You may not have noticed that quietly a series of unicorns was released into the wild back in the fall of 2020...of course, with the distraction of a pandemic coming into full swing, I wouldn't much blame folks for not knowing that this trio of bottles even exists at all. To commemorate 150 years of making great brownwater, Old Forester went back to its roots to develop three batches of unfiltered bourbon, much the way it was done in 1870 when the company was founded. Below we dig into the batches, some history and lay on some whiskey wisdom.
A true pioneer, George Garvin Brown was a pharmaceutical salesman turned bourbon-merchant, who founded the Brown-Forman Corporation which is still managed by his descendants to this day. The company has been continuously producing bourbon since 1870 - longer than any other company. George is accredited for being a change agent in the whiskey business as he would seal and sell his whiskey exclusively in a glass bottle, an industry first. These bottles were amber in color and composed of hand-blown glass. Typically, at this point in history, bourbon would be sold by the barrel, and many barrels didn't make it to the consumer of said beverage without being adulterated, watered down, flavored and colored with iodine, tobacco, and other substances. The innovative use of a sealed bottle helped ensure quality at a time that predated any modern food safety acts. George is also attributed to being the first to commercially batch whiskey. The batching process helped ensure consistency in the flavor profile of the bourbon he produced and sold.
In preparing for the 150th anniversary bottling, 150 barrels were set aside that were divided into three unique batches honoring George Garvin Brown's batching process from the three original distilleries. The batches all come in hot at barrel strength and are presented in an amber bottle in homage to the hand-blown amber glass that would have been used in the 1870s and then seated in a commemorative tube which really sets these bottles apart from most Old Forester products. Although there is no age statement, what we do know is that about three barrels worth of brownwater were lost to the angels through natural evaporative processes.
At 147 barrels in total, and 260(ish) bottles yielded from a typical barrel, we're talking about 39,000 bottles between all three batches. That may sound like a lot, but if you compare it to Pappy Van Winkle, a "really rare" bourbon by any account, the distillery releases approximately 84,000 bottles each year. So, with a bit of perspective, Old Forester 150 was already a rare bourbon, and the passing of time, and in my case, the drinking of bottles, doesn't help any with finding one of these beauties given a couple years have passed. They're not making any more Old Forester 150 after all!
Old Forester 150, Batch 1 I've referred to as the "little batch" as it is comprised of only 46 barrels (lowest yielding of the three batches) and the lowest proof, clocking in at 125.6. Described by the distillery as a "fruit bomb" it's probably my least favorite of the lot...not much more to say there.
Old Forester 150, Batch 2 may be my favorite of the lot as it hits just the right tone in terms of the way it comes together on the tongue. The distillery refers to this batch as being "sweet and spry" and I'd probably agree with that. It hits you a bit hot on the front of the palate, but the finish will have you standing up and awarding it a slow clap. This batch comes in at 126.4 proof and is comprised of a total of 48 barrels.
The biggest and boldest of the Old Forester 150th Anniversary Series is the Batch 3 bottling. With a yield of 53 barrels, Batch 3 comes in a touch hotter than the rest at 126.8 proof. The distillery sums this bottling up as displaying a "green and spice" type character. The tasting notes on this are pretty interesting, and I will admit that as I pour it, it's got a lot going on...some I like, and some I don't...but it's an interesting pour to dissect, and as a Certified Bourbon Professional, I tend to enjoy the nuances of my bourbon, especially when dropping the kind of coin that's required to nab one of these!
The best way to enjoy Old Forester 150 that I've found is with good friends. At the end of the day this is a bottle that's made in celebration of a milestone, so I tend to bring them out in a commensurate fashion, to celebrate - be that making it to the end of a long day, or a friend's birthday. The one suggestion I may make however, is to make sure you have the right glass...it makes all the difference in the world!!
Bourboneur Glencairn Glass