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This Old Forester Bourbon Sounds Like a Marketing Gimmick and Tastes Like a Candy Bar

Old Forester's Prohibition Style bourbon is one of the best and most interesting whiskeys at its price point. Why? Your guess is as good as mine.

old forester

Welcome to Shelf Sleepers, our semi-regular guide to the best booze nobody is buying. This time: Old Forester 1920, a bourbon that tastes like it costs a lot more than $60.

A little over 100 years ago, the U.S. banned the production, sale, distribution and importation of booze through the 18th Amendment and the Volstead Act. Like all legislation, there were exemptions made for specific cases, like wine made for religious ceremony or whiskey sold for medicinal purposes. Someone at Old Forester read a line about medicinal whiskey and thought "I bet bourbon weirdos would love that." What's weirder: they were right.

The Brown-Forman company released Old Forester 1920 Prohibition Style in 2016 as the third expression in its Whiskey Row series, which is made up of bourbons that key in on moments in the brand's history. The 1920 bottling is proofed to 115, or the proof that the 100 proof legal requirement would have become as the bourbon intensified during maturation, were it not been cut with water pre-bottling. That is really all we know about it; Brown-Forman has kept its mashbill information, age, yeast and all other production variables close to the chest.

What we do know: they've done something to significantly warp the flavor from more standard Old Forester releases. Whether it be nailing the blend or pulling barrels from a specific corner of a rickhouse where the push and pull of Kentucky's seasons bring out the best in the whisky, the flavor is unmistakably different than the rest of the Whiskey Row series, too. It's darker and more chocolatey than any Old Forester I've tried. After you've accustomed yourself to the heat coming off it, it bends into the same chocolate-nut-nougat profile of a Snicker's bar for me. Forced to liken it to any past Old Forester release, I'd say it's closest kin are select releases of Birthday Bourbon, which is good company to keep.

Whiskey history is often mythologized in the name of creating a brand story and selling bottles, but Old Forester does stand of firmer ground than most in this regard — it is the only American whiskey brand to be sold before, during and after Prohibition. Its 1920 Style whiskey, whatever it's actually made of, isn't a boring cash grab. Find it in most markets for around $60.

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