There is no doubt that Old Forester is one of the best bourbon brands in existence. The distillery has a storied history and boasts many fantastic expressions in its lineup. While that lineup has great strength, some whiskeys are better than others. That's why we want to rank every Old Forester bourbon to see which one comes out on top. However, we're not strictly sticking to bourbon -- we're also including some of its other expressions, including rye whiskey.
There are currently 17 expressions in this lineup, and we're ranking them all. That means we have excluded any retired series or old limited editions that are no longer available. We have personal tasting experience with most of these whiskeys, so we feel it should be a fair assessment. However, we aren't just taking taste into account. Affordability and availability also affect our ranking, as we think that's important to consider. With that in mind, let's journey through everything this great brand offers.
Read more: The 27 Best Bourbon Brands, Ranked
17. Old Forester Mint Julep
The classic mint julep cocktail only requires a few ingredients. Along with a great bourbon, you need mint, sugar, and water. A garnishing of fresh mint and some crushed ice adds the finishing touches. However, you can skip most of those steps by simply getting a bottle of Old Forester Mint Julep. Named the official drink of the Kentucky Derby, this is Old Forester's only flavored expression, and it has a proof of 90.
There are a few different mint julep expressions out there,but this version from Old Forester is one of the best. The blend of bourbon and fresh mint works well and offers a fresh flavor that is a great substitute for making your own cocktail from scratch. But if we think it's good, why is it in last place? It simply comes down to us preferring classic and authentic bourbon expressions. Take note, though: We may be giving preference to genuine whiskey, but if you want a refreshingly flavored spirit, you'll enjoy this.
16. Old Forester King Ranch
Old Forester and King Ranch are two iconic American brands, and they've combined to make a unique expression. What makes Old Forester King Ranch different is that it's matured in heavily charred barrels and then finished through charcoal filtration. That filtration is done through mesquite charcoal from trees harvested at King Ranch. This is very similar to the Lincoln County Process used to differentiate Tennessee whiskey from that made in Kentucky.
Sadly, this is only available directly in Texas, but it can be found on secondary markets. Coming at 105 proof, there are many different fruits on the nose and a nice array of sweeter smells. The charcoal filtration helps to make it smooth and mellow, but it still has depth. Earthy flavors dominate the palate, with tobacco, oak, and nuts especially prominent. Overall, it's a good but not great whiskey, and its high price and lack of availability means it gets a low ranking here.
15. Old Forester 100 Proof
Old Forester's flagship expression is bottled at 86 proof, but this one is a little higher at 100. It finds a good balance between strength and smoothness as it's a robust whiskey, but one that's still approachable. On the nose, you get a beautiful hit of classic bourbon notes, inviting you into a pleasant tasting experience -- but one that is a little underwhelming.
The most distinctive notes on the palate are those of toffee and honey, but they also offer plenty of warmth. The higher proof gives it richness, but doesn't overwhelm your senses. A touch of pepper on the finish confirms this as a solid expression in Old Forester's lineup. The 100 proof doesn't quite have the character you'd hope for from a higher-proof bourbon, though, which is why we've ranked it quite low. Where this expression shines is as a bold foundation for classic cocktails.
14. Old Forester Single Barrel Barrel Strength
If the previous expression in our list had a high proof, this one takes it to a whole new level. The exact proof will change from one barrel to the next, but it generally sits in the 130 region. As the name suggests, this whiskey is unique for a couple of reasons. It's bottled from just one barrel, and the barrel proof means no water has been added once the whiskey has been dumped. This makes Old Forester Single Barrel Barrel Strength an intense experience for even seasoned bourbon enthusiasts.
Bottled at its natural and undiluted strength, it showcases the full force of its rich flavors. With a deep mahogany appearance, the nose is a bold combination of caramel, dark chocolate, and oak. The palate is powerful, with molasses and spice being quite dominant, even with a little water added. While intense, it lacks the complexity you'd hope for from a single-barrel bourbon, so we didn't think it could rank any higher.
13. Old Forester Rye
Old Forester makes a couple of rye whiskeys, with this one being bottled at 100 proof. The mash bill for this expression is a little unique; along with using 65% rye, a high percentage of 20% malted barley is used. The rest (15%) comes from corn, making this a flavorful expression with beautiful floral notes that counteract the spiciness you get from the rye.
After enjoying a pleasant yet powerful nose, you'll be greeted by pepper and cinnamon, which can be a little overwhelming at first. It's soon balanced out by sweeter notes and a hint of fruits. The high rye content makes this a lively and complex expression, showcasing that Old Forester doesn't make bad whiskey. But while this may be true, the brand does make a few better ones, including a more complex rye expression. For those reasons, it doesn't get close to the top 10.
12. Old Forester 1870 Original Batch
This is our first insight into how Old Forester likes to market many of its bourbons. Many of them have a historic date, with 1870 here paying homage to the year Old Forester was created. These dated expressions form its Whiskey Row series, with the 1870 version celebrating how the company used to make whiskey. Back then, founder George Garvin Brown batched barrels from three separate distilleries to make a smooth blended whiskey.
