Category Archives: Bourbon Reviews

Reviews of Bourbon defined as U.S. barrel aged whiskey made of at least 51% corn.

Old Forester Birthday Bourbon (2015) – Review

Old Forester Birthday Bourbon Background

Old Forester Birthday Bourbon (2015)
Old Forester Birthday Bourbon (2015)

Old Forester Birthday Bourbon is a limited edition annual release from Brown-Forman. It’s released each year around the start of September to commemorate founder’s George Garvin-Brown’s birthday on September 2nd. The Old Forester Birthday Bourbon special releases date back to 2002. This year, 13,200 bottles were produced.

Old Forester Birthday Bourbon is a 100-proof, 12 year old Bourbon barreled from a single day’s production on June 13, 2003. So, that’s kind of interesting, but also unique to this batch is its aging. The barrels for 2015 were pulled from the same warehouse location rather than blended together from barrels of different locations. All the barrels here are said to have aged near a heating duct which results in higher temperatures during warehouse’s climate control cycles. Brown-Forman says this resulted in a “very robust, intense wood-derived characteristics.”

Details

12 Years Old. 100-proof. Thought to be standard Old Forester mash bill of 72% corn, 18% rye, and 10% barley. Paid $70

Aroma

Rich aromas reminiscent of Old Forester line and a lesser extent Woodford Reserve. Reminds me of toasted/burnt marshmallows. Lots of spices, sweet, fruity, apples, touch of latex. Really nice smelling glass

Flavor

Soft and sweet. Fruity cherries, charred wood with general deep roasted flavors, coffee. Some sharp bitterness and astringency towards the finish.

Overall

Old Forester Birthday Bourbon is sweet, caramel goodness with a firm wood presence. To me once Bourbons age to a certain point, they begin to turn towards more oxidized musty, medicinal phenolic flavors and also usually get extra woody. Old Forester Birthday Bourbon I think is heading down that path. While there is some woody-astringency in there, it’s not too heavy. If you like older and woody Bourbons, this may be more to your liking.

Old Forester Birthday Bourbon packs a punch of flavors. Minus a little chemical in the nose, the aroma is pretty outstanding. The flavors and even alcohol seems a little more reminiscent of a barrel proof than a still significant 100-proof. I think Old Forester Birthday Bourbon would be a good slow sipping Bourbon on a cold day.

In recent years, prices for Old Forester Birthday Bourbon have been climbing as it started to show up on the limited edition radars. With any limited edition, there’s a premium that more times than not to me fails to live up to what’s in the bottle. I think this is true of Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, so really you’re probably looking to buy it for chance to try something that’s a once a year thing. Given my preferences for younger Bourbons, I’d probably suggest trying a glass first.

Recommendation

Try a Glass / 2.5 out of 5.0 Rating

(My 5 point scale: Pass, Try a Glass, Buy a Bottle, Buy Again, Shut Up and Take My Money – Bottle price is taken into consideration for recommendations.)

Links & Other Reviews

 

 

Old Grand Dad Bonded – Review

Old Grand Dad Bonded

Old Grand Dad Bonded
Old Grand Dad Bonded

Old Grand Dad Bonded is part of an Old Grand Dad brand that was launched by Raymond Haden in the 1840’s and named for his grandfather Basil Hayden. The Haden’s distilling days reach back to the 1790’s after the family moved from Maryland to Kentucky. Today, the brand resides with Beam-Suntory.

Old Grand Dad is unique in the Beam line with a high rye recipe. The current recipe for the line of Old Grand Dad Bourbons is thought to be similar to the original recipe back in the day. While the recipe is unique among Beam’s Bourbons, it seems to me it shares the standard Beam yeast.

The Old Grand Dad family consists of a standard 86-proof, a 100-proof bottled in bond (reviewed here) and a 114-proof barrel strength. Bottled-in-Bond is a certification requiring the Bourbon to be distilled during the same year and from the same distillery. It must also be aged in a bonded warehouse for at least four years. Lastly, the Bourbon is to be bottled at 100-proof. Bottled-in-Bond seems to be a bit of a relic these days, however, a lot of older labels retain the certification. These less trendy bottles with their amble 100-proof can make for a great value.

