The Old Forester brand, so long defined by its relatively unchanging lineup, has been the exact opposite in the last handful of years, and it has felt like barely a month has passed without some kind of limited release with an Old Forester logo on it. The most recent of these new series is the 117 Series, the first release of which was titled High Angel’s Share this spring. As I wrote of the series at the time:
This is essentially an experimental series of Old Forester releases, notable for being the first Old Forester bottle in 150 years to bear the signature of a woman—Master Taster Jackie Zykan. The idea is to “showcase the many facets of the Old Forester flavors,” by bottling unusual selections of barrels.
The selections picked for the 117 series may differentiate themselves in a number of ways, being used to highlight different aging techniques, or aberrations in the usual aging process. In this case, for the second release Old Forester is highlighting a specific aging facility, warehouse K, which is reportedly known for producing high-quality single barrel picks. One wonders if Brown-Forman has seen the cult-like status bestowed upon specific Buffalo Trace or Wild Turkey rickhouses, and wanted to get in on the action.
Regardless, what we have here is, on paper, a pretty standard Old Forester bourbon release—made from the one and only OF bourbon mash bill, and non-age-stated like pretty much any Old Forester bourbon tends to be. It was aged in warehouse K, notable like many Brown-Forman warehouses for being heat-cycled, which is intended to drive the spirit in and out of the wood to aid in the interaction between oak and whiskey. Like the last 117 Series release, High Angel’s Share, it was bottled at 55% ABV (110 proof), in half-sized 375 ml bottles, and retails for an MSRP of $50. This is a mixed blessing in the eyes of whiskey geeks—it allows more bottles to get into more different hands, but others wish they had a full bottle. Personally, we’re boosters for increasing the size of limited release bottlings however necessary, and making them accessible, price-wise, so this is win-win as far as I’m concerned.
So with all that said, let’s get to tasting and see what Warehouse K has delivered.
On the nose, this Warehouse K bourbon delivers opening notes of faint caramelized banana, along with darker fruit impressions of plum or grape—there’s something a little bit vinous to the quality of the fruit here. There’s also a good amount of musty, slightly funky oak, followed by brown sugar, charred cinnamon and quite a bit of pepper and rye. There’s a little bit of wildness here, and a pretty good amount of oak—it seems pretty punchy on first inspection.
On the palate, there’s good initial sweetness here, with brown sugar and more confectionery notes/hints of nutty cocoa, quickly sidestepping into dark fruit and plum, but it’s also quite spicy at the same time. I get some ginger-like heat, along with significant rye spice and lots of spicy oak. One gets the sense, tasting this, that it interacted quite intensely with the barrel, and it’s extracted tannin that tempers the sweetness but also projects a fair amount of alcoholic heat. The tasting notes from Master Taster Jackie Zykan mention “bitter molasses,” and that might be a good word for it—it takes something that might have ready as objectively sweet and more than balances it. All in all, I think this ends up a touch on the hot side, and is not as immediately approachable and easy to drink as say, the 115 proof Old Forester Prohibition Style 1920, but its boisterous flavors are still interesting anyway.
As a limited release, these 117 Series bottles are sure to disappear quickly, but if you run across one it doesn’t feel like you’d likely regret the $50 to give it a spin.
Distillery: Old Forester (Brown-Forman)
City: Louisville, KY
Style: Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey
ABV: 55% (110 proof)
Availability: 375 ml bottles, $50 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.