One of Old Forester’s most coveted whiskeys is returning later this summer, and our early sampling shows it may be one of the best in recent years. No, it’s probably not the best. This is the 21st edition of Birthday Bourbon since it was introduced in 2002, and while we’ve tasted them all (yes, every one of them), it’s hard to pick favorites. But a few things set this year’s above many previous releases.
Old Forester Distillery filled these 119 12-year-old barrels on April 16, 2009. They matured in Warehouse G, where a lot of good stuff has come from as of late (see: This Was the Rarest Whiskey of 2020—and There’s Only One Barrel), before being batched, and bottled at 104 proof.
Birthday Bourbon releases have always been interesting and quirky. The lot of barrels used to make this whiskey batch has always had a “story” behind it, though sometimes those stories have been a little forced. Others, though, have imbued the brand with a charming sense of humanity, like when one year’s release consisted of a lot of whiskey that took a day longer to make, because a squirrel shorted out a power line in the middle of fermentation.
But 2021 proves you don’t need a story if the whiskey is really freaking good. You can get a sense of that from the initial tasting notes from master taster Jackie Zykan.
“This year, we’ve composed a bold, compelling offering which showcases the unique fruit-forward side of Old Forester,” says Zykan. “Playful berry undertones with summery dessert notes balance out to our flagship spice finish while taking sippers on a textural journey from velvety to dry mouthfeel.”
On the nose, we noted deep, smoky hints of old oak; bright, zippy hints of cream soda; and a nostalgic reverberation of cherry cough syrup.
On the palate, it’s misleadingly grain forward at first, but confidently pivots to a range of dessert favorites. A distinct Milky Way balance of nougat and caramel dominates, but as it moves toward the finish, jammy berry cobbler notes counterbalance a distinct cinnamon heat with some tart, gooey sweetness.
This is one of Old Forester’s most classically styled birthday bourbons in recent memory—it’s quirky in some senses, but mostly it’s just a really good example of what the Old Forester mash bill can do given enough time.
Old Forester has put out some really incredible bottles recently, including its 150th anniversary batches, and the first single barrel selections from its rye mashbill. But this 2021 Old Forester Birthday Bourbon seems to put a finer point on the underlying message: This distillery knows what it does best, and it’s going to keep doing just that.
The 2021 batch of Old Forester Birthday Bourbon will be available starting on the birthday of George Garvin Brown (September 2) in the same limited retail capacity as past years, as well as at the retail shop at Old Forester Distilling Co.
It will carry a suggested retail price of $130, but with taxes and other upsales, you can expect to pay significantly more in most states—if you can find it at all. Luckily, if you start now, there’s plenty of time to start planning your search.