Once again, I find myself in an enviable position — seated before a flight of tiny cups that any whiskey lover would cherish. In fact, these are not just 16 delicious whiskies, but also liquid chronicles of 16 memorable days at the Old Forester distillery. Here sits the day in 2002 when a thunderstorm soaked the barrels before filling, helping to slow the initial angel’s share evaporation from within; the incident in 2005 when a different malted barley supplier had to be called to fill in; the day a errant squirrel knocked out the power.
The annual release of Old Forester Birthday Bourbon is the closest thing in the whiskey world to a vintage wine, according to Chris Morris, Brown-Forman master distiller. “To the best of my knowledge, the other vintage dated bourbons are single barrels. A single barrel cannot be a vintage because it is a reflection of one barrel. Each Birthday Bourbon is a single day’s flavor. And each vintage is different and exceptional,’ says Morris.
There’s no arguing with that last statement. While I had my favorites (the plush, creamy 2002, the hazelnut-laced 2011), 2016 certainly looks to be another winner, with considerable richness of fruit, lovely layers of clove and cinnamon baking spice and a dusty cocoa finish. Look for the official review to join the reviews of all the previous vintages of Old Forester Birthday Bourbon in the Whisky Advocate Buying Guide.
In the meantime, here’s a look back at these exceptional whiskeys by the numbers:
Number of years that Old Forester has produced Birthday Bourbon. However, 2016 marks the 16th release, because 2003 included a spring and a fall release, both from 1990. (This proved even more confusing than the idea of a Birthday Bourbon, so it only lasted one year.)
The typical age of Birthday Bourbon, responsible for its pronounced wood forward character. In 2004, the release was only 8 year old—tasting more youthful and a touch fiery compared to the rest of the flight. Following consumer outcry, Brown-Forman returned to their senses—and 12 years of age.
Barrels of Old Forester produced each day. Birthday Bourbon releases always come from a single day of production. However, Old Forester 100 Proof, a blend of whiskies aged from 4 ½ to 12 years, also draws heavily on these older stocks, reducing the quantity.
Barrels included in the 2016 release. The largest release ever. Despite high demand, this could be your year!
The highest proof Birthday Bourbon ever offered: 2015.
Barrels in the first release of Birthday Bourbon in 2002. It is still one of the best of the bunch for its wonderfully creamy and supple texture with dark honeyed sweetness. A real stunner!
Year of master distiller Chris Morris’s personal favorite. It oozes with caramel and toasted coconut macaroon.
Number of empty barrels discovered when vatting the 2012 vintage, leaving just 82 barrels total. “After 12 years, some barrels actually go dry, while others might have just 15% of their original volume,” says Morris. Another factor in the scarcity of this whiskey.
The highest proof Morris has ever discovered in a barrel of Old Forester.
Highest Whisky Advocate Buying Guide rating for an Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, awarded to the 2008 release of Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, 1994 vintage. John Hansell notes it is “thick toffee, rhum agricole, caramel apple, and bright citrus, with a polished leather finish… A whiskey deserving classic status.”
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