Details

No age statement 100-proof. High rye mash thought to be around 27% rye. Paid $20

Aroma

Caramel, roasted corn, oranges, toast, cinnamon

Flavor

Sweet caramel, Nutty. A little smokey, Burnt sugars. Minty. A little Red Hots

Overall

Old Grand Dad Bonded is a spicy and lively Bourbon. It dances in the mouth a bit and has a bite. It seems to have some properties of a younger Bourbon with roasted corn, but still picking up a bunch of barrel with sweetness, caramel, and charred wood.

I assume we have the standard Beam yeast here, which to me, is a  unique profile and I’m not always in the mood. That might keep this from being a regular bottle, or at least instead choose one of the more upscale Beam labels. Still, Old Grand Dad Bonded is a feisty Bourbon that works for a change of pace.

The pricing on Old Grand Dad Bonded is pretty great, although it seems a big price hike is on the way. Perhaps the word got out or it’s simply an overdue price correction on a generally overlooked bottle. Also, Old Grand Dad Bonded recently got a makeover label. The one pictured here is the retired branding, so likely Beam is polishing this one up and pricing it accordingly for the current market.

Recommendation

Buy a Bottle / 3.0 out of 5.0

(My 5 point scale: Pass, Try a Glass, Buy a Bottle, Buy Again, Shut Up and Take My Money – Bottle price is taken into consideration for recommendations.)

Buying Options and Further Research

Some other high rye Bourbons around the same price. I’d suggest looking into Four Roses Yellow Label, Redemption and Bulleit. You can also check out Old Grand Dad 114, which is high proof big brother and a also a pretty great value. Wild Turkey 101 I think has some similar feistiness and I think matches up well.

Links & Other Reviews

Maker’s 46 Cask Strength – Review

Maker’s 46 Cask Strength Background

Maker's 46 Cask Strength
Maker’s 46 Cask Strength

Bill Samuel’s Sr. launched Maker’s Mark in 1958 as wheated Bourbon in an attempt to reboot his family’s Bourbon. Company lore is that his wife Margie helped by baking various recipes of bread. The recipe without rye was favorable and Maker’s Mark wheated Bourbon recipe was born.

Until a few years back, classic Maker’s Mark recipe was basically the company’s only product. Through careful warehouse management for consistency, Marker’s Mark has traditionally only had one product, however, there have been boutique products such as Maker’s Mark White and pre-mixed Mint Julep. As Bill Samuel’s Jr. reached retirement, he was looking to put his stamp on his dad’s company with a new product while not disrupting the classic Bourbon product.

Maker’s 46 is standard Maker’s Mark further aged with toasted french oak staves. The 46 is the recipe name of the wood treatment from barrel maker Independent Stave, which happens to be have a factory a few miles away.

Recently Maker’s Mark introduced a barrel proof version of its standard Bourbon called Maker’s Mark Cask Strength. For my taste, I prefer the Cask Strength over regular Maker’s 46 and thought it might be a little ironic Bill Jr’s legacy could have simply been bottling up his dad’s standard recipe as unadulterated, straight from the barrel goodness.

Anyway, Maker’s Mark Cask Strength appears to be a hit as it reached wide market availability earlier in 2015. Without being cut with water, Maker’s Mark Cask Strength is about 25% more product by volume, but carriers about a 100% price premium at retail. With the popularity and success of that product, you don’t have to be a genius to think of what could be next for Maker’s Mark… That leads us to Maker’s 46 Cask Strength.

For the first run of Maker’s 46 Cask Strength, Maker’s Mark bottled a few hundred cases only to be sold out of its Loretto, KY gift shop. In fact, the label of these initial bottles as you can see in the picture is pretty generic. So, this is basically limited edition, although I’m pretty sure more is coming  along with a fancier label.

