Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2014

Posted on by Eric Burke

Old Forester bourbon was first bottled in 1870. That’s a pretty small statement for somthing that had as large of an impact as this did so let me repeat it. Old Forester was first bottled in 1870. And in doing so it became the first brand to be exclusively available in that packaging. You couldn’t get it in a barrel. You had to buy it in a bottle. 

Doesn’t seem that odd today. Even if you buy a barrel of something, you can still only get it delivered to your local liquor store as a bunch of bottles. (Unless you have all the proper licensure, of course.) But pre-Prohibition, this wasn’t the case. And why would it be? The bourbon is already in the perfect container for transport. Why would anyone want to spend the money to take it out of it’s already perfect container just to put it into an expensive bottle? A glass bottle? That might break? And cost money?

But that container isn’t actually perfect, is it? It’s got one major flaw. It can’t be sealed and made “tamper-proof.” It might leave the producer as Straight Bourbon Whiskey. But by the time it ends up in the consumer’s mouth it might have had any number of foul additives introduced to it. And since most medical professionals of the time agreed with today’s connoisseurs that whiskey is a healthful product, foul additives might just put a damper on things.

Enter George Garvin Brown, who seems to have noticed that there was a distinct lack of trust for the consistent availability of quality whiskey amongst the medical professionals. He decided to market a sealed whiskey exclusively to doctors. It was only available in a sealed bottle thereby assuring everyone of the unadulterated product inside. He named it after a local doctor, one Doctor Forrester. (After the good doctor passed away, that extra r was dropped.) The company he founded went on to become today’s Brown-Foreman producers of many things, but most notably for this site, Jack Daniels, Woodford Reserve and Old Forester.

In 2002, Brown-Foreman decided to honor their founder by releasing a yearly limited 12 year old bourbon called Birthday Bourbon. It is announced on, or around, the September 2 birthday of Brown. It is released sometime after that. The batch is taken from a single day’s production.

I first noticed Birthday Bourbon in the fall of 2011. The bottle that my liquor store had was from the year before. I noticed it because it was barreled in 1997, the year I was married. I was looking for something special for my wife and I to share since both our birthdays and our wedding anniversary take place all within the same week. Coincidentally in September. It made a fun treat. Released near our birthday and barreled the year we were married. Not too shabby.

Of course since then, it has become impossible to find. Luckily we’ve normally had the chance to at least taste it. This year with a new national-chain liquor store showing up in town, I was able to finally get my hands on another bottle.

Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, 2014

Purchase info: $39.99 for 750mL at Total Wine, Burnsville, MN (yes, that is about $20 below the average price).

Details: Barreled 2002. Bottled 2014. 12 years old. 48.5% ABV

Nose: Brown sugar, caramel apple and latex paint

Mouth: Creamy mouthfeel. Spicy and sweet with cinnamon, maple and apple.

Finish: Lingering warmth with spicy latex paint and ripe fruit.

Thoughts: I like this whiskey very much. Spicy and fruity with a creamy mouthfeel and a nice finish.

It’s taken me a long time to place that “Brown-Foreman” nose that both Old Forester and Woodford Reserve have. In this one I finally figured it out. It’s a fruity latex paint. This sounds awful but isn’t (much like Scotch lovers will describe the wax or band-aid scent of certain drams and not mean it in a bad way.) I’ll admit, I actually rather like it.

Advice, sharing & a review: Old Medley 12 year

Posted on by Eric Burke

Some advice: when you meet with other whiskey enthusiasts, don’t overthink it. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Here are some of the things I’ve been guilty of in the past.

I was at a whiskey bar in Louisville and saw they had a few special (expensive) pours on the menu. I really wanted to try one, but didn’t because I didn’t want to come across as a douchebag who “only drinks the good stuff” even though it was just that I hadn’t had it before. Don’t overthink it.

I was at another whiskey bar where the bartender really seemed to know his stuff. Even though I tend toward fanboyishness for Four Roses and really wanted it, I bought a pour of Old GrandDad 114 so that he would know that I knew how to find an overlooked gem too. I’m pretty sure he didn’t notice. Don’t overthink it.

I met a whiskey writer that I admire for the first time and we had a taste of an amazing old Rye from before I was born. Even though I was hungry, and the food was right in front of me, I had to be talked into having some along with the whiskey. I didn’t want to be seen as disrespecting something that was amazingly rare and special. Don’t overthink it.

I was at a tasting in a local liquor store and saw that many others were nosing by hovering just above the lip of their nosing glasses. I adjusted my deep dive to match their shallow one even though I have allergies and need to get all the way in so I can pick anything up. I didn’t actually end up smelling anything that night. Don’t overthink it.

