Old Forester Birthday Bourbon was one of my first “special” bourbons. I had acquired a bottle of old bourbon after my step-father passed away and in the process of researching its origins I was led to Birthday Bourbon. (Discuss my old bourbon and origins of birthday bourbon, mash in, warehouse, etc…) The first time I tried it, 2012 I think, it was quite sublime but I was still new at bourbon. Over the years I feel it has become less and less “special”. I had assumed it was the bourbon but perhaps it was me. My tasting experience grew. To compound the issue Brown Foreman released a new version of their classic whiskey entitled 1920 Prohibition Style Bourbon which was quite unique. Although the 100 proof standard was always a great, affordable daily drinker many of the other variations were less than interesting. This new one though had character and personality. Bottled at a proof close to many barrel strength bourbons it was quite unique. How does one justify a lot of money for a special allocated bourbon that shows up once a year, if you are lucky, when you can get a great affordable bottle with character and finesse almost any day?
(The 2014 had been open for nearly 9 months prior to bottling the sample. The 2017 was freshly opened.)
2014 – an almost sickeningly sweet butterscotch & somewhat rotten pineapple & fruit & musty wet oak
2017 – surprisingly similar nose, a little less sweet and intense but very similar notes.
2014 – arrives on the tongue with a slightly sweet caramel, sharp oak, dry vanilla bean, some floral over-ripe pineapple or rotten banana peel. The major flavor is up front and the development sees more departure of flavors than arrival. A touch of warmth from the alcohol makes itself known. The sugars gradually depart leaving a long dry toasted oak, burnt sugar and a touch of pepper.
2017 – arrives with a more complex spiced oak and caramel. Similar themes but much more complexity. The development is nice and gentle and paced with some spices, pepper, leather and musty tobacco. The finish is longer and similar to the development but in reverse. Each component seems to depart in a balanced manner leaving a gentle sweetness, oak and some sweet tannins.
WATER and 10 MINUTES
2014 – the nose softens a bit, still slightly rotten pineapple but sweeter nose with a little more vanilla. The arrival now has a sweeter caramel approach with a touch of peppercorn. It develops a little stale sherry and plum and the sugar dries out slowly leaving the leather, pineapple and peppercorn. Water was a big help here for the complexity.
2017 – the nose here similar but with more peppercorn, leather & vanilla. The arrival now is quite soft and velvet like with complex peppercorn and delicate burnt sugars. The development sees some bitter mint, leather and tobacco again and it finishes with a touch of warmth. The water did thin out the complexity a touch though.