Sunday, March 20, 2016

Old Forester 86 Proof

Proof:86 (43% ABV)
Price:JPY 3000

Old Forester, the first bourbon to be exclusively sold in a bottle, is distilled by Brown-Forman. This particular bottle, however, is a dusty version of Old Forester bottled in 1990 with a label that was particular to the Japanese market.

Dimples on Side of bottle
Continuing to look at the label (see below), the primary difference between the Japanese label and the U.S. label from this era is the addition of a picture of a tree behind the paragraph of text and the omission of the red "serial number" stamp and the blue "86 proof" stamp. It also says "whiskey" in Japanese at the bottom. No age statement appears on this bottle. The bottle, like all Old Forester from this era, has three circular dimples on each side.

Dating Late 1980s Early 1990s Old Forester

In 1979, Brown Forman moved the distillation of Old Forester from its Brown-Forman distillery in Louisville (DSP KY 414) to its Early Times distillery in Shively (DSP KY 354). Among Old Forester connoisseurs, the Louisville distilled Old Forester is thought to be far superior to the Shively distilled Old Forester.

With bottles of Old Forester Bottled-in-Bond (BIB), it is trivial to check the DSP number on the label to see whether it was distilled in Louisville or Shively. This method, however, is not foolproof,  as the TTB regulations permitted Brown-Forman to use up all existing labels listing the older DSP number before updating the label to reflect the new DSP number. Unfortunately, this particular bottle was not bottled in bond.

There are, however, a few other rules of thumb for identifying whether Old Forester was distilled in Louisville or Shively.


All bottles with a paper seal were distilled in Louisville; most, but not all, bottles with a plastic seal were distilled in Shively.

Distilling Company

Most bottles with "Brown-Forman Distilling Company" on the label are from Louisville and most bottles with "Old Forester Distilling Company" are from Shively. Therefore, there are examples with labels stating that the bourbon was distilled and bottled by Old Forester Distilling Company, but that list the distiller as DSP KY 414. The converse is also true, because the label reverted to listing the distiller as Brown-Forman in the mid-1990s. More on that below.

For most of Old Forester's history, the label listed Brown-Forman as the distiller. This changed sometime in the late 1980s, when the label started to list the distiller as "Old Forester Distilling Company." This change of label appears to have occured about the same time that Brown-Forman was switching over to Shively distillate.  Later, around 1995, the label reverted to the previous practice of listing Brown-Forman as the distiller.

"At Louisville in Kentucky"

A statement on the label that the bourbon was distilled and bottled by either Old Forester or Brown-Forman Distilling Company "at Louisville in Kentucky" does not mean that the bottle is Louisville distillate. This may seem to be a rather clear statement that a bottle is Louisville distillate, but there are examples of Old Forester BIB that contain this statement, but that list the DSP number of the Shively, Kentucky distiller (DSP KY 354).

My Particular Bottle of Old Forester

Japanese Label Old Forester 86 Proof
Based on the above information, my bottle is probably from Shively. The seal is plastic and the distilling company is listed as "Old Forester Distilling Company." Further, the bottle is from 1990 which is later than most of the bottles of Old Forester Bottled in Bond that list DSP KY 414. There is no age statement, however, to help determine about how old the whiskey is.

OK, on to what's in the bottle. The color is rather light in the glass, though not in the bottle - not a deep brown. The nose is sweet and mild with notes of vanilla. The bourbon has a nice distinctly creamy mouth feel with notes of caramel and vanilla. The flavor is round and balanced with no particular extremes. For me, the mouth feel stands out most of all and really makes this an excellent bourbon.

I'm not sure, but my guess is that mouth feel and over all character of this bourbon may come from urethane (also known as ethyl carbamate) a carcinogen that was apparent in high quantities in Old Forester in the 1980s.  Distillers agreed to limit the amount of urethane in bourbon distilled in or after 1989 and so recent bottlings of bourbon do not have high levels of urethane. This is, of course, all speculation, but this may be one reason that dusty bottles of bourbon have such a different character than more recent bottling. As an aside, Sazerac 18 (distilled around 1987) was at first banned from sale in Canada in 2015 due to high levels of urethane.

Verdict: If you see DSP KY 414 Old Forester BIB, buy it.

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