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Old Forester The 117 Series: High Angels’ Share (Batch 003) Review

Old Forester The 117 Series: High Angels’ Share (Batch 003) Review

“The 117 Series” is meant to be a very limited production run of new ideas that Old Forester is experimenting with. They had some catching up to do because the other Brown-Forman brands were already doing something similar themselves. Look up Woodford Reserve and Jack Daniel’s “The Distillers Series” if you were unaware.

Starting in early 2021, Old Forester announced the first release of this new line would be called “High Angels’ Share.” Later in that same year, a second batch was released. Since then, at least six other whiskies have came out. Then in March, 2024 we finally get another batch. Are they all the same? Read on to find out.

The product team came up with the idea for this bottle after finding a certain number of barrels that had very little liquid left inside of them. These barrels were supposedly destined for their single barrel program, but they couldn’t sell them that way since they contained so little bourbon.

Where did the bourbon go? That answer lies in the name of the product. The “Angels’ Share” is the term used for any liquid that evaporated inside of the barrel and somehow escaped. This is opposed to the term “Devil’s Cut” which denotes the liquid that gets trapped inside of the wooden staves of the barrel. Either way, mature barrels usually have – on average – 1/3 to 1/4 of the total amount of liquid still left inside of them by time they’re pulled to be bottled.

So what’s the big deal with all of these mostly-empty barrels? The liquid is usually prized for being much more concentrated (and therefore more flavorful) than a standard barrel of bourbon. I can see the reasoning in that because I’ve seen the results of what some short barrels have left over. In some cases, it’s like a black sludge.

Rather than letting us experience this batch of super-concentrated liquid at barrel proof, Old Forester bottles it at 110 proof. That still makes it one of the highest-proofed 117 Series bottles you can buy. The rest are usually proofed down to 93 (boooo).

The 117 Series: High Angels’ Share specs

Since it’s an Old Forester product, the bourbon used here is the same 72% corn, 18% rye, 10% malted barley recipe that you’d find in their other products (Whiskey Row Series 1924 notwithstanding). And since we know these barrels were originally pulled to be in the single barrel program, we have to assume they are aged somewhere between 4.5 and 6 years old.

If this seems young to you, then realize that Old Forester barrels are matured in (mostly) heat-cycled warehouses where they’re never allowed to go dormant. Heat is occasionally pumped inside of them in the winter. This means they are constantly maturing. It is rare for an Old Forester product to go above the 6-year-old mark and if it does, it’s usually a barrel destined for Birthday Bourbon, President’s Choice or another allocated release.

These bottles of “High Angels’ Share” originally sold for just under $60 at the distillery, but there have been sightings of them for sale at retail stores for $50 at a Total Wine in Louisville. For a 375ml bottle, that’s quite expensive for an Old Forester product. But seeing as how most single barrels of the same product are selling for around $90, it’s not a terrible value.

So how does this newest edition taste? Let’s find out. I sampled this neat in a glencairn.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Pleasant aromas of soft oak, melting caramel candies and a hint of nuts (pecan?). Lighter notes are probably noticeable because this has been proofed down a bit. I can find vanilla bean custard and lemon curd this way. Otherwise the nose is very rich and is basically what I imagine a great bottle of Old Forester would taste like.

Palate: The spices really kick in on my first sip. I’m finding a good amount of cinnamon spice, black pepper and oak spice. But it also reveals a softer side like Mounds bars and cherry cordial. Not all of the oak is spiced or seasoned, some of it is dry. I also find the taste of varnish, leather and pipe tobacco within. There are some notes that are close to candy bar flavors like nougat and toasted pecans. They help provide a creamy mouthfeel. For fruits, I can find some raisins and a little bit of citrus extract. Every sip is great – bold and focused.

Finish: The finish calms down into flavors of Cherry Twizzlers, raspberries and some dark chocolate. The fruit notes also taste like those hard, glossy candies from grandma’s candy dish. Lingering spice notes of cinnamon, fennel and allspice combine with oak and leather. The finish lasts for a moderate to long amount of time, but leaves you satisfied and ready for the next one.

Score: 8/10

I’ve already reviewed the first batch of High Angels’ Share and found it to be a fantastic pour. It’s not the best example of a balanced bourbon, but it is a very flavorful one. And judging from my experience with Batch 3, it’s very similar. Both are fairly different from each other as I found Batch 1 to concentrate more on wood and spices while Batch 3 has some lovely fruit flavors and scents throughout. But you can tell they’re cut from the same cloth.

Final Thoughts

I fully admit these releases are tough to find if you’re not from Kentucky. But thankfully the secondary market has cooled off quite a bit from the initial release of Batch 1 three years ago. Back then, flippers were selling a single bottle for upwards of $210. Nowadays, secondary prices are a more reasonable $100. So while this may still seem very high, it’s not totally unreasonable for Old Forester fanboys (and fangirls) who want to experience what their favorite brand is up to.

If you were in the right place at the right time and were able to buy these, then great! I was super pumped to be able to get mine. But if you weren’t, then don’t fret too much. I’ve still found comparable single barrels in terms of flavor and overall experience. But if you feel like splurging to get one on the secondary, I can’t blame you. I probably would, too.

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