Some of you may have come across this day. It’s a celebrated event as it marks the occasion of the repeal of Prohibition in the United States, accomplished with the passage of the Twenty-first Amendment to the United States Constitution on December 5th 1933. It’s with this historic day in the history of alcohol production that Old Forester bourbon made its mark this year as the brand is officially the longest running bourbon on the market today (144 years) and is the only bourbon to be bottled pre, during and post prohibition.
It’s astonishing then that I’m only just sitting down and really taking a look at the brand. So here goes.
Old Forester originates back to 1870, and is the brain child of George Garvin Brown, a gentleman who based himself on Main Street (322 W. Main Street to be exact), the center of Louisville’s whiskey economy through the early 20th century. George sought to have America’s first bottled bourbon; not only sold in sealed glass bottles, but each made according to Brown’s 1870 Original Batch process of batching barrels from three distilleries to create a consistent flavor profile.
In 1897, Bottled in Bond Old Forester was presented at 100 proof in sealed bottles to comply with the legal regulations specified by the U.S. Bottled in Bond Act of 1897. This followed the legend that involves Old Forester and the now classic cocktail ‘Old Fashioned’, where it was deemed that the local Louisville’s Hometown Bourbon was used in the 1880’s.
In 1910, Old Forester Old Fine Whisky robust small batch was created on Whiskey Row, but in 1920, Prohibiton begins and saw many distilleries close. But the company, now named Brown-Forman after being originally named J.T.S. Brown and Bro., applies for and receives a federal license to continue producing Old Forester for medicinal purposes. 4 years later, Old Forester operations move from Whiskey Row to 18th and Howard streets in Louisville, and in 1933, Prohibition is repealed. Old Forester production is increased and, as mentioned, today Old Forester is the only bourbon continually distilled and marketed by the founding family before, during and after Prohibition.
1935 saw the Old Forester barrel entry proof established at 125 proof to comply with new post-Prohibition federal standards for distilled spirits, and in 1941, an Old Forester plant begins producing industrial alcohol to help World War II efforts.
1946 saw the purchase of the Bluegrass Cooperage, which today is known as the Brown-Forman Cooperage, to make Old Forester whisky barrels. To this day it’s the only cooperage owned by a major distiller!
In 2002, Old Forester celebrated the 156th birthday of founder George Garvin Brown with a limited-edition Old Forester Birthday Bourbon™ on his birthday, Sept 2. A year later, Old Forester Birthday Bourbon receives the title of American Whisky of the Year at WhiskyFest New York and in 2015, Old Forester Mint Julep is named Official Drink of the Kentucky Derby®, a race starting back in 1875.
So what makes Old Forester stand out to the other bourbons available?
Well the 86 proof version, or the one you are likely to see in many a bar, is twice distilled and uses a grain recipe of corn, rye and malted barley. You also have the Signature 100 proof which uses only a selection of barrels available, and the original 1870 batch which see’s select barrels from three warehouses, each barrel originating from a different day of production, with a different entry proof and a different age profile, then batched together.
But how does the 86 proof fare? Well below, I give to you my tasting notes –
Old Forester – 43%
Floral notes of tobacco and vanilla on the nose, with a subtle orange zest coming through slowly. Thick on the palate, with a good kick of oak, fudge and caramel to begin-with, turning to a lively, fresh butter and orange finish that’s long, slightly sharp and offering hints of honey.
A great dram to be enjoyed on its own, but what about a twist on a Blood and Sand perhaps using Old Forester, spiced pineapple and vanilla as recommended by Massimo Zitti of Cane and Grain in Manchester? Or maybe the Kentucky Derby favourite?
60 ml Old Forester
25 ml Simple Syrup
8-10 mint leaves
3 mint sprigs, for garnish
Rub 8-10 mint leaves along the inside of a mint julep cup. Pack mint julep cup with crushed ice. Pour bourbon and syrup over ice. Swizzle with swizzle stick or bar spoon. Top with ice and garnish with 3 generous sprigs of mint. *Make sure to slap mint and insert straw into ice near mint.
A recommended bourbon for sure when it comes to stocking your drinks cabinet. The brand offers a liquid that is unique to the American industry, and with its versatility, it really shows off how bourbon would have been enjoyed not only today, but back in the 1800’s too.
