Old Forester’s 2020 release of its much-beloved Birthday Bourbon is just days away. This year’s bottle is one of the more unusual releases in recent years, and we’re surprised to say that that is a very good thing.
Birthday Bourbon, as it’s commonly known, is released every year to commemorate the birthday of Old Forester founder George Garvin Brown, on September 2. Each release is a small batch bourbon made entirely of barrels filled on the same date; for 2020, the entire batch is made of 95 barrels filled on June 5, 2010.
This year’s release marks a fairly substantial departure from last year’s with regards to proof. For 2019, Old Forester released the highest Birthday Bourbon proof ever: 105. The whiskey was bold and aggressive, showing those characteristic dark chocolate and cherry notes that are tell-tale of the Old Forester recipe.
2020 is an entirely different personality: a quiet, 98-proofer that requires your full attention to appreciate.
Birthday Bourbon 2020 has a gentle nose of light fruit notes, soft cocoa and buttery vanilla sugar cake. On the palate, it’s initially very delicate, with an effervescent and elusive mouthfeel. For a moment, you might even be disappointed, but that’s when the other shoe drops.
This whiskey saves all of its tricks for the end. The soft and sweet character suddenly hardens into rich toasted corn muffin and browned butter notes and candied orange peel. The sweetness is suddenly tempered with soft oak tannins, woody baking spices, and hints of leather that turn the finish of this whiskey into an immaculately balanced, long, and deeply satisfying experience.
Is this an uneven whiskey? Absolutely. But there’s a lovable quality to whiskeys that are allowed to be unexpected and different, which is what the Old Forester Birthday Bourbon line has always been about. Keep in mind, this whiskey was once made of a batch whose entire identity hinged on the distillery being temporarily shut down due to a power outage caused by a squirrel.
The race will be on for these bottles shortly. Like most other years, the 2020 release of Birthday Bourbon will be available on September 2, though different states may see distribution delays or lotteries. If you do get your hands on one, the set retail price is $130.