July 24, 2013

Review: Old Forester Birthday Bourbon - Na Na Na Na Na Na They Say It's Your Beast

The year was 1870... 

And it was a hell of an auspicious one:

January 3rd: Construction begins on the Brooklyn Bridge
January 15th: The Democratic Party is first symbolized in a political cartoon by a donkey
January 27th: The first college sorority is established
February 3rd: The 15th Amendment is passed
February 26th: The first subway is opened in New York City
April 29th: The Chicago Base Ball Club plays the St. Louis Unions in the first official "National Association of Base Ball Players" game
June 26th: Christmas is declared a federal holiday
September 18th: "Old Faithful" is named (previously just referred to as a "that there geyser")

Can you imagine waking up one day and saying "Honey, they've given us Christmas off this year, shall we take the new 'subway' to the 'base ball' game?"

"Medical Grade" Bourbon

Another thing happened in 1870: a pharmaceutical salesman from Louisville named George Gavin Brown put his signature on a sealed bottle of whiskey.  At the time some distilleries would deliver whiskey in barrels, to be tapped by the pubs and poured into their own bottles or decanters.  This opened the door for all kinds of tampering, watering down, and general chaos.  Other distilleries used glass bottles.  Young Mr. Brown was a marketing genius.  He declared that he would exclusively sell whiskey in bottles, and each bottle would be sealed in wax and bear his signature.  He called his bona fide hooch "medical grade" and named it after one of Louisville's leading physicians Dr. William Forrester.  (The second 'r' was dropped after he retired).

20 CC's of Straight Bourbon, STAT!

The medical grade designation served two critical purposes for the Forester brand:  It became a statement of quality and forced all the other distilleries to follow suit; and perhaps more importantly, it allowed the distillery to remain open throughout Prohibition in order to produce medical alcohol.  This gives Forester the unique claim as the longest continuous producer of bourbon in the country.

George's Birthday

Over a hundred and thirty years later, George Gavin Brown's company still bears his name.  Brown-Forman is a multi-billion dollar liquor distributor with global distribution.  In 2002 they released the first Birthday Bourbon, a small batch bottling of whisky distilled on George's birthday - September 2nd.  The 2012 release is a 12-year vintage barreled in 2000 and bottled at 97 proof.  Happy birthday old George, you've come a long way!

Tasting Notes

Appearance: Gorgeous dark root beer color.

Nose: It smells like those milk-chocolate covered pecan turtles you buy in nut stores.  Very lovely nose, not particularly huge, but well balanced and sweet.

Body: A lot of honey and caramel, nice thick texture, definite oak but not over-wooded, hints of black licorice / anise, some hot red pepper, and some distant fruit - maybe cantaloupe.

Finish: Very smooth, little burn on the throat, but with a nice chest warmth and a medium-length finish drifting across the tongue and up into the nose.  The wood is prominent in the finish and we're brought back to the sweet nuttiness.


At around $45 dollars, this bottle feels like a home run.  It drinks like an older whiskey, showing the maturity of the brand and the excellent choices made by the distillers.  It's a SmokyBeast "A-".  These bottles can be a little hard to find, so if you see one pick it up.  It'll be YOUR birthday sooner or later and this might be just the ticket.

But seriously it's awesome to find something these days for under $50 that is absolutely delicious.  The Birthday Bourbon drinks perfectly at 48.5% without any water or chaser.  It's dark and lovely, and is a treat that you can enjoy every day without breaking the bank.  A great find, a great story, and a very enjoyable beast.


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