Old Forester Whiskey Celebrates 150th Anniversary With Rarefied Collector’s Bottle

The limited edition 100-proof spirit has already sold out.

(Old Forester)

Patience and process go into the finest barrels and bottles of whiskey, so when it came time for Old Forester to celebrate its 150th anniversary in 2020, the distillery was ready and waiting with an expertly crafted expression. But the world had other plans that spring, so the wait rolled on.

It took a much-anticipated second try to celebrate a momentous occasion for the groundbreaking Kentucky distillery, but they’ve taken full advantage this month.

Old Forester (the first distillery to ever bottle its bourbon) just released a limited-edition 150th Anniversary Decanter housing an exceptionally rare whiskey, to the tune of $2,500 apiece.

Good luck finding it: The decanter has already sold out exclusively through Old Forester. Lucky buyers will need to collect their purchase on December 5th (the anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition), VIP distillery tour included, but it’s worth a closer look all the same (150-year milestones don’t come around all that often).

The 100-proof, 12-and-a-half-year-old whiskey within certainly rises to the occasion, said Chris Morris, Master Distiller Emeritus.

(Old Forester)

Morris hand-selected six barrels back in April 2008, and the whiskey within was eventually bottled in July 2020. And for the curious, those barrels came from the distillery’s Warehouse J (top floor 8, Rick 44 and tier 1, to get even more specific).

Initial plans called for 500 of those bottles to be gifted to the Brown family (descendants of Old Forester founder George Garvin Brown and part of Old Forester parent company Brown-Forman), with 150 set aside for the public (a nod to aging for 150 months, or 12-and-a-half years).

Cue the 2020 pandemic and the inevitable delay, but it’s still proven worth the wait.

“This tastes like history. This is what bourbon tasted like in the 1920s,” Morris said during an exclusive Kentucky tasting of the anniversary release earlier this month. “This is history in the glass.”

Old Forester has long been an innovator when it comes to excellent American bourbon, dating back to the first-ever double barrel bourbon in 1910 and carrying through in recent years with high angel’s share expressions.

Old Forester 117 Series High Angels Share Promo
(Old Forester)

Its proprietary yeast strain dates back to the 1920s, and the distillery was one of only six companies granted a license to sell medicinal whiskey during Prohibition.

Today, the yeast strain is perfected with lab practices that ensure consistency, the kind of consistency that’s on full display with each sip, as Maxim found out during a visit to Old Forester this month.

Wisdom, patience and fortitude seem to go into every last drop, and that process is further finetuned with heat-cycled warehouses.

(Old Forester Distillery/Courtesy of Old Forester)

A respect for the past still courses through every bottle of Old Forester, Morris said at the exclusive whiskey tasting attended by Maxim.

“Every Old Forester product is the same whiskey,” he said, referring to the company’s precise baseline approach. “And Old Forester is presented across our various expressions based on barrel selection, age, proof presentation and processing. 

So that’s how we focus and present the unique flavors of Old Forester. I think it really sets us apart from other great whiskies around the world.”

The story of Old Forester is front-and-center on Louisville’s Whiskey Row, as the company continues to experiment with a 600-barrel urban warehouse, plus its own cooperage and bottling line within that downtown facility.

And a trip through the Old Forester archives at the nearby Frazier History Museum is jaw-dropping in its scope. Vintage decanters, old recipe and order forms, throwback advertisements and a true sense of pride echo through the halls of the handsome brick building.

The museum is the official starting point of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, and for the next year, will showcase an exhibit (opening later this month) focused on Old Forester’s extensive mid-century decanter collection.

Not far from Whiskey Row, parent company Brown-Forman maintains its own well-oiled, fast-paced barrel-building cooperage, which churns out thousands of barrels per day for Old Forester and other Brown-Forman spirits brands like Jack Daniel’s.

(Old Forester)

That history and dedication to process comes full circle with this exquisite whiskey, with notes of deep caramel, tobacco, molasses and chocolate (and even toasted coconut on the nose).

The special release is housed in a handcrafted wooden box, another heirloom in its own right: It was made using wood recovered from Old Forester following a 2015 fire on Whiskey Row.

For a company as storied as this one, Old Forester’s 150th Anniversary Decanter is an impressive (and exceedingly rare) release that represents another fine chapter in a volume already filled with illustrious moments aplenty.

Lucky buyers are sure to realize the fruits of those efforts, but any bottle of signature Old Forester bourbon echoes much of that same quality, so refresh your bar cart accordingly this holiday season.