Social anxiety has been something that I’ve struggled with my entire life. I tend to come across as a gregarious person. It’s a persona that I, eventually, had adopted for so long that I thought it was who I actually was. But deep down, that crippling shyness never really went away. It just chose odd times to really show up. But here’s the thing, when I finally stopped worrying about if others were judging how I enjoyed my whiskey, I ended up enjoying my whiskey much more.

Ok here’s one more: I was in a liquor store in St. Louis to meet up with a local blogger. We ended up doing a little shopping. I was, once again, in danger of overthinking the bottle I was buying. I saw some that I knew I couldn’t get at home but was straying over to those that the other geeks prefer. It took my wife quietly taking me to task to make me realize what I was doing. In the end I ended up picking up a bottle of Old Medley 12 year. I’d heard of it, knew it was sourced but little else. I also knew I couldn’t get it at home and that even if it turned out that it wasn’t good, it would at least be something new. I didn’t over think it. I just bought it. And eventually I just drank it.

Old Medley 12 Year Old

Purchase Info: ~$45 for a 750 mL at the Wine and Cheese Place, St. Louis, MO

Details: 43.4% ABV. Distilled in Kentucky, bottled in California.

Nose: This whiskey cannot make up its mind if it wants to be sweet with spicy cinnamon or sharp with vegetal oak on the nose. It’s never both, but switches back and forth.

Mouth: Slightly syrupy mouthfeel with mint, clove and oak tannins.

Finish: Harsh but short with a lingering bitter mineral note.

Thoughts: I would probably like this much more if I hadn’t paid so much for it. It reminds me a lot of an older, woodier version of Ezra Brooks. There isn’t anything particularly wrong with it, but there isn’t much to recommend it at $40+ unless you really like an over-oaked bourbon.

Willett Family Estate Bottled Small Batch Rye, Aged 2 years

Posted on by Eric Burke

In September of 2012, I took my first tour of the Willett Distillery. There was a bit of cosmetic work still to be done, but they were up and running. I saw giant tanks full of fermenting mash and I was close enough to feel the heat coming off of their column still. I visited the warehouses and I took a lot of photos. Many ended up in the photo essay I did on it shortly after returning. Some of the photos I took there are among my favorite pictures I have taken at a distillery. It really is a beautiful place. That was just over two years ago. 

Willett has always had a following amongst the whiskey geeks for the single barrel bourbons and ryes that they release. Sourced whiskey, that through skillful aging and careful selection, has come to be known as some of the best you can buy. And that’s not just the old-timers talking about what used to be. There are two that I bought within the last year that might be in my top five bourbons I’ve ever tasted. So needless to say when it was announced that Willett was distilling product of their own, the Whiskyratti were all atwitter at what might come of it.

In September 2014 I picked up a bottle of Willett Estate Bottled Rye, aged two years. Was this what I saw in the tanks or going through the stills two years ago? Probably not, since there wasn’t quite enough time for that (I was there almost two years to the day and they needed some time to select and bottle it). But it’s fun to think that as I drove past or toured the warehouses on that first trip this young rye was in there somewhere, just settling in to take its short nap on its way to becoming the juice in my bottle.

Here’s what the distillery has to say about it:

In the bottling of this Rye Whsikey, we commingled the high rye Willett mash bill (74% rye, 11% corn, 15% malted barley) with the low rye Willett mash bill (51% rye, 34% corn, 15% malted barley). A larger percentage of the high rye mash bill was used in the commingling process. This is a non-chillfiltered Rye Whiskey.

Willett Family Estate Bottled Small Batch Rye, Aged 2 years

Purchase info: $35 at the distillery gift shop

Details: 55.7% ABV. Distilled, aged and bottled by Willett Distillery. Cask strength. Small Batch, not single barrel like other Family Estate Bottled releases I've had.

Nose: Grain forward. Mint leaves, orange, pine sap, green cardamom pods.

Mouth: Sweet but with a definite tingle. Grain, savory herbs and spearmint.

Finish: Nice and long. Sweet and minty.


Thoughts: First off let me say this is a decent two year old whiskey. It might be the best I’ve had. That, of course, does not mean this is a great whiskey by any stretch of the imagination. It’s very good. But it’s very good for a two year old. This isn’t even old enough to be called whiskey in most whiskey-making countries. I have two different recommendations depending on who you are. 

  1. If you are a lover of Willett and want to taste what they have been up to: buy this. It’s tasty enough that if you love it, like some do, awesome! If not, it’s cheap enough that you can say it fullfilled your curiosity.
  2. If you are new to rye whiskey: maybe wait. Not saying that you won’t like it, but you might want to let this one grow up a little more. It might disappoint if you aren’t prepared for it.

