherries, bread pudding with raisins and vanilla bean all circulate around in the glass and impact your nostrils first. Then, notes of cinnamon baking spices, sweet caramel, baked pears and some floral notes provide even more depth and richness. For being only 98 proof, this has the nose of a much higher proof bourbon.
Palate: Outside of bourbon sourced from Cascade Hollow, I’ve never observed so many tropical fruits on my tongue as I have with this bottle. Flavors of dried pineapple, mango, coconut oil and eucalyptus are downright exotic and fun to explore. The wood notes are unlike anything else with both the flavor of cedarwood and soft oak. It’s hard to describe the impact they have on every sip. As the session continues, fresh picked strawberries and blueberries stuffed inside a crepe begins to take over as the dominant flavor.
Finish: The finish has a rare “sweet oak” taste that is satisfying and somewhat light. Light tobacco notes also stick around as well. The intense flavors on the palate don’t go away as notes of Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal hang around with crushed walnuts, strawberry and blueberry muffins and eucalyptus on the finish. That berry and eucalyptus flavors are so strange and exotic, but absolutely work well together
This is some fantastic bourbon. Everything was expertly balanced and the flavors were as wild as they were varied. Many people, including myself, would complain that the proof should have been higher. But there’s a fine line that I know Old Forester’s people walk when it comes to proofing down the entire batch until they find the sweet spot. Had this been 10-15 proof points higher, I doubt we’d see such an array of fruits like this.
I am sure there is a very careful balancing act when Old Forester produces these Birthday Bourbon releases in which they are constantly weighing the pros and cons of having a bolder, richer profile or a more interesting profile full of unique scents and tastes. An increase in proof may have covered up some of the more delicate floral and wood notes on the nose with heavier ones of spice and caramel.
In the end, I am glad they went with a slightly lower proof than last year’s release as I feel like this allowed it to become more interesting. Not everyone will agree, but for those who crave big and bold flavors, Old Forester has both the 150th Anniversary Batches and the President’s Select Single Barrels that are up to the task. It’s almost as if they wanted to give every category of bourbon drinker something to celebrate with this year. And this year’s Birthday Bourbon is the icing on the cake.
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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