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Old Forester: How A Bourbon Icon Fixed The Industry And Now Runs The Most Successful National Sweepstakes


Old Forester lays claim to the title of being the longest running Bourbon brand, having made it through before, during and after the great Prohibition in the 1920's - established in 1870 by George Garvin Brown, Old Forester is over 150 years old and remains incredibly popular! Pretty damn successful, I'd say!

George Garvin Brown, Old Forester's founder, was formally a pharmaceutical salesman before he became a Bourbon-merchant, alongside his very illustrious half brother John Thompson Street Brown (known around as J. T. S. Brown) - together they had first started a wholesale liquor business that sat on Louisville, Kentucky's Whiskey Row along Main Street. J. T. S. Brown had at which point already gained a fair bit of experience with Bourbons and was already selling a J. T. S. Brown Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey (which would eventually be taken under the umbrella of Heaven Hill Distillery, another Bourbon biggie), and would eventually also provide to yet another Bourbon biggie, Four Roses, his distillery which continues to be in use till this day. This gave George Garvin Brown a good handle on the ropes of the Bourbon business.


Every year, Old Forester holds a national sweepstakes for its Old Forester Birthday Bourbon commemorating founder George Garvin Brown's birthday.


It's A Real Problem And Old Forester Will Fix It!

Back in the mid-1800's there was a real quality problem with Bourbons - their quality was highly inconsistent and difficult to trust. But this wasn't the fault of Bourbon producers - they did their best to produce great Bourbons - however, the common practice of selling Bourbon by the barrel to wholesalers meant that wholesalers would often seek to dilute the Bourbon by adding all sorts of coloured products in order to profit more handsomely without incurring more cost.

George Garvin Brown saw this and combined with his time being a pharmaceutical salesman selling whiskey that was classified as "medicinal", he would conclude that what was needed was to exclusively sell bottled and sealed whiskey - this is again another major achievement that Old Forester lays claim to, being the first to do so. Brown would procure bulk whiskey from J. M. Atherton Distillery and B. F. Mattingly Distillery, and blend the two together to produce his whiskey. To add more assurances to his whiskey, he would name this blend after a Dr. William Forrester, who was a notable physician in Kentucky that endorsed the product from Brown. And as you might've guessed, Old Forester was once Old Forrester, with a double "r" to its name.


1950's Old Forester ad. (Image Source: Etsy)


Nevertheless with time, the company would move beyond the Kentucky physician's endorsement and thus dropped one of the "r" in its name, and also rename its company Brown-Forman, as a result of taking in new partners to the business, in particular a George Forman who was the company's bookkeeper. By 1902, Brown would take back sole control of the company and till this day, the Brown-Forman Corporation which owns the likes of Woodford Reserve, Jack Daniel's, GlenDronach Scotch whisky, and Herradura Tequila, remains primarily owned by the Brown family.

Medicinal Whiskey, You Don't Say.

Several more decades would pass and Prohibition would sweep across the US - this would quash many a whiskey producer - but because of Old Forester's quality assurances, it would receive one of only six licenses allowing Old Forester to continue to produce "medical" whiskey - this would also be the time when Old Forester would move away from being a blended whiskey to becoming a 100 Proof Straight Bourbon in accordance to legal requirements. This came as a result of Brown having acquired the Mattingly Distillery it had procured its bulk whiskies from, which was then renamed to the Brown-Forman Distillery.

Coming out of Prohibition, guess who had the best stock of aged whiskies? You got it - Brown-Forman! 


Old Forester's return to Whiskey Row was highly anticipated by fans!


A Living Legend That Continues To Stay Relevant

Eventually Brown-Forman would purchase in 1940 the Old Kentucky Distillery in Louisville and relocate its production, and is where Old Forester is produced till this day. Later on in 2018, Brown-Forman would also bring back the Old Forester Distilling Co in Downtown Louisville at the historic Whiskey Row in the original building that was used from 1882 to 1919. The iconic Bourbon distiller is also known for its partnerships, from proclaiming itself the best Bourbon for a Mint Julep that's a necessity for anyone attending the Kentucky Derby, to providing their barrels to cult favourite American craft beer brewery Goose Island for its highly sought after Goose Island Bourbon County barrel aged stout. 

The distillery even has quite the sense of humour and optimism - when Covid struck and the Kentucky Derby Day was called off, Old Forester saw the silver lining and held the Kentucky Turtle Derby which could be viewed on Youtube, and viewers could place bets on any one of six turtles - the last time the same event was held, it was 1945 when the Kentucky Derby Day was held off as a result of WWII.



So with all that said, let's talk mashbills!

Old Forester has one - 72% Corn, 18% Rye, 10% Malted Barley

This recipe has more rye than most, but is also nothing too abnormal, and is used across all of Old forester's Bourbons - the major differences in production that accounts for the variation in flavours across the Old Forester expressions then is where the barrels of whiskies are aged, different bottling proofs, how long the whiskies are aged, and the number of times its barreled, and of course how the whiskey is blended.

Having covered our groundwork, it's time to try an Old Forester classic - the Old Forester 100 Proof Bourbon! Onward!

Old Forester 100 Proof Bourbon - Review


Tasting Notes

Colour: Maple Syrup

Aroma: Rather thick and sweet, but also with sufficient oomph, really aromatic. Brown sugar, baking spices, chocolate sauce, toffee, butterscotch, vanilla cream, some oaky notes too. There’s also a distinct hit of banana bread and caramel custard pudding. There’s a very thin artificial cherry note that’s alittle plasticky - the closest would be maraschino cherries. It’s altogether really rich and rounded.

Taste: Hot brown sugar, baking spices, milk chocolate, vanilla cream, there’s a light nuttiness but it’s rather vague. It mellows out to more on toffee and butterscotch. That banana bread note persists, with the cherry taking the form of a cherry fruit leather, it’s lightly tart but darker and more dried. Alittle bit of Pei Pa Koa cough syrup, eucalyptus, also candied ginger. It’s alittle thinner here than I expected from the aromas.

Finish: The wood tannins are more prominent here, tobacco leaves too, and alittle bit of black tea. It fades out with caramel and some vanilla cream. Alittle minty too.


My Thoughts

A pretty solid classic Bourbon! It’s got all those signature brown sugar, baking spices, chocolate sauce and vanilla notes, and what’s particularly nice is that it’s also got the banana bread and light cherries that  are quite sought after (by me, at least) - and all of it is taken up a notch with a good amount of oomph and punchiness. Especially on the nose, I was really quite impressed! Really rounded as well.

That said, whilst most of what I thoroughly enjoyed on the aromas carried into the palate, I felt the that texture here was alittle thin, if it was more full-bodied and richer, this would’ve been stellar. Also, it’s worth pointing out that everything the OF 100 Proof offers is really the classic Bourbon flavour profile at an entry level - which means don’t go in expecting anything wild or mindblowing. For the price and availability, this does the job perfectly well as a daily sipper.

Major plus points for the banana bread and cherry flavours!