Old Forester now makes all its products, but in tribute to this old practice, 1870 is made from barrels matured in three different warehouses. This process creates a well-balanced fusion of sweetness and complexity. It's quite a spicy bourbon with a warmth starting on the nose and continuing through to the finish. A touch of fruits and biscuits gives it plenty of flavor. Undoubtedly, it's a good whiskey, but we think it's the weakest of the Whiskey Row series.
11. Old Forester Statesman
The King Ranch shows us that Old Forester enjoys a fruitful partnership, and this is another example. The Statesman was made in connection to the film "Kingsman: The Golden Circle." That film came out in 2017, but due to the quality and popularity of the bourbon, it has been kept as part of its permanent lineup. Bottled at 95 proof, it's a whiskey with plenty of bold flavors, but it still has a smooth mouthfeel.
The palate is particularly sweet, but there are also savory notes. What's particularly unique about this expression is how fruity it is. Various citrus and orchard fruits make it a satisfying pour, and it's definitely best suited to those who prefer such tasting notes in their bourbon. The finish is long, and you get hit with a surprising spice level. It's an impressive expression, and once you taste it, you'll realize why Old Forester felt compelled to keep it on the roster.
10. Old Forester 86
We have a soft spot for affordable bourbons offering fantastic value. Old Forester 86 is undoubtedly one of them. At 86 proof, it's one of the best low-proof bourbons you can buy and is ideal for those looking for something balanced and approachable. This can be both an everyday bourbon for an enthusiast or a perfect entry point for a beginner. Its versatility is part of what makes this a great bourbon.
There isn't anything particularly mind-blowing about the tasting notes. Vanilla and toffee sit prominently on the palate, along with more faint notes of oak, spice, and orange. It doesn't go beyond the traditional bourbon flavor but it does the basics very well. The 86 proof brings a comforting warmth without overwhelming the senses. The finish is impressively long for a budget-friendly bourbon. Old Forester 86 is a reliable and versatile bourbon that captures the essence of the brand's legacy in every sip.
9. Old Forester 2023 Birthday
The founder of Old Forester, George Garvin Brown, was the first to seal a glass whiskey bottle. In memory of this whiskey pioneer, the company started releasing an annual limited edition bourbon in September, the month of his birth. The first release dates back to 2002, and ever since, Old Forester fans have reveled in tasting and comparing each release. The 2023 version is a very strong addition to the lineup and is made from barrels that have matured for 12 years.
This extended aging gives it a beautiful aroma with plenty of fruits combined with more woody notes. The palate is quite distinctive and boasts impressive character. Honey dominates the senses, but other sweet flavors also accompany it. Notes of toasted oak help give it balance, completing a highly enjoyable tasting experience. It's a great whiskey, but these birthday bourbons get extremely expensive unless you manage to grab a bottle as soon as it's released.
8. Old Forester Single Barrel Rye
The Old Forester rye whiskey is a little better than the aforementioned standard rye listed above. An unfiltered single barrel offered at barrel strength, this is the perfect expression for those who want to sample the unadulterated taste of high-quality rye whiskey. With it being barrel strength, the proof will change from one bottle to the next, but it's often comfortably over 120.
Sadly, production levels aren't very high, making it hard to get your hands on a bottle. If you do, you'll enjoy a robust yet balanced whiskey. Despite the high proof and powerful rye flavor, it has a velvety mouthfeel, with orchard fruits and cinnamon being the most distinctive tasting notes. The single-barrel approach ensures each bottle is a one-of-a-kind experience. The finish is also long-lasting and robust, making it the perfect whiskey to enjoy on those cold winter nights.
7. Old Forester 1924 10-Year
The Old Forester 1924 10-Year is the newest release in the brand's Whiskey Row series, and it's a welcome addition. The date relates to prohibition: Old Forester had one of just six licenses to sell whiskey for medicinal purposes back in the day, and in 1924, it acquired barrels from closed distilleries to keep the business running. Those barrels were made using various mash bills, and Old Forester has brought that unique approach to this release.
Instead of its usual mash bill of 72% corn, 18% rye, and 10% malted barley, this whiskey comprises 79% corn, but with a lower rye percentage of 11% and the same level of malted barley. This makes for a sweeter bourbon than you'd usually expect from Old Forester. Along with that added sweetness, you get chocolate, dark fruit, and toffee notes. A hint of cinnamon remains, but this expression is more mellow than warm.
6. Old Forester 117 Series: 1910 Extra Old
This maturely aged bourbon is another member of the Whiskey Row series. It's one of two 1910 expressions Old Forester has, and the date here refers to a fire that happened on the bottling line. Due to the fire, whiskey needed to be stored in a second barrel. This turned a potential tragedy into an opportunity, as the extra maturation gave a whole new character to the spirit.
