George Garvin Brown was a pioneer in the American whiskey industry. Back when the primary package for bourbon was the barrel, Brown came up with the idea to individually bottle bourbon so those who bought it could be assured they knew what they were getting. This was before there were any laws about what businesses could sell to consumers, but Brown recognized that people wanted some assurance what they were buying was actually pure whiskey and not tobacco spit and rattlesnake heads mixed with who knows what.
Old Forester was the brand Brown started in 1870 (spelled Forrester after a doctor Forrester who endorsed the product).
According to Old Forester Master Taster Jackie Zykan, the three distilleries that supplied George Garvin Brown early on were the Mattingly Distillery, the Mellwood Distillery, and the Atherton Distillery.
Since then Old Forester has been the first to do many things, from being the first bourbon distillery to stop production of bourbon and switch to making nothing but ethanol for the war effort in 1941 to being the first bourbon distillery to own its own cooperage 75 years ago.
According to Old Forester President Campbell Brown, after a 1910 fire on Whiskey Row, Old Forester also became the first bourbon brand to double barrel bourbon, though it was because of the fire and was not planned.
The Old Forester Distillery on Main Street in Louisville, Kentucky is also the only bourbon distillery you can tour and also watch barrels be raised and charred on site.
Several years ago one day’s production, overseen by Chris Morris, was set aside for the 150th anniversary to make a special bottling to commemorate the occasion. Zykan says they have technology that can scan barrel heads to determine how much liquid is inside, and of the 150 barrels made that day that were set aside for this project several were skeleton barrels and a few had as little as 5-10% left in the barrel.
Zykan and Brown worked together to create three distinct batches for the 150th anniversary. From Zykan’s tasting notes:
- Batch 01/03 – 125.6 proof/62.8% ABV, comprised of 46 barrels; fruit bomb
- Nose: maple syrup and perfectly ripe orchard fruits, apricot and plum
- Mid: açaí and black current
- Finish: graham cracker, subtle peppermint, long well-rounded spice, moderately dry
- Batch 02/03 – 126.4 proof/63.2% ABV, comprised of 48 barrels; sweet and spry
- Nose: cherry cordial and raspberry preserves
- Mid: French toast and chocolate malt
- Finish: brilliant and perky spice at the front of the palate, touch of cedar, mildly dry
- Batch 03/03 – 126.8 proof/63.4% ABV, comprised of 53 barrels; green and spice
- Nose: dill and bright orange peel, hint of light brown sugar
- Mid: sweetens in the middle to melon and pine
- Finish: medium dry, tingling green peppercorns, rosemary, grapefruit peel, and lingering anise
There are approximately 25,000 bottles in total and the MSRP is $150 per bottle. Shipments are mixed so all three batches will ship together.
The packaging is really interesting on this bottle as it has the same amber color glass used by George Garvin Brown at the start of the company. There is also a tube, which Campbell Brown says gave them a little more room for the story, including a drawing of the distillery on Whiskey Row where Brown’s great-great-grandfather worked before him.
“This special bourbon has been in the works for some time now, and while it is exciting for our family and colleagues, I hope the larger Old Forester family – the bourbon lovers and fans – will appreciate it just as much,” says Brown. “My great-great-grandfather had quite the vision for his whisky. He was bringing something to the market that had previously not existed and today, we instill his legacy of ingenuity in everything we do – especially in the halls at Old Forester Distilling Co., in the same building George ran the business in the early days of the company.”
“We designed the expression to share our unique story,” says Zykan. “George Garvin Brown was an entrepreneur and an innovator. I have composed three unique blends to honor his process of batching from the three original distilleries. Each captures a distinct facet of the beloved Old Forester flavor profile, each upholding his highest standards of quality.”
The three special releases will be available nationally as well as at the Louisville distillery (call ahead for options as they are not taking walk-ins at this time) October 2020.
Photos Courtesy of Maggie Kimberl