Details

No age statement. 108.9-proof. Wheated Bourbon. Paid $40 (375ml)

Aroma

Butterscotch, caramel, charcoal, fruity cherries

Flavor

Rich, buttery, Werther’s Originals. Vanilla, some cinnemon. Some astringency. Smokey Char flavors. Roasted corn. A little bite and burn at the end. Finishes a bit dry.

Overall

If you like Maker’s 46, there’s obviously a more to enjoy here. I actually prefer regular Marker’s Mark to Maker’s 46, and yeah, it can be a little boring for Bourbon nerds, but sometimes “boring” hits the spot. Plus the price is reasonable. When Maker’s Mark Cask Strength came out I was interested in checking it out and even though the value equation isn’t great, I gave it bump over the regular despite the price hike. I feel like I’m in the same spot with Maker’s 46 Cask Strength. I think it’s pretty good stuff, although at least initially pricy when equalized at $80 for a 750ml bottle.

I think Maker’s 46 Cask Strength has a little bite at the end that’s sort of bitter-metallic. A little water helps smooth this out, but that’s counter to paying the premium for barrel proof Maker’s 46. Also, it seems more astringent than I enjoy. Beyond that, it’s got that sweet, charcoal, smokey, BBQ-like flavors of Maker’s Mark backed up with softer toasted oak that seems butterscotch-like.

So basically if you’re a Maker’s fan this is a must find. If you like trying new stuff, this is a good bottle to enjoy. The value from Maker’s Mark, however, I think is still in the original. I still think Maker’s 46 profile and price is best aimed at fans of Maker’s Mark, and Maker’s 46 Cask Strength I think is a nice spurge bottle for those drinkers to at least experience for themselves.

Recommendation

Buy a Bottle – 3.0/5.0 Rating

(My 5 point scale: Pass, Try a Glass, Buy a Bottle, Buy Again, Shut Up and Take My Money – Bottle price is taken into consideration for recommendations.)

Links & Other Reviews

Larceny Wheated Bourbon – Review

Larceny Background

Larceny
Larceny

Every great Bourbon needs a great story, and as we know, sometimes these stories can stretch the truth if not be an outright fantasy. Old Fitzgerald was a fantasy of the best distiller (John E. Fitzgerald) making the best Bourbon in the land that most can’t buy. As it turns out, there actually may have been a John E. Fitzgerald, but he wasn’t a distiller. Fitzgerald was actually a Treasury agency working for the Feds. The new story goes that John E. Fitzgerald was charged with safeguarding stocks of whiskey, but he happened to have a taste for the brown stuff. He was known to have “sampled” barrels to the extent some barrels became pretty light. When these barrels were removed from the warehouses, staff called them Fitzgerald barrels due to the considerable loss.

Heaven Hill branded Larceny with this new legend.

Details

None, Barrels aged 6-12 Years Old. 92-proof. Wheated Bourbon. Paid $25.

Aroma

Brown sugar, nail polish, charred oak, fruity, cherries and bananas. Vanilla.

Flavor

Sweet up front with bunches of caramel and vanilla. Cinnamon. Some harshness sort of medicinal. Roasted corn. Some alcohol heat. Thick oak flavors with a little astringency. Nice thick mouthfeel.

Overall

Larceny is a nice Bourbon and given it’s wheated and a good price are bonuses. If you’re a fan of wheated Bourbons, that is Bourbons with a recipe of wheat rather than spicy rye, you don’t have a lot options that are both budget friendly and found on shelves. Larceny isn’t as widely available as many mainstream Bourbons, but where it is distributed it seems to be on the shelves.

Larceny is lively with some bite, but also carries some age with nice oak profile. The lively side I’m getting the roasted corn and rougher alcohols I usually get from younger Bourbons, but nice dulled oak profiles from more aged Bourbons. The first few sips I get a little harshness, but once I ease into Larceny the palate adjusts and it’s more enjoyable. If needed, a little splash of water helps. Larceny reminds me of a couple other Heaven Hill Bourbons I enjoy in Elijah Craig 12 and Henry McKenna Single Barrel. All have that Heaven Hill profile I dig, but have a little edge.

