There are a few select whiskey releases for which people line up hours or even days in advance to get their hands on a bottle. In Colorado, the winter release of Stranahan’s Snowflake single malt is a days-long party, with devoted fans camping out in the parking lot of the distillery and braving cold, rain, and snow just to buy a bottle. While Old Forester’s Birthday Bourbon release might not elicit the same carnival-like atmosphere, it’s still a unicorn bottle that commands fanatical devotion. This year, according to local news reports, people traveled from around the country to wait in line for hours outside the downtown Louisville distillery to get a ticket which allowed them to purchase a bottle at its $130 retail price. If you missed out on that though, be prepared to pay hundreds of dollars more (even thousands) at secondary online retailers.
The question is always the same in these situations: Is it worth it? The answer is subjective, of course, and it depends on your means and how dedicated to the hunt you are. But Birthday Bourbon is a special whiskey that is worth considering. It’s an annual release from Old Forester, a distillery known for making excellent and affordable bourbon and rye, along with some standout higher priced whiskeys like its Whiskey Row series. Birthday Bourbon is released once a year to celebrate Old Forester founder George Garvin Brown’s birthday. Each bottling is different, a unique vintage with barrels blended from one single day of production. And while the flavor profile obviously varies from year to year and dedicated fans have their favorites, overall the quality is quite good and markedly different from other Old Forester bourbons.
This year marks the 21st Birthday Bourbon release, a blend of 119 barrels that were filled on April 16, 2009, aged for 12 years in Warehouse G, and bottled at 104 proof. My first thought when tasting the 2021 release was that this was a bourbon with some cognac character, full of deep cherry and caramel notes that pop on the palate with a bit of spice on the finish. As you go back for seconds, dry but not overpowering tannic notes make themselves known, backed by a symphony of butterscotch, vanilla and peaches in syrup.
Unfortunately, I don’t have the last five years of Birthday Bourbon releases on hand to compare this to, but the 2021 expression is a fruity, rich bourbon that you will likely find very satisfying. That is, if you can find a bottle, which you should be able to do with a little internet sleuthing (you can also check the Old Forester website to find where to buy in your state). There are plenty of whiskey fans out there who will argue that it’s just not worth paying close to a grand for a limited release like this when there are so many other good options out there, and they have a point. But based on its merits alone, removed from the hype and exclusivity that defines this whiskey, the 2021 Birthday Bourbon is a very tasty dram. If you are one of those whiskey aficionados with the patience and drive to find a bottle, happy hunting to you.
What Our Score Means
- 100: Worth trading your first born for
- 95 – 99 In the Pantheon: A trophy for the cabinet
- 90 – 94 Great: An excited nod from friends when you pour them a dram
- 85 – 89 Very Good: Delicious enough to buy, but not quite special enough to chase on the secondary market
- 80 – 84 Good: More of your everyday drinker, solid and reliable
- Below 80 It’s alright: Honestly, we probably won’t waste your time and ours with this