Thankfully, the fire is in the distant past, but Old Forester wanted to remember this historical moment by creating an expression that has been barreled twice. Whereas the other 1910 bottle is merely finished in another barrel, the 117 Series version has been left there for two years. The oak influence is obvious, but that extra maturation in heavily charred barrels has also given it an elegant smoothness with mocha, dark fruits, and coconut on the palate. However, while it is a great whiskey, the 1910 is better served without such a heavy oak influence.
5. Old Forester President's Choice
The "president" referred to by this expression is simply the president of Old Forester, currently Campbell Brown. These bourbons are bottled from barrels personally chosen by him and are meant to represent the best of what the distillery has to offer. This means the exact taste can change between releases, but they're usually aged for around eight years with a high barrel proof. Sadly, it's only ever sold in low quantities either at the distillery or through selected retailers.
The latest release perfectly showcases the most common bourbon notes of vanilla, caramel, and a hint of baking spices. It has a velvety texture and tastes of dark chocolate, toasted oak, and dried fruits. The bourbon unfolds with layers of complexity, showcasing the meticulous aging process and expertise from the brand's president. In reality, Old Forester President's Choice could well rank as number one purely based on taste, but its low availability and sky-high secondary market price stop it from ranking any higher.
4. Old Forester Single Barrel
One of the best features of single-barrel bourbon is the chance they give drinkers to appreciate the nuance and complexity of each barrel. Sadly, the barrel-proof version that we looked at above didn't quite hit the mark in those respects. But where the barrel proof failed, the 100 proof succeeds. Many automatically equate higher proof with higher quality, but it's often not true. You only get around 220 bottles on average from a barrel of bourbon, so every time this bourbon is released, you get to enjoy something new.
Each bottle of Old Forester Single Barrel may differ slightly, but traditional bourbon tasting notes run through each release. The first thing you notice here is the deep amber hue. Once poured, you enjoy its rich aromas before picking out your own tasting notes. The 100 proof means it's a robust whiskey without being overpowering. It can be enjoyed neat, but you should try it with a drop of water to see how it opens up.
3. Old Forester 1910 Old Fine Whisky
Here we have the other 1910 bourbon. This expression is aged perfectly and is more accurate to the events of 1910, where the fire-damaged whisky was only finished in a second barrel before bottling. This expression has an elegant smoothness that the other 1910 doesn't quite have. Part of that is due to the proof being taken down to 100 between barrels.
You get a little of that char on the palate, but the most distinct note is that of chocolate. Biscuit and caramel also feature to make the pour both complex and inviting. The 1910 Old Fine Whisky showcases Old Forester's commitment to craftsmanship and historical authenticity. Appeal is also added by its affordable price tag, even though it's far from a budget bourbon. It could easily take the top spot, but we felt the top two here provided a slightly better value for the money.
2. Old Forester 1897 Bottled In Bond
The last two expressions on this list are both part of the Whiskey Row series. Here, 1897 refers to the Bottled-In-Bond Act of the same year. This act was brought in to set standards in the industry. To market your whiskey as bottled-in-bond, it must be made at a federally bonded warehouse at one distillery, in one season, and at a proof of 100. It also needs to be matured for a minimum of four years. This was enforced to protect the industry against underhanded practices by those wanting to sell low-quality spirits that sometimes had dangerous additives.
This expression celebrates that commitment to quality with a whiskey that has a bold and robust profile. The palate offers an interesting blend of oak and dark fruits, along with the beautiful sweetness you expect from Old Forester. The finish is satisfyingly long, with warmth from its dark and bold flavors. It's a beautiful whiskey, but the number one on this list offers slightly better value.
1. Old Forester 1920 Prohibition Style
You've probably already worked out where this date comes from: It's when the Volstead Act that started prohibition came into effect. This decimated the industry, but six Kentucky distilleries were able to continue production for medicinal purposes. Old Forester (through the Brown–Forman distillery) was one of the lucky few, but the whiskey had to be barreled and bottled at 100-proof. Due to the angel's share (whiskey evaporating from the barrel), this proof rose to around 115 after maturation.
It's this 115 proof that the 1920 Prohibition Style whiskey is bottled at. It makes for an intense bourbon that comes with complex flavors. Upon the first sip, you are greeted by a luscious combination of toffee, dark chocolate, and delightful coriander. The high proof adds a pleasant intensity, but it also boasts a velvety mouthfeel. It's a great whiskey to have on its own, but you can also add it to a pre-prohibition cocktail for a traditional tasting experience.
Taste is the most important factor when ranking bourbon, but it isn't the only one. In our mind, it's better to pick up a great $30 bottle of whiskey than a $150 one that is only marginally better. That line of thinking has gone into the ranking here, as we placed a significant emphasis on value for money.
The experience of tasting these bourbons is a largely personal affair. However, we've also examined various opinions, expert and otherwise, to achieve a more general and objective consensus. The aim is to create a fair list that accurately reflects the expressions made by this famous brand.
Read the original article on Tasting Table.