Being about $25 is a nice price for a quality Bourbon and certainly worth checking out.

Recommendation

Buy a Glass – 3.5 out of 5.0 Rating

(My 5 point scale: Pass, Try a Glass, Buy a Bottle, Buy Again, Shut Up and Take My Money – Bottle price is taken into consideration for recommendations.)

Buying Options and Further Research

If you’re looking to check out other wheated Bourbons in this price range, I’d suggest looking at Weller 12, Old Weller Antique, and Maker’s Mark.

Links & Other Reviews

 

Old Forester 1870 – Review

Old Forester 1870 Background

Old Forester 1870
Old Forester 1870

Bourbon lore has Old Forester as the longest selling brand of Bourbons and the first to be sold in pre-packaged bottles. George Garvin Brown was a pharmaceuticals salesman and partnered with his brother JTS Brown to begin buying Bourbon barrels and packaging them in sealed bottles. As a practice, they would buy multiple barrels and “batch” them together to be bottled. The batching helped to create a more consistent product compared to the variations found in individual barrels from multiple distilleries. The practice of both batching for consistency and bottling for consumer protection made Old Forester an innovative brand among consumers.

Old Forester 1870 is a tribute to this batching and the first in what appears to be a Whiskey Row Series of releases. Brown-Forman created Old Forester 1870 by pulling together barrels from three different warehouses across three different days of production, similar to how the “original batch” was made. I’m not sure how this really varies from modern practices, which is basically the same thing. Unless it’s a single barrel product, all Bourbons are batched together across a variety of barrels to create a consistent brand. The only difference is Old Forester 1870 is a small batch Bourbon (an ambiguous term of its own) vs the standard Old Forester brands.

Details

No Age Statement. Bottled at 45%. Thought to be standard Old Forester mash bill of 72% corn, 18% rye, and 10% barley. Paid $45

Aroma

Brown sugar. Vanilla, Fruity bubblegum. Caramel apples. Cherries. Oak. Some baking spices.

Flavor

Sweetness is kind of candy-like. Brown sugar and vanilla comes through. Fruitiness too. Oak is firm with a little astringency. Barrel char. Finish is a bit sharp.

Overall

I like Old Forester and if you’re a fan I think you’ll also like Old Forester 1870. Old Forester 1870 is distinctly Old Forester profile, but better. I’ve reviewed Old Forester Signature and enjoyed that as both a nice Bourbon and a good value. I think Old Forester 1870 is more interesting and nicer on the palate. I think Old Forester 1870 is specially sweeter, softer, and just generally more pleasant.

The tricky part is Old Forester 1870 costs basically twice as much as the mentioned Old Forester Signature. I pulled out Old Forester Signature to taste side by side and I don’t think Old Forester 1870 is 2x better to justify that price. Old Forester 1870 is a nice Bourbon, it’s just that relative to the rest of the shelf it’s a little over priced. Also Old Forester 1870 is apparently not bringing anything too novel with its “original batch” marketing. At best, it seems a nice selection of some choice Old Forester barrels at a modest price. And with enough availability to actually be found on the shelf. So, if you’re an Old Forester fan, this bottle should be calling for you. If not, you might be happy checking out Old Forester Signature first.

Recommendation

Buy a Bottle – 3.0 out of 5.0 Rating
(My 5 point scale: Pass, Try a Glass, Buy a Bottle, Buy Again, Shut Up and Take My Money – Bottle price is taken into consideration for recommendations.)

Buying Options and Further Research

I enjoy the mentioned Old Forester Signature. Beyond that, other standard rye Bourbons around this price worth looking at include its cousin Woodford Reserve, Knob Creek Small Batch, Baker’s, Angle’s Envy, Wild Turkey Kentucky Sprint, and John J Bowman.

Links & Other Reviews