* Thank you to Massimo Zitti of Cane and Grain in Manchester for showing off some of his Old Forester bourbon cocktail skills to me.*
I don’t know about you, but when I experience something, it sticks into my mind. I still remember the first time I sampled the Buffalo Trace range, held at The Anthologist Bar near St Paul’s Cathedral, London during London Cocktail Week 2011. It was hear that I met Drew Mayville, Sazerac Buffalo Trace Master Blender, who explained the history and heritage of the brand, as well as how each expression differed. Ever since then, I’ve always had a love for them all, and utilise when I can within my work. You can imagine my delight then when Buffalo Trace announced their new cocktail competition for 2014, and would be holding a master class in Manchester to kick-start the proceedings.
My original article I’ll be quite honest, was poor. Nothing to the standard that I write today. So if you may, ignore my 2011 posting, and read on the new and updated version, complete with diving into the history of Buffalo Trace –
Back in the day, buffalo herds would migrate across the plains of America, unintentionally carving paths that were later used by the first American pioneers and explorers to travel west. One of the now more famous trails led to the banks of the Kentucky river, the now home of the Buffalo Trace Distillery for the past 200 years. The history of the site though can go back to 1792 when Commodore Richard Taylor built the stone ‘Riverside’ house, a building that still stands to this day. From their, in 1811 another building was built, this time three-stories high, on the banks of the Kentucky river close to the Riverside house. Here, whisky barrels and other goods were kept to await shipping. It’s also here that Harrison Blanton is said to have started distilling in the upcoming years. 1858 saw a small distillery built by Daniel Swigert on the warehouse and Riverside house site, but by 1870, Colonel Edmund Haynes Taylor Jnr purchased the distillery and re-named it Old Fire Copper (O.F.C.) Distillery. Two years later, he invested $70,000, building a new distillery.
In 1878, Taylor sold the distillery to George T. Stagg, with Edmund Taylor still running the operations. Despite ‘The Great Fire’ of 1882 as a result of a lightning strike, the re-built distillery opened a year later and still houses the mashing and fermentation wing in the Dickel Building. With a new warehouse opening in 1885, and the introduction of steam heating a year later, the distillery was at the fore-front of modern distillation. Albert B. Blanton joins at the age of 16 in 1897, rising to still house, warehouse and bottling superintendent in 1900 before re-christening the distillery the George T. Stagg Distillery in 1904.
When Prohibition came into force in 1920, the distillery was one of the few to keep itself in business, seeking permission to distill their whisky for medicinal purposes and the rare act of creating new whisky between 1930 and 1933. Before this though, Albert B. Blanton became president of the distillery in 1921, then purchased by Schenley Distillers Corporation in 1929, resulting in the expansion of the distillery between 1935 and 1937. 1949 saw Elmer T. Lee join the company, the future Master Distiller.
The world’s first ever single-barrel bourbon, Blanton’s, was released in 1984, before returning to a family owned company; Sazerac Company. After distillery renovations, its flagship brand Buffalo Trace was released in 1999, alongside the renaming of the distillery to its now familiar title. With this, it won ‘Distillery of the Year’ in 2000 by Whisky Advocate, the American distillery to win the award. Current Master Distiller Harlen Wheatley joined the post in 2005,
Many a legendary figure involved with the continuous production of the Buffalo Trace range. But how is it all really made?
For Buffalo Trace, corn and rye are milled and then cooked. The corn is cooked under pressure for 45 minutes using Kentucky limestone water, unlike the rye, resulting in the two being brought together to create the mash that will start off the fermentation process. The mash is pumped into the fermentation tanks, alongside small amounts of set back from previous distillations. Here, the sour mash will rest for 3-5 days before being pumped to the stills.
The first distillation is through a column still, then through a copper pot still, where the resulting liquid has been coined with the nickname ‘White Dog’. The high abv liquid is transferred into brand new white oak barrels from the Ozark mountains. The barrels are actually aged for 6 months in the production yard (the only distillery to do this) and then charred heavy on the inside before being used. Buffalo Trace will stay in the barrel for at least 8 years, housed in the middle of the warehouse so it gains the different temperatures from each season, resulting in the maximum flavour extract. Once aged, 40 barrels are chosen at a time and each tasted individually to make sure they match the profile of Buffalo Trace. Once chosen, those barrels will then be put into the batch, hence the name ‘small batch bourbon’, and bottled and corked by hand.
