It’s only day 2 of my personal quarantine and I will admit I have been struggling. Fortunately, I have a large stockpile of whiskey and my random drawing of bottles for this review series landed on one of my favorites for Day 2: the 2019 Old Forester Birthday Bourbon!
I really don’t need to say much about Old Forester. This fabled brand has been around for 150 years and holds the distinctions of being the only bourbon continuously distilled and marketed by the founding family before, during and after Prohibition, and for being the first bottled bourbon. Their whisky portfolio includes numerous standard releases, including the 86 proof bourbon, 100 proof bourbon, and 100 proof rye, as well as numerous special releases, including the Whisky Row Collection (1870, 1897, 1910, 1920), the President’s Choice Bourbon, and, perhaps the most famous release, the annual Birthday Bourbon.
The 2019 release of the Birthday Bourbon is the 19th release in the series and is particularly special because it is the highest proof release to date at 105 proof (52.5% abv). The mash bill for this whiskey is not disclosed but previously releases were comprised of 72% corn, 18% rye, and 10% malted barley. A total of 120 barrels were selected for this release, all of which were distilled on May 15, 2008, and aged on the second floor of Warehouse I for 11 years. A estimated total of 13,200 bottles were released in September 2019. This bottle retails for the low price of $100.
Appearance – tawny, with thick, slow legs clinging to the glass.
Nose – a mild spice greets you initially but it is quickly overpowered by a rich, complex aroma comprised of layers of fresh, buttery toffee, vanilla, and a few notes of warm milk chocolate. With time the rich aromas settle enough to reveal some oak char, sweet corn, and even a hint of honeydew on the back end.
Palate – this bourbon hits the palate with a bouquet of flavors that is almost a rich as the nose. Warm vanilla cake and caramel are present, along with few notes of stewed dark fruit. A mild rye spice develops mid-palate, along with just the right amount of heat to balance all the rich, sweet flavors.
Finish – the finish is long and smooth, with a wonderfully thick viscosity. Surprisingly, a relatively sharp, peppery spice cuts through the rich flavors and lingers pleasantly, along with notes of cinnamon, char, and some astringent oak.
Overall – I’ve been fortunate enough to try several of the Birthday Bourbon releases but the 2019 release is absolutely one of my favorites! I was hooked on this bourbon as soon as I started to nose it and things just kept getting better from there. The rich toffee notes on the nose transition to the palate but ultimately lead to a spicier profile than expected. The higher proof on this release also balanced the rich, sweet notes that are present throughout. The finish is long, warm, and smooth, and provides some lingering astringency, which compels you to come back for another sip.