Happy Birthday Bourbon, to us
Malt Advocate’s ”American Whiskey of the Year” award might be the only award that bourbon enthusiasts pay attention to. The award pretty much guarantees a swift extinction of any bottles still out there in the wild, and it also increases the collectibility of the bottle in the secondary market. John Hansell reviews just about every release, including multiple barrels from single barrel releases, but the high age, high price bourbons have been on a roll. Looking at the prices of the previous five winners, $35 might clear the sales tax of a “Whiskey of the Year” winner, but once upon a time a $35 bottle of Old Forester Birthday Bourbon was John Hansell’s favorite.
Malt Advocate’s “Whiskey of the Year” Winners
- 2007 – $35 Old Forester Birthday Bourbon
- 2008 – $150 Parker’s Heritage Collection, 27 Year Bourbon
- 2009 – $200 Parker’s Heritage Collection, Golden Anniversary
- 2010 – $80 Buffalo Trace Antique Collection
- 2011 – $150 Elijah Craig 20 Year
- 2012 – $90 Four Roses LESmB
The winners that came before the 2007 Old Forester Birthday Bourbon (OFBB) weren’t much cheaper than those that came after, so it’s not that 2007 was the end of an era or anything. The 2007 OFBB award is worth remembering because it is a reminder that you don’t have to sacrifice a month’s gas to enjoy one of the year’s best bourbons.
Each year, Brown-Forman Master Distiller Chris Morris selects a set of barrels that were distilled and filled on a single day of production. These barrels are pulled after turning 12 years old and are blended into a 98 proof, special edition small batch bourbon. Sure, the bottle is awkwardly wide, a bit frumpy looking and it won’t fit anywhere in my liquor cabinet unless I take out four bottles, but that all adds to the charm of OFBB.
There have been far more hits than misses since OFBB started in 2002, but for a while now OFBB was just about the only annual contender under $50. In what I hope to be the start of a trend, it seems as though bourbon producers have started paying more attention to the under $50 category. The $39.99 Elijah Craig Barrel Proof is by far my favorite bourbon of the year heading in to the fall releases, and Stagg Jr was another fun bottle to see on the shelf under $50.
This year’s OFBB has a lot of momentum just weeks into the release. Big names like Jason Pyle and John Hansell have come out and said it is the best OFBB in years, while every forum and Facebook group I see is equally as positive. Hype doesn’t always pan out, but the bar is usually pretty obtainable when you are talking about a $36 bottle of bourbon.
Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2013
Color: Caramel syrup.
Nose: The nose is full, rich and extremely enjoyable. A soft oak is subtle, with only a little bitterness coming through. Caramel, cherry pie, and a sugary dark maple syrup highlight the sweetness and are followed by candied pecans, cocoa, vanilla, cinnamon sticks, and a citrus orange rind that combine to create a near perfect nose.
Sip: The 2013 OFBB has a full bodied texture. Rich, chewy caramel candy, tons of dark maple syrup, brownie batter, vanilla extract, caramelized sugar and candied pecans put together an incredible front end, especially for fans of sweeter bourbons. Blackberry jam and orange rind in the middle fade back to a cinnamon stick, clove spice, softly charred oak and some black peppercorn.
Finish: The finish has plenty of the sweetness from the sip, but the maple syrup and candied pecans seem to stand out the most. The finish is long and balanced perfectly.
Overall Grade: A+
Yes, the 2013 Old Forester Birthday Bourbon gets an A+, and here is why. The 2013 OFBB surpasses any expectation I had of a $36 bottle of bourbon. I see that some states are paying upwards of $50, and that might take the grade down to an A, or maybe an A-, but here in Colorado, most places have it for $34-$38. The best part about OFBB is that if you want one, you can get one. It is a month after the initial Colorado release and there are still cases on the shelf, so unlike the Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, there is no outside influence to influence the grade.
Also, I should point out that I love the dark sugars from the charred oak influence, so any rich, sweet profile like the OFBB, PVW15, Weller 12, or even Elijah Craig score high with my preferences. Like any review, mine is subjective, so try to bounce your preferences off of a few reviews of your favorites to see how my tastes line up with yours.
OFBB is a bourbon you could sit down and dissect every night for weeks and never get tired of. It has a great texture, plenty of depth and if you enjoy sweeter bourbons, the 2013 OFBB will surely be one of your favorites of the year. It is great to see the OFBB line get back in the spotlight, as well as seeing multiple special releases in the same price range.
2013 is shaping up to be a very competitive year. I still think the ECBP has the edge, but we will see where everything stacks up when the dust settles after the fall.