Old Forester 1920 Prohibition Style


MASH BILL – 72% corn, 18% rye, 10% barley

PROOF – 115

AGE – NAS (4+ years)

DISTILLERY – Old Forester Distilling Company (Brown-Forman)

PRICE – $60

BUY AGAIN? – And how!

In honor of the 100th anniversary of Prohibition’s commencement, a tasting of Old Forester 1920 seemed in order.

On January 17, 1920, one of the most ill-conceived decisions the American government ever made went into effect. When Prohibition kicked in, criminals were gifted a boon to business by Congress and the Temperance leaders. The American people willfully embraced their national character’s love of rebellion against authority. It would be thirteen years before this wet wooden nickel reverted to metal.

I’m fascinated by the 1920s. It remains one of the key American decades—a cocktail of complex politics, rapidly changing social norms, leaps of technological advancement, willful amnesia and blind eyes that toppled in a massive crash and decade-long hangover. It took WW2 to sober America up and get folks back to work. Not that everything was copacetic after that!

In the 1920s, the flappers kicked feminism forward through the door that WW1 had cracked open. Gay culture poked its head more boldly out of the closet, and even became chic with those in the know. Race relations swirled in popular culture. Alcoholism spiked. Anorexia posed for the press. Financial greed scrambled up the ladder. Jazz took American slang for a wild rollercoaster ride. Music was hot. Theater was hot. Fashion was hot. Fun was hot. A lot of people lost their shirts. In fact, an entire generation was deemed “lost,” wandering disillusioned in the wake of WW1, long before it was socially permissible to talk openly about things like PTSD.

The variety of 1920s slang for alcohol is evidence of that decade’s key lubricant: coffin varnish, giggle water, hair of the dog, hooch, juice, moonshine, the good stuff…

Similarly, the even more extensive range of terms for drunkenness speaks to the national state of being: 

Bleary-eyed, bent, blind, blotto, boiled, boiled as an owl, burning with a blue flame, canned, corked, corned, crocked, edged, embalmed, fried, four sheets in the wind, full, ginned, half-cocked, half seas over, half-screwed, half-shot, happy, high, hoary-eyed, jazzed, jingled, lathered, liquored, lit, lit up like a Christmas tree, lit up like a store window, lit up like the commonwealth, loaded, loaded for beer, loaded to the muzzle, lubricated, oiled, over the bay, ossified, owled, paralyzed, plastered, pie-eyed, pickled, piffed, piped, polluted, potted, primed, saturated, slopped, sloppy, stiff, stinko, soused, squiffy, stewed, sprung, tanked, tight, under the table, wall-eyed, wet, woozy…

In 2016 Brown-Forman released Old Forester 1920 Prohibition Style, the third of four releases in their Whiskey Row Series. (The other three include Old Forester 1897 Bottled-in-Bond, 1870 Original Batch, and the most recent, 1910 Old Fine Whisky.) It’s been a sleeper hit ever since, in that no major whiskey critic has voted it “Best” of anything significant enough to mis-shelve it alongside the likes of Weller or Henry McKenna—both once readily available and now largely out of reach to the average buyer. 

Though Old Forester 1920 has been the most well-regarded of the Brown-Forman Whiskey Row Series releases, it remains fairly affordable for a 115-proof masterpiece. That’s right I said masterpiece. 

Before I expand on that, here are some brief notes taken a week after this bottle’s uncorking, in both a Glencairn and antique tumbler:

COLOR – a beautifully dark vibrant copper

NOSE – gooey caramel dripping over cooked cherries, cinnamon in chocolate, a bit of cooked persimmon, ginger, some exotic spices or teas I can’t quite place but love chasing after

TASTE – rich and velvety, dark baked cherry, caramel, toasty cherry pie crust, decadent sweet chocolate sauce, a whiff of solid oak, all remarkably smooth for the proof

FINISH – a nice warm peppery glow—like a fire burned down near its embers, in a dark room with heavy furniture made of wood and leather—lingering warm cooked cherry, dripping caramel and chocolate

OVERALL – if this ain’t the bee’s knees or the butterfly’s boots it’s certainly the cat’s meow

Man oh man. Decadent, lovely stuff. The nose is utterly seductive. The taste then follows up on the promise of the nose and reels me in. And the finish lingers in waves of all that the taste and nose give, drawing me back and keeping me there. This is legit dangerous. The 115 proof passes itself off like some 100 or even 90 proof bottles I’ve had, making it deceptively easy drinking.

I’ve not had such a yowzah experience with a whiskey in a while. This is an exceptional pour. I call it a “masterpiece” because it achieves so many things so well, and all at once. It is both decadent and approachable, special and accessible, rare and common. Indeed quite 1920s American. And perhaps very 2020s American. Time will tell…!

This blog is not (yet!) widely read enough to trigger a buying panic. I fear the day that Fred Minnick names Old Forester 1920 the “best” whiskey of any given year. It would surely double in price over night and leap up a few shelves. I’d say it’s actually more deserving of such escalation than either the Weller triplets or Henry McKenna. But as it’s already priced higher than the average reachable pour, it will indeed be a sad day if it’s chucked up even higher.

For now that’s just a wasted worry. In front of me sits a full bottle. I will savor it, then pick up another. Old Forester 1920 is definitely one to keep always on hand.

Cheers, dears!

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