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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Bourbon

Old Forester Single Barrel Hy-Vee Pick

Some things are just worth waiting for! And this bourbon was worth the wait. Sometime back, I was in one of my favorite hideaways in the Bluegrass, known for a great selection of unique bourbons. I saw a bottle of Old Forester Single Barrel behind the counter and excitedly asked the clerk to add it to my purchase. When he told me the total, my face was anything but beaming. "How much was that bottle?", I exclaimed. $279. Ah, you can put that one back and I'll keep waiting.

First Bottled Bourbon

In bourbon's earliest days, it was sold by the barrel, or lesser quantities, drawn from a barrel spigot into a crock or pitcher behind the bar counter. George Garvin Brown along with his half-brother J.T.S. Brown was the first to sell whiskey in sealed, clear glass bottles to ensure its quality. Later Brown merged his booming distillery with George Forman in 1890, forming Brown-Forman - the company we know today as the distillers of such famous products as Jack Daniels, Woodford Reserve, and the Old Forester lineup. The company was the first, in 1897, to introduce a Bottled-in-Bond bourbon that adhered to the recently enacted Bottled-in-Bond Act.

During bourbon’s darkest times, the brand shrank to a shadow of its former glamor and languished on the bottom shelf. In 2014, Brown-Forman began investing in the brand, bringing it an updated look and label, as well as additional expansion to the lineup, including the popular Whiskey Row series and Statesman. The brand continues double-digit sales growth, selling more than 400,000 cases last year.

The Tasting

The mash bill is classic Old Forester (and the same one shared with sibling Woodford Reserve): 72% corn, 18% rye and 10% malted barley. Jason Schultz, spirits manager at our local Hy-Vee had clued me in that this barrel-pick bourbon was coming and I eagerly awaited its arrival.

From the label, we see that this barrel was selected by the Bloomington store from the 4th floor of warehouse G. The finished product was bottled at a hefty 126.2 proof.

Eye: Dark amber with shimmering medium legs displayed in the Glencairn glass.

Nose: An absolute butter toffee caramel bomb! There is also a hint of dark fruit compote drizzled with warm maple syrup. The signature Bananas Foster wasn’t present the first time I sampled this, but made its appearance on subsequent pours. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, dollar-for-dollar, Old Forester may have one of the best noses in the industry.

Palate: Caramel is front-and-center followed by a symphony of well-layered spices, including clove, nutmeg, and green pepper. A couple well-placed drops of water tame the heat a bit, allowing the sweet notes to hang around a bit longer.

Finish: Well-toasted oak and spice tumble gently with caramel and vanilla. This is exceptionally well-balanced.

Overall: Having a friendly relationship with the local store manager definitely helps, especially one where you’re buying great, everyday bourbons along with special releases. They were allocated several cases of this $79 release, which were gone in just a few days.

I am super-happy to have been able to snatch this bottle and will gladly grab a subsequent release when it comes out. With probably one of the highest proofs I've sampled of late, this was exceptionally balanced and smooth. The abundance of sweet notes were balanced exquisitely with the savory spice and oak (and reminded you of the proof).

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