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Cigar Aficionado

A Happy Birthday for Old Forester Bourbon

The effects of extreme conditions of cold and heat during maturation highlight the 2011 version of Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, an annually released whiskey that showcases a single day’s distillation and the different influences temperature can have on the final product.

This 12-year-old version is the tenth expression of the Birthday Bourbon line, meant to honor George Garvin Brown, a founder of Brown-Forman, which owns Old Forester, as well as Jack Daniel’s and Woodford Reserve.

Brown, born September 2, 1846, created the company in 1870, and it became the first to offer Bourbon in a sealed glass bottle to ensure consistency and authenticity. Prior to that, package stores bottled Bourbon from their own store of barrels, which invited counterfeits. Consumers would have had to go directly to the distillery to be guaranteed they were getting the whiskey they wanted.

The Birthday Bourbon has been released in very small batches since 2002, with widely different—but consistently pleasant—results each year. Chris Morris, master distiller of Brown-Forman, said that this year’s release comes from 62 barrels of whiskey that were distilled on July 11, 1999. The casks were stored in warehouses on the first floor of Warehouse H and the sixth floor of Warehouse I, which, according to Morris, exposed them to extreme heat fluctuations. The barrels were made from Northern and Ozark white oak. They were dumped in the spring of this year.

The major impression of this vintage is how complex this Bourbon is—not only with many different tasting notes, but spanning a large margin of flavors from sweet to savory.

Old Forest Birthday Bourbon Vintage 2011 (49 percent alcohol by volume or 98 proof, $49.99)

APPEARANCE: Deep amber color with sturdy, slow moving legs.

NOSE: Loads of rich caramel are the first sense, but it soon breaks apart into a multifaceted nose of dry fruit, berries, cocoa and rich nuts.

PALATE: In the mouth, the whiskey undergoes even more fascinating transformations. Starting off berries, plums and hard candy, it turns rounder with caramel, vanilla and maple candy. Then comes the big surprise: vegetal. Savory avocados and asparagus flirt with the Bourbon’s expected sugars.

FINISH: That savoriness remains on the finish for quite a long time, but variously pops with almost all the other flavors of the palate, especially hard candy. Take a long time with this Bourbon.

"I am a bourbon fanatic and really look forward to getting a bottle. JDrew" —October 10, 2011 16:55 PM
"Nice review Jack. It is always nice to hear someone tout the complexities and good bourbon has." —October 10, 2011 13:42 PM