So with such an extensive range from the Buffalo Trace family, how does each fare? Well below, I give to you my tasting notes on each that I have been lucky enough to experience –
Buffalo Trace – 40%
Red berry and vanilla on the nose with hints of toffee making its way through near the end. A slight spice from the rye is also present. On the palate, a slight spice to begin with develops into a long, wild after-taste with fruit flavours coating. Smooth offering, a little dry, resulting in a lingering finish with some citrus cuts.
White Dog – 62.5%
An unaged bourbon, on the nose it gave a distinct corn and grain aroma on the nose, with green grass mixing with a slight sweetness. Spice on the palate, with a developing warmth, slight green fruit flavours resulting in a long finish.
Benchmark Bourbon Old Number 8– 40%
Plenty of caramel on the nose, with dashes of fruit and wood coming through sporadically. Light on the palate, with a good combination of oak, cherries and a growing warmth of leather.
Eagle Rare Single Barrel – 45%
Aged for no less than 10 years. Fresh fruit with intense caramel, wood flavourings to create quite a mature whisky nose with hints of chocolate, toffee and fudge. A sharp, robust yet more complex flavours of raisins and dry fruits fill the palate, alongside burn toffee and a velvet texture to create a long, slightly fiery finish.
Eagle Rare 17yr – 45%
Released once a year in the Autumn from 10 selected barrels. Plenty of wood aromas with hints of smoke wrap around fresh fruit to give a silky effect on the nose. The palate encounters rather intense fruit flavours with a slight spice to overtake the wood. It’s slightly drier, especially in the long after-taste. A very heavy bourbon offering.
George T. Stagg – 71.3%
Sampled in 2011 at 71.3% abv and at an age released at between 15-16 years. A very strong nose of cinnamon spice, dried fruit and toffee sweetness, mellowing onto the palate. Slight tobacco and vanilla round off the flavours on the short finish.
George T. Stagg– 64.1%
Sampled in 2014 at 64.1% and at an age released at 16.5 years. Rich vanilla on the nose with a slight medicinal aroma with hints of wood to finish. A smooth start on the palate, developing a warmth that bring with it dry spice to a surprisingly lively finish. Mouth-watering.
Stagg Jr – 67.2%
Uncut and unfiltered, aged for nearly a decade. Soft and subtle aromatic fruit on the nose. A very sharp, very hard-hitting flavour of rye and spice on the palate, but soon mellows to a spicy, lingering finish with slight citrus bursts.
Elmer T. Lee – 45%
Sampled in 2011 at an age released at between 9-10 years. On the nose, a very light offering of vanilla and butterscotch creating a smooth, soft and slightly sweet aroma. A sweeter taste of honey and vanilla with some intense fruits on the palate creates a rather creamier bourbon to almost class it as a dessert wine.
Hancock’s President Reserve – 44.45%
Instant sweetness on the nose with aromas of exotic fruits that carries onto the palate. A round offering of fruit, spice and honey combine well to create a long finish.
Rock Hill Farms Single Barrel– 50%
Lots of oak, walnut and dry spices on the nose with a good balance of toffee, chocolate, vanilla and rich toffee on the palate. Incredibly long, smooth and silky.
Thomas H. Handy – 64.2%
Sampled in 2014 at 64.2% abv (batch barrel strength) and at an age released at between 8 and 10 years from 15 selected barrels.
A vibrant and strong aroma of fruit and spice mix well on the nose whilst a nutty, rye flavour develops on the palate. A long lingering taste of fresh spice to finish.
Sazerac Rye – 45%
Aged between 6 to 8yrs. On the nose, a spicy aroma mixes with pear to produce a soft fruit offering with a slight sweetness. The spice makes a slightly intense presence on the tongue but develops into a sweeter ending.
Sazerac Rye 18yr – 45%
Released once a year with just 28 barrels per bottling. A spicy aroma on the nose dominates but the palate embraces a smooth, delicate balance of chocolate, cinnamon and vanilla to create a long, warm finish.
