ORIGIN: Shively, KY
First in the bottle
Adulteration of spirits is a problem as old as the spirit itself. In the 1800s, distillers sold their bourbon to bars in barrels and jugs straight from the distillery. The well-respected distillers also supplied the bars and saloons with refillable glass bottles and decanters bearing their brand’s name. If it takes you more than half a second to see the problem with this arrangement, you’re probably the sort of kindhearted person that I want taking care of my cigar and bourbon collection when I’m old and senile.
Before long, unscrupulous bar owners were pouring cheap or adulterated whiskey into the branded decanters and selling it to their customers as the good stuff when in fact they were peddling cheap swill. So in 1870, when George Garvin Brown left a career in pharmaceutical sales for a life in bourbon, he didn’t want to put his investment in the hands of unscrupulous barkeeps. Old Forester was the first bourbon to be sold exclusively in sealed and signed bottles. The move worked and soon patrons were asking for Old Forester by name, not in bars, but in doctors’ offices and pharmacies! That’s right. Before Old Forester became a household name in bars and saloons, it was sold in pharmacies as a medicinal product. Remember Brown’s previous career?
Originally it was named Old Forrester (notice the double “R”) after Dr. William Forrester, who endorsed the product. It’s believed that the second “R” was dropped to create a bit of distance between the doctor’s good name and a product that was by now liquoring up the masses in bars and saloons up and down the river, but there’s no proof of this.
Today Old Forester is part of Brown-Forman’s whiskey portfolio, which includes Jack Daniel’s, Woodford Reserve, and Canadian Mist, among others. It was originally founded as J.T.S. Brown & Bro. and after several partnerships and name changes, the name Brown-Forman was changed for good in 1902. The company was founded with Old Forester as its flagship product and it remained so until the acquisition of other brands like Early Times, which would go on to be one of the country’s best-selling bourbons for a span of 30 years. Later, with the acquisition of Jack Daniel’s in 1956, Old Forester slid further back in importance. But today with the bourbon boom still going strong and recent releases aimed at bringing back the brand’s pre-Prohibition glory, Old Forester’s popularity is on the rise.
It hits you on the nose with a powerful alcohol punch at the start. Give it a second and keep nosing the whiskey and you’ll notice more delicate notes of straw, honey, and rye bread start to emerge. For tasting purposes, I drink this 100 proof bourbon neat, but for regular consumption, it’s perfectly acceptable to add a couple of drops of water. On the palate the whiskey delivers up front spice and chocolate with background flavors of vanilla, oak, and cinnamon.
Cigar Pairing: Cuellar Black Forest
When you’re drinking a 100 proof Bourbon with this level of intensity, you need to come correct. I chose the Cuellar Black Forest from Villiger cigars. The cigar’s sweet earth and wood backbone create the ideal conditions for the bourbon brings out a rich creaminess in the cigar that makes this a perfectly complimentary pairing.