BATTLE OF THE BOURBONS: OLD FORESTER 86 VS. OLD FORESTER 100

Old Forester began with humble roots in 1870, when George Garvin Brown took $5,500 and, with his half-brother, started J.T.S. Brown & Bros – the first ones to sell whiskey in sealed glass bottles to assure its quality. After a few organizational changes, George Brown became partners with George Forman, and renamed the company to Brown-Forman in 1890. In 1897, they were one of the first to introduce a bottled-in-bond product, produced under the Old Forester name. 

Over the years, Brown-Forman produced many brands including its flagship brand – Old Forester. Brown-Forman survived Prohibition as one of only 10 distilleries authorized for medicinal production. At one time, Old Forester was considered fine bourbon, releasing special decanters each year for the Christmas holiday. Throughout the 1980’s-1990’s, the brand languished and continued to lose market share. In 2014, Brown-Forman began reinvesting in the brand, including returning to its roots along Whiskey Row in Downtown Louisville.

With a refreshed branding and investment in the line-up, Brown-Forman continues to report sales growth in its American whiskey brands. As of June 2019, Old Forester was seeing annual double-digit sales growth, surpassing 250,000 cases sold – the most since the early 1990s.  Putting things in perspective, though, its premier-bourbon-big-brother – Woodford Reserve – reported revenues up 24% and sales approaching 1 million cases annually. 

The Contenders 

We’re doing a duel between Old Forester 86 and Old Forester 100. They each carry similar mashbills: 72% corn, 18% rye and 10% malted barley. 


Old Forester 86Old Forester 100
AgeNo age statement, but rumored to be in the 4-6 year range Ditto
Proof 86 (43% Alcohol by Volume)100 (50% ABV)
Price$20.99 with $2 coupon $20.99 with $2 coupon
EyeMedium copperDark copper
NoseVery traditional bourbon notes of vanilla and caramel. This has a GREAT nose.Ditto, with even more pronounced vanilla notes.  
PalateThere’s vanilla, oak, and a splash of dark fruit.  Surprisingly light – lighter than the 86.  There are butterscotch and vanilla notes, along with similar dark fruit and oak, but much more balanced and well rounded.
FinishMedium with some sharp, spicy notes. Dry and woodsyWow. I would not have expected it, but very smooth for the added alcohol.  Much smoother than its sibling. It’s medium with similar notes as the 86, but much, much smoother.
Photo from the Old Forester Experience in Louisville. For this battle – I left out Statesman.

Overall

Full disclosure here – I like Old Forester. It is one of my go-to bourbons and it is nearly always in my bourbon cabinet. I love its rich history and it is a very “classic bourbon” with a good, solid, consistent flavor profile. It’s a little like McDonalds or a Hampton Inn.  

It’s not a 5-star restaurant or the Ritz Carlton. But it is pretty good stuff and it’s great neat or on the rocks, and holds up nicely in an Old Fashioned or other cocktail. I’ve noticed of late that both the 86 and the 100 have been trending at identical price points – around $22-$23 – and even a bit cheaper with a grocery store coupon.

I recall when we visited the Old Forester Experience in Downtown Louisville last summer and my wife – not a bourbon drinker – remarked in our sampling of how smooth the 100 was, and that even she liked that one.

So – who’s the winner? The nod goes to Old Forester 100. Winner-winner-chicken-dinner!  With identical price points and with that ever so slight roughness around the edges smoothed out, this will be the one that I keep in my cabinet from here on out.

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