W.L. Weller – 45%
Aged for a minimum of 12 years and is the original wheated bourbon. Light and soft with subtle wheat aromas coming through Very light with thin honey flavours, smooth caramel and finishing with a slight spice blended with butter and vanilla.
William Larue Weller – 65%
Aged between 10 and 14 years and is an uncut and unfiltered Kentucky bourbon, fresh oak with light toffee are present on the nose, with a slight pepper aroma. Dry fruits are evidently present and becomes strong and intense. Plenty of caramel and corn too, resulting in a sweet finish.
Colonel E.H. Taylor Small Batch – 50%
Named after Colonel Edmund Haynes Taylor and aged inside century old warehouses constructed by E.H. Taylor, Jr.
Slightly dry on the nose, with aromas of cooked banana bread and rich oak. Smooth on the palate, with flavours of butterscotch, caramel and hints of spice offering a tingling finish.
Such an incredible range, and one that is hard to pinpoint a singular favourite. There are a couple that I am yet to experience, including the other E.H. Taylor Jr expressions, their experimental collection, the Single Oak Project, the A. Smith Bowman Distillery collection, and the 1972 Ridgemont Reserve, as well as the Van Winkle range that is also produced at the distillery.
Some of the range are versatile too, and you can enjoy such classics as –
The Official Sazerac Cocktail
35 ml Sazerac Rye
1 cube sugar
7 ml Herbasaint (or absinthe as a substitute)
3 Dashes Peychauds Bitters
Pack an Old-Fashioned glass with ice. In a second Old-Fashioned glass place the sugar cube and add the Peychaud’s Bitters to it, then crush the sugar cube. Add the Sazerac Rye Whiskey to the second glass containing the Peychaud’s Bitters and sugar. Empty the ice from the first glass and coat the glass with the Herbsaint, then discard the remaining Herbsaint. Empty the whiskey/bitters/sugar mixture from the second glass into the first glass and garnish with lemon peel.
90 ml Buffalo Trace
4 Sprigs of Mint
2 teaspoons of sugar or to taste
In a julep tin, add the mint, sugar and Buffalo Trace. Muddle well and ensure the sugar has dissolved. Fill with shaved ice and stir until the outside of the tin frosts up. Garnish with a sprig of mint.
Perfect for any time of the day. But it’s not just drinks that you could enjoy with the Buffalo Trace family. How about this menu of food matching, created by the chef’s at Rosylee Tearoom’s, Manchester –
Pan fried seabass, celeriac, vanilla puree, salad of courgette, samphire and baby onions
1/2 Sazeray rye and 1/2 Buffalo Trace within a Manhattan
And for Dessert:
Vanilla bean pannacotta, rhubarb crumble with poached rhubarb, white chocolate shards, raspberry sorbet
Superb! I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of cocktails will be thought up by bartenders in the upcoming competition, and I’ll be their to follow the action so come back in June for some more inspirational ideas. In the meantime, stock up on your drinks cabinet, you’ve got some bourbon to enjoy.
Woodford Reserve is a brand that is a staple to many a bar around the world. But what makes it so? I mean, have you ever tried it? Neat? A cocktail maybe but as a huge believe in trying a spirit before you mix, this is a brand that should always come under this rule.
But before we come onto the liquid itself, lets take a peek at how Woodford Reserve became a dominant brand.
Woodford Reserve has been around since 1780, with its distillery built in Woodford County in central Kentucky in 1838. Originally going by the name of Old Oscar Pepper Distillery, and later the Labrot & Graham Distillery (which its name graces each bottle and cork), the distillery is the oldest out of the nine bourbon houses that are still in operation. Originally established by Elijah Pepper, he passed the distillery onto his son Oscar (hence the name Old Oscar Pepper Distillery) and worked alongside Dr. James Crow in the mid 19th Century. Around this time, Dr. Crow established a set of activities that improved the understanding and quality of the bourbon making process including the sour-mash fermentation, pot still distillation and barrel maturation.
In 1878, the Pepper family sold the distillery to Leopold Labrot and James Graham who owned and operated the site until 1941 when the Brown-Forman Corporation took over until 1968. By this time the property was mothballed and sold the site in 1971. In 1993 however, Brown-Forman re-purchased the property and refurbished it into production in time for 1996.