Mixed Results on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour

Posted on by Eric Burke

One of the things I like to do in Kentucky is visit distilleries. To this end, when I heard a couple years ago that the Kentucky Bourbon Trail was organizing an offshoot passport program for craft distillers, I was not only intrigued, but excited. I owe my entire love of whiskey to one of the founding members of this tour (MB Roland) and so the very first opportunity I had to pick up a passport, I did. The reward is a julep cup. I really love free stuff.

My first stop was the Willett Distillery in Bardstown, KY. The Kulsveen family has been selling amazing bourbon out of this facility for many years. The current craft distillery is relatively new though. So new that they only recently released the first product distilled there, a two year old rye. This is a beautiful place. I highly recommend stopping in for a tour. (I did a review of my first visit back in 2012, though I know some things have changed in intervening time).

The second stop on my Craft Tour experience was at Old Pogue. Old Pogue was as much of a history tour as it was a distillery tour. And I loved that about it. Good history, good bourbon, a pretty drive. It hit all the right notes for me. (I did a separate review for this one as well.)

Barrel House Distilling was kind of an impromptu stop for me. I was trying to get over the disappointment that was Town Branch and found I had just a little time to kill before my planned drive to the Party Source to do some shopping. They were literally minutes away from where I was. Barrel House Distilling is located in the barrel house of the old James E. Pepper distillery on Manchester Street in Lexington. I was a bit unsure what to expect as I drove up to what looked like an abandoned building. But, ever the adventurer, I parked the car and made my way to the door. 

Upon entering I was greeted by Noah Brown, Operations Manager for the company. There was no one else there so even though we didn't have enough time for a full tour, we chatted a bit about what they were working on. I saw the still, some of the experiments they were conducting and did a tasting. Along the way, I decided I needed to do a little shopping before heading out of town and bought a bottle of rum. All in all, I found the place fascinating and need to get back to do the full tour.

Fast forward almost a year between stops in my journey to complete the passport and you'll find me driving southwest from Elizabethtown toward Bowling Green in search of a visit to Corsair Artisan. Corsair is one of those places that I've admired for a while. They literally wrote the book on experimental whiskey recipes. And while I've never had the opportunity to buy one of their liquid products, I do own the book. And have enjoyed it the numerous times I've read it. 

Corsair is located just off of a lovely little park/commercial area in Bowling Green. The space they are in is beautiful and spaceous in a manner that suggests that it had a previous life, maybe light industrial or retail. (A little searching of the internet suggests that my theory on the retail is correct.) Exposed brick and polished wood floors abound in the gift shop and tasting area. I have a feeling I may be stopping here again.

Paul and Merry Beth Tomaszewski at MB Roland Distillery are two very fine folks that I consider friends. I try to either stop in for a visit or meet up with them every time I pass near their place. The distillery is on the grounds of an old Amish farm just a mile or two north of I-24 in Southwestern Kentucky. Tours are available (and I would encourage you to take one), there is a gift shop and tasting room and several times throughout the summer they host a concert series named Pickin' On The Porch at the distillery. If you visit, you will not be disappointed. Great people that make great products.

I will admit to bias, but I love the stuff they make. I currently have bottles of their bourbon, white dog, Kentucky Black Dog, Pink Lemonade and St. Elmo's Fire on my shelf (or in my fridge). 

I just posted a review of Limestone Branch Distillery last week. But I will give you the 30 second synopsis. Great people making tasty products. Visit them next time you are near Lebanon. You can team it up with a visit to Independent Stave's Kentucky Cooperage and Maker's Mark if you wish.

And since that was my last stop, I got my julep cup. It was smaller than I expected. And had some rust/discoloration on it. Disappointing, but I’m not one to complain to loudly about how my free thing isn’t perfect.

Because I picked my passport up fairly early in the life of this endeavor, my passport only had seven distilleries on it. There are currently two more and someday soon I hope to visit those as well. But wait, you might be saying, you've only listed six above? You are correct. I couldn't bring myself make this next one look nice.

You see, I find people that use women as accessories to be offensive and I go out of my way to not give them money. This is the only weapon I have in the fight to get companies to treat women as if they are equal human beings worthy of equal respect. In this case, in order to get my stamp, I had pay up. You see, the only way to get a stamp is to go to the distillery. The only way to go to the distillery is to buy a $7 ticket. You are free to make your own choices, but I won't be visiting here again. 

