I’ll always have a soft spot for Old Forester. Their core lineup isn’t terribly diverse, but the ones I’ve tried have generally left a strong impression, from the stupidly impressive value that is Old Forester Rye to the Whiskey Row darling, 1920. Speaking of Whiskey Row, today I’m going to look at a different expression from said lineup, one that has recently gained a lot of traction.
Old Forester 1910 may very well be the apex of toasted bourbon: Like most, it starts with a base whiskey which is then dumped into a second barrel (at 100 proof) that is allegedly toasted and then charred nearly to the point of incineration. After that, the whiskey is bottled at 93 proof. The production process is meant to replicate an incident that happened at Old Forester in 1910, when the distillery had to store aged whisky in newly charred oak barrels due to a fire that broke out at the bottling line. I’ve already looked at how a similar process impacted Woodford Reserve, another Brown-Forman brand, so now let’s see if the magic can be captured just as well with Old Forester.
Nose: Cherries, brown butter, and warm molasses. Toffee, heavily caramelized corn, and a sprinkling of chocolate. Some vegetal youth emerges after swirling and nosing further. Licorice, and molasses cookies. Upfront layers are rich, but the backbone is young and not nearly as strong as you’d hope.
Palate: Mild viscosity. Cherry cordials and smoked maple syrup. Oak from the second barrel comes out on the mid and back palates. A bit of raw corn buried beneath the rich barrel influence. Warm molasses and/or dark brown sugar carries over from the nose. Brief impression of Riesen quickly drowned out by the cherry profile with more of that bittersweet oak and molasses flavor.
Finish: On the short to medium side. Oak with light tannins, molasses, and black coffee while the cherries dabble in and out. Hints of caramel and vanilla work their way in as well. Some chocolate barely hangs around.
Understanding why the final release in the Whiskey Row series has become so beloved isn’t difficult to understand. The double-barrel (technically finishing) approach yields an utterly rich, dessert-like experience that plays right into Old Forester’s already sweet nature. More specifically, the presence of cherry, bittersweet oak, and molasses treats can’t be overstated. These results won’t be to everyone’s liking, since one might get rich desserts and coffee while another might get a combination of bitter, cordial-like notes. Either way, if someone asked me for a bourbon that achieves the level of richness that a cask strength expression achieves without the high proof, Old Forester 1910 would instantly spring to mind.
Now to address the elephant in the room: Comparing this to Woodford Reserve Double Oaked. I’ve had these side-by-side a few times, and the conclusion I’ve come to is that 1910 is a bit sharper with a profile that somehow pairs bitter oak with a somewhat young, underlying corn. This makes it more of a mood pour than something I’d reach for at any given time. The Woodford has more mustiness to it with a mellower, rounded off sweetness. To that end, it’s a safer option that should make for an easier crowd-pleaser overall. 1910 still has its place as a relatively available toasted bourbon with a ton of flavor, which makes dropping $60 on this a bit easier to justify than something more nuanced, like Elijah Craig Toasted Barrel.