Woodford Reserve is rather unlike other Bourbons in that it contains some percentage of whiskey made in copper pot stills and triple-distilled – just like the Irish style of whiskeys. Woodford Reserve uses a mash of corn, rye, and malted barley, and also re-uses some of each run’s fermented mash in the next batch. The pot-still whiskey is combined with column-still whiskey and aged in new toasted oak barrels for between four and six years.
So a long yet interrupted history, and with a combination of two methods of distillation, how does it fare? Well below, I give to you my tasting notes on the original, and further expressions.
Woodford Reserve – 43.2%
On the nose it gives off a good caramel scent with a smooth lingering vanilla aroma which carried on to the palate. The caramel becomes more subtle in flavour, and mixing with a little fruit, results in a smooth, silky lingering after-taste.
Woodford Reserve Double Oaked – 43.2%
The whiskey is first matured in new charred white oak barrels, but before bottling it is transferred to a special heavily toasted, lightly charred finishing barrel.
Light on the nose with short cherry, dry oak and a slight maple syrup aromas coming through. Soft and smooth too. Incredibly smooth however on the palate, with fudge flavours mixing with plenty of oak, marshmallow, butter and a thin coating of vanilla. Slight underlining of sweetness creating a dry, slightly herbal lingering finish.
Smashing on its own, especially the Double Oaked, but how about combining it with other ingredients?
Highball / Julep Cup
75 ml Woodford Reserve
2 tablespoons mint syrup (recipe below)
1 sprig of mint
Fill a glass or julep cup with broken or crushed ice. Add mint syrup and the bourbon and stir gently until the cup is frosted. Garnish with 1 sprig of mint.
Mint Syrup – 1 cup water, 1 cup sugar, 13 sprigs of mint – Bring the sugar and water to a boil in a saucepan and boil for 5 minutes; do not stir. Pour over the 13 sprigs of mint in a heatproof bowl, gently crushing the mint with the back of a spoon. Chill, covered, for 8 to 10 hours. Strain, discarding the mint.
Traditional, and one that you will surely have if you ever have the chance to experience the Kentucky Derby.
There are other various expressions of Woodford Reserve, usually limited editions and special bottlings, as well as the highly sought out ‘Masters Collection’, most of which are available here.
Check out the rest of the photos, taken at The Circle 360, via my Facebook page.
Award–‐winning Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon, recognised as a piece of liquid history, is now launching an exclusive limited edition gift box this Christmas for drink connoisseurs and bourbon fans alike. Available at £40 in Harvey Nichols and packaged in a handcrafted wooden box, discover the 220 year history and 8 step crafting process of Buffalo Trace that ensures its uncompromising and complex palate of spice with notes of leather, tobacco and smokiness. The gift box opens to reveal a bottle of Buffalo Trace coupled with a traditional Julep cup perfect to serve a frosted Mint Julep cocktail this winter.
LIMITED EDITION GIFT| £40
On the banks of the famous Kentucky River where the buffalo crossed on their ancient westward migratory route, Buffalo Trace is distilled, aged and bottled at the most award–‐winning distillery in the world. With only 70 sets in production, the Buffalo Trace Gift Box details the 8 steps, from milling to filtration, of the time–‐honoured craft unique to bourbon. Beginning with the finest Kentucky and Indiana corn, selected rye and superior malted barley, the Master Blender handpicks a small number of the best casks, maturing for 8-12 years in charred oak barrels, to create a blend of finely crafted small batch bourbon, Buffalo Trace. The classic stainless steel cup that sits handsomely alongside the Super–‐premium bourbonrepresents a traditional Kentucky cocktail, the Mint Julep that originated in the southern United States. The tasting profile of Buffalo Trace, with its signature aromas of vanilla, mint and molasses, perfectly complements the four key ingredients of the Mint Julep serve, mint leaves, bourbon, sugar and water.
THE BUFFALO TRACE MINT JULEP
The Mint Julep is traditionally served in a stainless steel cup and piled high with crushed ice. Hold by the bottom to allow frost to form on the outside of the cup.
50ml Buffalo Trace
12.5ml Sugar syrup
4 Fresh mint leaves
1. In the Julep cup, lightly muddle the mint leaves with the sugar syrup
2. Fill with crushed ice + add the Buffalo Trace
3. Top with more crushed ice + garnish wit a sprig of fresh mint