I still remember the very first Birthday Bourbon from Old Forester I laid hands on some five or six years ago; I was visiting my hometown and a buddy who managed a small liquor store had told me that he had a friend who had a Birthday Bourbon and that friend was looking to part with it. Better still, the price was dirt cheap, and so it was of course a yes. After the deal was done, that evening another good friend upon learning of my good fortune had asked if he could buy it from me - he was going to be playing in a golf outing with some friends and tradition was that everyone brings a nice bourbon to share, and he wanted to show off this particular year. I sold it to him for exactly what I paid for it, and it would then be three years before another Birthday Bourbon happened into my life. Below we discuss the particulars of Birthday Bourbon which likely includes some facts unknown to many Bourboneurs out there!
With this year's Birthday Bourbon release, Old Forester celebrated its 21st anniversary of this limited-edition bottling, with the original release having debuted in the spring of 2002 The suggested retail price is a hundred fifty bucks, but you'll be lucky to ever see that...frankly, you may never see that if I'm being honest with y'all. The youngest bourbon in the lineup is from way back in 2004 at eight years of age, with the oldest being from 2006 at thirteen years. The lowest proof is from the 2003 fall bottling at 89 proof, whilst the highest is from 2019 at 105. Interestingly, in 2003 the distillery featured two releases, whilst every year since has only seen one. The name "Birthday Bourbon" is meant to commemorate founder George Garvin Brown's birthday.
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.
The table below highlights the entire twenty-year history of Birthday Bourbons detailing the key particulars for each bottling, where known.
Although there are a fair number of Birthday Bourbons floating around out there, as you can imagine, there aren't a lot of 2002/2003 vintage bottlings trading hands given their age and rarity on the market. With the exception of 2002 and 2011 however (where an unknown quantity of Birthday Bourbon was produced - likely a low amount given the lack of data), the Bourbon Blue Book has secondary sales data for every year. The chart below provides the current average for each year...as this data is refreshed weekly, expect the numbers to vary for the more recent bottlings, of which there's more trading hands compared to earlier releases which are uncommon to see on the Secondary Bourbon Market.
As you can see in our table highlighting barrels produced by year (where the data is available), we're not talking a huge number of bottles - especially in light of demand. For 2023, the 103 barrels produced equated to some fourteen thousand bottles, compare that to George T. Stagg from Buffalo Trace which produced some 45,000 bottles back in 2018 and it's clear why this is an allocated bottling that commands such interest. The rarity isn't exactly a new thing either, back in 2015, Brown Forman distributed shirts that stated "I Went To Buy Old Forester Birthday Bourbon. And All I Got Was This Free T-Shirt"...some things change, but some things stay the same.
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