At the stroke of midnight on January 17, 1920, it became a federal crime to manufacture, transport, and sell intoxicating liquors in the United States. The passage of the 18th Amendment and the subsequent Volstead Act shuttered many distilleries and put them out of business; many permanently. One of the few distilleries that had enough juice already aging in warehouses to receive one of six permits* granted for the purpose of supplying medicinal whiskey was Louisville, Ky.-based Brown-Forman, producer of Old Forester Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky. For Old Forester, receiving the permit ensured that the label started in 1870 would continue in perpetuity.
In honor of Old Forester’s historical significance as the only bourbon to be manufactured by the same company before, during, and after The Failed Noble Experiment, Brown-Forman launched the Old Forester Whiskey Row Series. The inaugural bourbon in this series was the 90 proof 1870 Original Batch, released in 2014. The second expression, released in Fall 2015, was the 100 proof Old Forester 1897 Bottled-in-Bond, a nod to the passage of the BiB Act of 1897. This year’s release — Old Forester 1920: Prohibition Style — celebrates the longevity of the brand and its historical significance during Prohibition.
According to a press release, this style is an homage to the special 115 proof juice that would have been laid down at the beginning of Prohibition by Brown-Forman’s then company top-man Owsley Brown I.
Old Forester Master Bourbon Specialist Jackie Zykan states, “If you had a prescription for whiskey during prohibition, you could likely get your hands on a bottle of Old Forester Bonded Bourbon. If you had friends in the business during Prohibition, you could get your hands on some whiskey straight from the barrel.”
Zykan continues, “Whiskey Row 1920 is an insider’s sip, an expression of vintage barrel strength, with a perfect palate of warm autumn nuances….The 115 proof expression represents a barrel sample that company President Owsley Brown I would have batched at the beginning of Prohibition.”
As with other Old Forester expressions, there is no age statement for 1920, and the mashbill is presumably the same: 72% corn, 18% rye, and 10% malted barley.
Old Forester 1920 Prohibition Style Bourbon Review
Name: Old Forester 1920 Prohibition Style Bourbon
Proof: 115 proof / 57.5% ABV
Age: No Age Statement
How I Drank It: Sampled neat in a Glencairn Glass. The bourbon sat for a few minutes to allow the juice to open up.
Nose: I picked up an initial hint of soft leather giving way to a pleasant balance of fruit lead by faint apple and cherry. An oaky aroma is detected after a few whiffs.
Taste: A peppery spice works front to back as it coats the tongue. The rye shows up but is not overpowering allowing for hints of caramel to come through. When the initial spice fades, the tart apple appears along with a hint of chocolate. The finish is a complex and lasting one that provides a nice, warm Kentucky Hug before a delightful baking spice emerges and lingers on the palate.
Neat, Splash or Rocks: I always sample new expressions neat and that is how I tried OF 1920. For a high proof bourbon, I found it rather easy to sip and enjoy. Adding a few drops of water is a nice way to lower the proof and bring out some of the under-flavors and aromas. I also enjoy letting the brown water sit with a rock or two and then noting the subtle changes over the duration of the pour.
Share With: I would share this with most any fan of a good bourbon. The high proof and rye spice will please an experienced imbiber, but the smoother mouth feel shouldn’t scare off fans of milder whiskey.
Worth The Price: For $60, I feel this may be priced a bit high but elevated retail prices seem to be the norm these days for special expressions during the Bourbon Boom. If you have a nice collection in your bunker and like to add one-off expressions of established labels, then you may want to go ahead and pull the trigger. If you are on the fence, look for a pour at your local tavern or tasting venue before you make your decision.
Bottle, Bar or Bust: You won’t be disappointed if you pick up a bottle. It would be something from which to pour a dram from time to time and to share with friends when they visit your speakeasy.
*10 permits were allotted but only six were applied for.