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Looking at Old Forester (86 proof)

Posted on by Eric Burke

Old Forester is getting quite the love from producer Brown-Forman these days. It started a few years ago when the labels got a branding refresh. This past fall, when visiting the Kentucky Bourbon Festival, I noticed that the "Woodford Reserve Booth" at the Sampler was now double-branded, sharing equal billing with Old Forester. Then there is the planned Whiskey Row distillery/visitor space in Louisville. And of course, how could we forget the Whiskey Row series of bourbons? The Original Batch 1870 is already out and the Bottled in Bond 1897 has had a label approval. I even saw an Old Forester branded ready-to-drink cocktail while trolling the COLA site. This one for a Mint Julep.

So with all this love for the brand and all the new products on the horizon, it is only fitting that we would want to take a look back at what's already out. Make sure we are up to date on where we're at before we move into the brave new future.

Brown-Forman has been making Old Forester for about 140 years now. It's gone though numerous expressions before settling in at an entry-level expression of 86 proof, a 100 proof  "Signature" expression, a single barrel program, and the yearly Birthday Bourbon release (some would toss the Woodford Reserve expression in there as well since they share a mash bill and at least a partial distillation site) before adding the brand extensions listed above. 

The 100 proof is described by the company website as "spicier and more robust." I described it as "hot and bitter." The single barrels I've had have all been good, but wildly different. Some being fruity and others spicy. This year's Birthday Bourbon was something special being fruity, spicy, and creamy all at the same time. But what about the 86 proof? Let's find out. 

Old Forester (86 proof)

Purchase info: $19.99 for 750 mL at Ace Spirits, Hopkins MN

Details: 43% ABV

Nose: A delicate collection of the typical bourbon notes of vanilla, caramel, and oak. Plus some floral green apple, and allspice.

Mouth: Delicate and floral. Brown sugar, honey, nutmeg, and hints of oak.

Finish: Baking spices and floral notes linger with a gentle heat.

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Thoughts: This is a well put-together bourbon. It is delicate, but tasty, with just enough heat. A good value as an everyday sipper. My wife claims this is one of her favorite bourbons to nose because it has all the notes she looks for but it doesn’t overpower with alcohol. 

So far, the evidence I've tasted has led me to the conclusion that in general, I like Old Forester/Woodford Reserve at less than 100 proof. I like the 86 quite a bit as a everyday bourbon that you don't need to feel bad about using up too quickly. I liked the Single Barrels at  their 90 proof. I seem to remember liking Woodford at just over 90 and I really liked the 97 proof Birthday Bourbon this year. The 100 proof Signature is the outlier. 

So even though Old Forester is an old brand, the future looks bright. I'm excited to try the 90 proof 1870 when I can get my hands on it and the Bottled-in-Bond 1897 when it appears.


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