Confession time: I’m not a huge rye whisky fan. I enjoy a solid bourbon or an occasional whiskey (and rarely a scotch). I’ve had an opportunity to sample Woodford Reserve Rye, which I would call “very approachable” for non-rye drinkers, due to the sweetness offered by its number two ingredient – corn. There have been a number of experts speaking highly of Old Forester’s newest addition, so I thought I would weigh in on this new arrival.
Rooted in History
Old Forester traces its roots to 1870, one of the oldest continuous brands within the bourbon industry. Owned by parent, Brown-Forman, Old Forester has continuously distilled and marketed its bourbon, and was one of 6 distilleries allowed to produce medicinal spirits during prohibition.
Following prohibition, the Old Forester brand flourished, but similar to many great names, withered as American palates shifted to clear spirits, beers and wines during the 60’s and 70’s. Sales continued to slump over the next 30 years. Following a reinvestment in the original flagship brand created by founder George Garvin Brown, sales began to steadily rise in 2013, and by 2015, fifth-generation decedent Campbell Brown was placed in charge of the brand. Fast forward through new product introductions, including award-winning Birthday-editions as well as Statesman and its Whiskey Row Series (1870, 1897, 1910, and 1920), the Old Forester brand is returning to its former glory.
Today’s Old Forester Kentucky Straight Rye Whisky traces its inspiration to the Old Kentucky Distillery and, with it, the Normandy Rye Whiskey brand – both acquired by Owsley Brown in 1940. The label states that this historic recipe features a mash bill of 65% rye, 20% malted barley, and 15% corn.
Bottled at 100 proof and rumored to be in the 4-year age range (ryes typically mature quicker than traditional bourbon), the bottle carries the iconic Old Forester label, though sporting some green banding to set it apart from its siblings.
On the nose, it will scream vanilla. Wow! How did they do that? I’ve tasted some other rye whiskeys and not caught that note. Sniff again – yep. Definitely vanilla and a soft tease of spice.
On the tongue, it’s a thin mouthfeel with more hints of vanilla and sugary tones. Here the spice begins to come forward, yet very well balanced and without a burn – I would say somewhat unexpectedly for something at this higher proof. Lastly, the finish is long, lingering, and very smooth. Again, I’ve had ryes that nearly brought tears to my eyes as I tried to say the word “Smooooootttthhhhh“. Here, there’s no mistaking. This is a very good rye whiskey.
Bourbon expert and Louisville local, Fred Minnick, called this product America’s Best Whisky Value. At 100 proof, this is a spirit that would hold up well in a cocktail, such as an Old Fashioned or Kentucky Mule, but is also very drinkable on its own. In the $20 – $25 range, this is a rye whisky that a even a bourbon drinker could appreciate.