I'm going to be a little judgmental here. Silver Trail is reason that I can't recommend participating in the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour passport program. I think that every other one of the distilleries that I visited are worth visiting in their own right. They make great products and you absolutely should visit them all. But Hardin is very far out of the way, the company at least presents itself as misogynistic, and it will cost you $7 per person to get your stamp. I recommend saving that money. Maybe spend it at one of the other distilleries to buy…oh, I don't know...a non-rusty julep cup?

A Pair of Wheat Whiskeys from Heaven Hill: Bernheim Original & Parker's Heritage

Posted on by Eric Burke

I am a 38 year old man. My dog has been aged for a minimum of two years. My wife is…

…yeah. My wife is NAS. That’s No Age Statement for those of you who are not versed in geeky acronyms. And much like my wife, many whiskeys have recently chosen to remove their age statements. It’s due to a lot of factors, but the main one seems to be a decided lack of stocks of an adequate age. 

So in an era when age statements are falling faster than the leaves outside my house, it would be big news if someone actually added an age statement to their bottle. It would mean not only that they had adequate stocks of that particular whiskey, but that they foresaw that they would continue to have it for as much of the future as is foreseeable. Plus, why bother? NAS whiskey is selling fine.

But, in spite of all that, that’s what Heaven Hill recently did to their Bernheim Wheat Whiskey. Bottles bearing a large, yet slightly oddly worded, “7 Years Aged” have recently begun to work their way through retail channels. I have yet to see it in Minnesota so when I saw a bottle down in Kentucky bearing the age statement, I knew I needed to buy it. If for no other reason than I like to reward good behavior.

Positive Reinforcement People!

Bernheim Original Kentucky Straight Wheat Whiskey, 7 Years Aged

Purchase Info: $28.99 for a 750 mL at Liquor Barn, Louisville, KY

Details: 45% ABV, Aged 7 Years

Nose: Sweet cotton candy, pears, fleeting hints of peanuts

Mouth: Sweet with a black pepper tingle and vitamin or mineral notes

Finish: Gentle burn. Continues the palate with lingering sweetness along with the black pepper and mineral notes.

Thoughts: This is pleasant though uninteresting. It can take a little water, but not much. I like it but wouldn’t want it for every pour. I’d love to see that age statement creep up even further.

That last statement is something that I’d heard almost every time that I talked to someone about Bernheim. It’s the common refrain: a higher proof and more age would make this perfect. And I’d say in this case, they might be right. Lucky for me, shortly after I got home from Kentucky I got the chance to see for myself if common knowledge was correct.

While I was in Bardstown for BourbonFest last month, Heaven Hill released this year’s Parker’s Heritage Collection to their gift shops. It is a 13 year old cask strength wheat whiskey along the lines of the Bernheim. Just older. And higher proof. I missed it in both the Even Williams Experience and in the Bourbon Heritage Center gift shops. The Bourbon Heritage Center by mere minutes. 

Things take a little longer to get to Minnesota some times so when I started to see tweets from local liquor stores showing that they had this year’s PHC I started making my rounds. Many were holding it for raffles or events, but one new comer to our market doesn’t believe in that. They just put it on the shelf. And I happened to walk in looking for a six pack of beer at just the right time. 

Parker’s Heritage Collection: Original Batch Wheat Whiskey

Purchase Info: $109.99 Total Wine, Burnsville, MN

Details: 13 years old, 63.7% ABV, minimum 51% wheat mashbill

Nose: Dark brown sugar and caramel, leather and bready notes.

Taste: Sweet caramel, but hot on the palate. Cinnamon red hot candies, mint and ripe fruit.

Finish: Long, rich and warm. This one hangs around for a while.


Thoughts: This is a fantastic whiskey! A little hot without water, but settles down. At $110 I would seriously consider getting another if I saw it. But at that price I will probably only consider it. It’s just under my price ceiling for a bottle of whiskey. I’m happy to have bought it once, don’t know if I can bring myself to do so again.

Since I had a little of each left in my tasting glasses after this, I decided to try one more thing. 

Parker’s Heritage Wheat and Bernheim Wheat in a 50/50 blend

Details: My math puts this at 108.7° proof (54.35% ABV)

Nose: Brown sugar, red hot candies, ripe fruit. Shows a lot of the Parker’s in the nose.

Mouth: Thick mouthfeel. More so than either separately. Sweet brown sugar and baking spices.

Finish: Gentle burn that lasts a decent length of time. Sweetness mixed with spice.

Thoughts: I think I like this better than either alone. The Parker’s is awesome, both in flavor and in power. This is a bit more approachable without being boring. It is sweet but balanced with spice. I’d drink this everyday if they released it.