“We probably should be grateful that Old Forester is still around. If sales results were the sole criteria, it wouldn’t be, but something else is at work. Look at the label, the answer is there in the signature below the handwritten text: George Garvin Brown. He founded the Brown-Forman Corporation and the family dynasty that still runs it. It is comforting to know that even a giant company like Brown-Forman can be sentimental. Old Forester is still around because it is the product on which Brown-Forman was built.” - Charles K. Cowdery
Old Forester holds a special place in my heart. The week I turned 21 I felt the need to go out and buy some hard liqueur. So with absolutely no knowledge or idea of what I really liked I strolled into my local liquor store and scoured the rows of shelves for my birthday treat. Should I buy Scotch? Irish whiskey? Rum…? I really didn’t know the basic differences between any of them. Yet, I remained determined. Finally arriving at the bourbon aisle I decided it was best that I find my gift here since bourbon, I did know, was an American spirit. But what to get? I soon realized, however, it was less a question of what I wanted get and more of a question of what I could afford. Being a somewhat poor and hungry college student, I found that my options slowly dwindled. Wanting something “classic” without choosing the obvious choice, my hand passed over the bottle of Jack Daniels Old No. 7 and grabbed a bottle of Old Forester. “America’s first bottled bourbon,” It said on the label. Sounds classic enough to me! So there my friends is the legend, now how about the bourbon?
The quote from Chuck Cowdery above is dated almost 12 years now, so I don’t exactly know how Old Forester is selling now, but my guess is, even with the raise of interest in whiskey the last few years, Old Forester still ranks on the lower end of things. Either way I am glad that the bourbon is still around, because it is indeed a classic name with a unique history.
In the late nineteenth century whiskey was generally sold to bars and grocers by distilleries in whole whiskey barrels. From here consumers would either buy a drink or fill a container from which they brought from home. Yet the with this practice many merchants would take the whiskey and water it down or add unaged spirits, generally meaning moonshine, which was many times less than safe to drink. George Brown, being aware of this harmful practice and seeing a potential business opportunity, took advantage of the increased mass production of glass bottles and became the first to create a pre-bottled whiskey. Thus Old Forester was born and consumers could now know the purchased elixir inside the bottle had not been tampered with.
Though originally Old Forester was a blended whiskey, due to the lack of consistency in straight whiskeys at the time, it is now a Straight Kentucky Bourbon. It is owned by Brown-Foreman who also owns the likes of Jack Daniels and Woodford Reserve.
Conclusion: The nose is where you will have the most enjoyment. I wouldn’t say the nose is deceptive; rather, from what it's predicting, the palate just doesn’t have the strength to assert itself. It isn’t a bad whiskey, it just isn’t great. It could definitely use a two or three percent addition abv. Sure it is a low price point but I feel that it isn’t interesting enough – I could easily spend 7-8 bucks more and get a much better whiskey. This wouldn’t be anything more than a mixer. Mixer no-less, it will always remind us of the, now giant, Brown-Foreman Corporation's humble beginnings.
Old Forester Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky:
Price: Around $13.99 for a 750ml bottle.
Packaging/Labeling: Standard bottle with all the similar trappings of a mass produced whiskey. Ugly black plastic cap topper.
Alcoholic Content: 86 Proof, 43% ABV.
Nose: Not expecting a whole lot, this is a really pleasing nose. Kettle corn and a buttery orange sweetness. Maple and Christmas spice.
Tasting: A buttery corn comes through with much of the traditional bourbon flavors – caramels and vanillas. Yet the front palate, though it comes on strong, does not assert itself and almost immediately dissipates. Though it isn’t a fading away, rather it is a disjointed breakup which leaves behind a syrupy sweetness.