While not officially on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, if you're nearby some of the great historic sites, such as Maker's Mark or the Bulleit Experience at Stitzel-Weller, check out one of the "new kids" on Whiskey Row - The Old Forester Experience.
The Original Whiskey Row
Downtown Louisville is a vibrant community, complete with boutique hotels, delectable dining, and, of course, bourbon. Located just a couple of city blocks from the nearby Evan Williams Experience and Michters at Fort Nelson, the Old Forester Experience has returned to where it once began.
While you can drive by the Brown-Forman Distillery, south of downtown in Shively, it's not open to the public for tours. In 2014, Brown-Forman announced that they had purchased the building that was once their original location along "Whiskey Row" in downtown Louisville.
Plans for a quick re-opening were dashed when 10 months later, much of the building was gutted by a fire. Four years and $45 million later, the Brown family was able to realize their dreams as not only an "experience" but also a working distillery and warehouse returned "home" to Whiskey Row.
The Tour and Experience
Upon arrival, you'll enter the sleek and modern lobby, gift shop, and George's Bar - a great spot to snag a pre-tour cocktail. While several "bourbon experiences" don't feature an operating distillery, the Old Forester Experience does.
During the 60-minute tour, you'll learn about the Old Forester brand beginning with the grains and mash tubs which produce 4,500 gallons of mash each day. The mash bill for Old Forester is 72% corn, 18% rye, and 10% malted barley. Identical in composition to its cousin Woodford Reserve, many thought that Old Forester was simply "Young Woodford". In reality, though, it is not, as Old Forester uses a slightly different yeast, and Old Forester uses column stills, while Woodford uses pot stills. Similar - but ever so slightly different.
The floor-to-ceiling view of the 24-inch diameter 44-foot Vendome copper still is eye catching. 22 viewing ports allow visitors to catch a glimpse of the process. Onsite, they're able to distill 100,000 gallons each year. The shiny still, itself, is a perfect spot to catch a photo with your party.
An onsite cooperage assembles and fires/chars 26 barrels each day. We continue on to the onsite warehouse - itself a bit of an anomaly. Large amounts of flammable liquid kept in urban environments to age, is rarely something you see. However, a warehouse it is, and is able to store 900 barrels of bourbon to quietly experience Kentucky's four seasons.
As we near the end of the tour, we pass the bottling line, capable of filling 2,400 bottles each day. Be sure to catch a glimpse of the array of Old Forester decanters from the 1940s-1960s designed by industrial art icon Raymond Loewy. These are absolutely beautiful, and if you’re lucky, you can still find some at thrift stores or online resellers to add to your home décor or deck out your bar on at a very reasonable price.
Old Forester 86: An absolutely delightful, traditional bourbon nose. For the price-point, Old Forester has one of the best noses in the industry. The palate mirrors the nose with vanilla and caramel as well as some dark fruit notes and a little bit of banana. The finish is medium-long with vanilla, oak char, and spice.
Old Forester Statesman: This was the darkest of the 3 bourbons we sampled, which hints that it's been aged on top floors of a warehouse to receive maximum contact with the wood barrel. On the nose, there are strong notes of vanilla, caramel, along with spice and cinnamon. The palate was true to the nose, and the finish was long and was a sweet-savory balance of vanilla and spice.
Old Forester 100: Similar in color to the Old Forester Statesman, this has a similar nose to the Old Forester 86, though with more pronounced vanilla notes. The palate, for the highest proof, is surprisingly smooth and well balanced with vanilla, dark fruit, and oak. The finish is medium long and it, too, is exceptionally balanced. My wife - a non-bourbon drinker - truly was surprised that she liked this one the best.
The Old Forester Experience hit all the right notes for us. It was a short walk from our downtown hotel and there were plenty of other sights to take in along our route. It's lovely to see the area return to its former glory as businesses have taken up residence in the neighborhood. Founder George Garvin Brown can rest assured that his family and their teams continue the fine bourbon tradition he began in 1870.