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KWM 2023 Whisky Calendar Blog Day 12 - Old Forester 1920

Posted on December 19, 2023

by Evan

Day 12 marks our first foray into Bourbon for the 2023 KWM Whisky Calendar. We are going big and bold yet smooth as silk with the Old Forester 1920 Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Old Forester is one of a few Bourbons around that spells "Whisky" without the "e" on the label. The others that come to mind are Maker's Mark and George Dickel.

Old Forester Distillery and its owners Brown-Forman are one of a handful of makers of Bourbon and Whiskey in the United States that have a legitimate and continuous distilling history going back more than a century. Back in 1870, Old Forester launched and was the first Bourbon to be sold exclusively in glass bottles with a sealed top. This was a savvy move made by creator and pharmaceutical salesman Goerge Garvin Brown to market the authenticity and consistency of Old Forester in a market flooded with questionable and often adulterated whiskey.

In the beginning, there was no Old Forester Distillery - instead, the Bourbon was blended from three different distilleries and bottled at 90 proof or 45% ABV. Just over 30 years after launching Old Forester Bourbon, George Garvin Brown purchased one of the three distilleries he used for blending: The B.F. Mattingly Distillery gave him direct control over the whisky supply used for the Old Forester brand.

American Prohibition kicked off in 1920 with the ratification and enforcement of the Volstead Act. Prohibition lasted until 1933, and it is the primary reason that we see a lot of fanciful stories about those whiskey recipes that that great-granddaddy used and revived brands talking about their by-gone history that has an 80-year gap where they didn't exist. Prohibition destroyed many companies in the whisky, beer, wine and spirits game and made a large majority of operating distilleries shut down, never to reopen. Old Forester managed to survive and continue operation during Prohibition by receiving one of only 6 Federal licences within the state of Kentucky to continue making whiskey for 'medicinal purposes.

As mentioned earlier, Old Forester is owned by a company named Brown-Forman. Named after George Garvin Bown and his partner George Forman. The company is publicly traded but to this day remains family-owned and controlled. Brown-Forman owns a few other whisky brands that you may have heard of, such as the BenRiach, GlenDronach and Glenglassauch distilleries in Scotland which the company purchased in 2016. The purchase of the three distilleries marked Brown-Forman's re-entry into Scotch Whisky, as it did own a small share of Glenmorangie PLC before they sold it to Moet Hennessy in 2005. Beyond that, they also own Woodford Distillery and the Woodford Reserve brand. Oh, and a small operation in Tennessee that goes by the name Jack Daniels. Maybe you have heard of that one?

Old Forester Distillery in downtown Louisville - Photo was taken from the Old Forester Facebook Page

The Brown-Forman Old Forester Distillery resides in Louisville, Kentucky in a suburb called Shively. Its nearest neighbour distilleries include Michter's Shively distillery which is only a few blocks away and Heaven Hill's Bernheim distillery which is less than a 10-minute drive to the north. The Brown-Forman Distillery isn't open to the public, however, the Old Forester Distillery right in downtown Louisville was essentially purpose-built for visitors and tours. The building holds a fully operational distillery and also coopers barrels on-site. It opened in 2018. It is joined by other small downtown distilleries owned by Jim Beam, Michter's, and Evan Williams which is owned by Heaven Hill. Angel's Envy Distillery is also within walking distance.

The Old Forester 1920 is part of the company’s Whiskey Row series of Bourbon, which features bottles named after important years in Old Forester’s and/or Bourbon’s history. The bottles are:

  • Old Forester 1870 – named in homage to George Garvin Brown’s batching of three different styles to create the original Old Forester Bourbons of yesteryear.
  • Old Forester 1897 – a Bottled in Bond release that carries the year of the Bottled in Bond Act’s creation.
  • Old Forester 1910 – The year Old Forester had a fire that damaged their bottling line. Whisky that was prepared for bottling instead had to be re-barrelled, giving it more toast and char influence (or so the story goes).
  • Old Forester 1920 – Paying “homage” to the Volstead Act of 1920, which started the United States Prohibition. This silly little war on alcohol until 1933, and irrevocably damaged the Whisky industry in the USA for (and the world for that matter) for years after.

I am a big fan of the Old Forester 1920 – it is one of a few bottles that I make sure I have on my shelf at all times. The 57.5% ABV it is bottled at is a huge part of the reason for this, as is the decent price. Let’s dive in and see what the 1920 is all about!

Old Forester Whiskey Row 1920 Bourbon - 57.5%

Evan's Tasting Note

Nose: Toffee and butterscotch right up front, mingling with preserved cherries, candied orange peel, brown sugar and sweet corn notes. Oak and wood slumber underneath the surface.

Palate: Big. Silky, spicy and sweet. Caramilk chocolate bar, caramel popcorn, sponge toffee, almond paste, fresh cherry juice, peach nectar, ripe banana, and baked apple crumble with brown sugar on top.

Finish: Smooth and warming all the way down. A touch of wood spice with the sweet notes on the fade.

Comment: So, so smooth for 57.5% ABV. Smoother than it has any right to be. This has been a permanent fixture of home whisky shelves for a few years now because the combination of flavour, high alcohol, and price is hard to beat.

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You can find all blog posts for Kensington Wine Market’s 2023 Whisky Calendar Here

This entry was posted in Whisky, Bourbon, Whisky Calendars, KWM Whisky Calendar 2023



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