Thursday, September 4, 2008

I Taste Some 22-Year-Old Bourbon from 1938.

I attended an event in Louisville Tuesday evening, at the Filson Historical Society (housed in a very cool, old mansion) on the occasion of George Garvin Brown’s 162nd birthday. Brown launched what became the Brown-Forman company when he created the Old Forester Bourbon brand in 1870.

Brown-Forman typically launches the new edition of Old Forester Birthday Bourbon on GGB’s birthday, but this year was different. In honor of the 75th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition (on December 5th of this year), they are releasing Old Forester Repeal Bourbon, a 10-year-old expression of Old Forester in a 375ml replica of a Prohibition-era medicinal whiskey bottle.

It comes in a gift set that also includes a commemorative tasting glass and a scroll of the 21st Amendment itself. It will be priced at about $25 and should appear in stores in late November.

The 2008 Old Forester Birthday Bourbon is expected to debut in mid-October.

Since Brown-Forman received one of only six medicinal whiskey licenses issued by the federal government during Prohibition, Old Forester is unique. It is the only American whiskey that has been sold continuously, under the same name and made by the same company, for 138 years.

Mike Veach, who spoke at the event, made an interesting point. The 18th Amendment was the only part of the U.S. Constitution that took a right away. That very un-American act was corrected by the 21st Amendment.

Although we tasted some of the new Old Forester Repeal Bourbon, as well as standard Old Forester and Old Forester Signature (the 100° proof expression), what got me to the event was a chance to taste three historic whiskeys, one from each of the three Brown-Forman distilleries where Old Forester has been made.

The oldest was a bourbon distilled in 1916 at St. Mary, Kentucky, and bottled in 1938, so it was 22 years old.

How did it taste? It was not overly wooded, as so many of the Prohibition-era medicinal whiskeys are. It was quite good, totally drinkable. The nose was incredible. We could smell it as we were walking up the stairs to the room. If you didn't know it was a bourbon, you might think it was a rye, with that floral, as opposed to spicy, quality ryes sometimes have. It was especially rich with top notes of anise, toffee and citrus, which complemented a middle of dark fruit.

The most prominent feature, as is often the case with older bottlings, was that wintergreen taste and aroma that comes from the 200+ year old trees used for the barrels. You get that in some post-prohibition bottlings too, through the 1960s, but you never get it today. The new Repeal Bourbon, chosen to resemble the 1916-1938, is mainly lacking that.

They are going to have some Repeal-related content on the web but it doesn't appear to be up yet, but everything you might want to know about Old Forester is probably here.

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