Spirits & Liqueurs Bourbon

Old Forester 1920 Prohibition Style Bourbon Review

It’s a bold and beautiful bourbon that does justice to the historic brand’s legacy.

Old Forester 1920
Image:

Liquor.com / Laura Sant

Old Forester 1920 Prohibition Style bourbon is a bold and beautiful whiskey that’s nothing short of delicious. Its versatile palate renders it perfect for both sipping and mixing, as its high proof and bold flavor ensure it can stand out in any mixed drink.

Fast Facts

Classification: straight bourbon

Company: Brown-Forman

Distillery: Brown-Forman (Shively) / Old Forester

Cask: new charred American white oak

Still type: copper column

Released: 2016

Proof: 115

Aged: Not stated

MSRP: $60

Awards: Double Gold, 2020 San Francisco World Spirits Competition

Pros: 

  • This is the best of the four Whiskey Row expressions from Old Forester, each of which harks back to a different period in the brand’s history. 
  • It’s a versatile bourbon, perfect for both sipping and mixing. Its high proof and bold flavor ensure it can stand out in any mixed drink, but its bite is tame enough to allow for unadorned enjoyment.

Cons:

  • For drinkers used to standard 86-proof Old Forester, 1920, the highest-ABV offering in the Old Forester ongoing range, may prove to be a little challenging if not overwhelming.

Tasting Notes

Color: A beautiful golden amber—the age isn’t stated, but judging by color alone, the liquid has had plenty of interaction with the barrel.

Nose: With rich caramel, vanilla, pear and dark cherries, underpinned by light oak, there’s plenty of alcohol, as well, not surprising given the whiskey’s high proof. But the alcohol doesn’t overwhelm the beautifully balanced aroma. 

Palate: It has rich vanilla and burnt caramel, somewhat reminiscent of a creme brûlée. The sweetness is offset by dry notes of oak and char. There are hints of sweet cherry candy, which become more pronounced when a bit of water is added. The high proof is evident on the palate, but the warmth never becomes a burn. 

Finish: Quite dry; the barrel notes of oak and char grow stronger from the tip of the tongue to the back of the palate, and by the finish, they’ve taken over completely. A long and dry tobacco aftertaste brings to mind a robust cigar.

Our Review

Old Forester 1920 is the third of four Old Forester Whiskey Row expressions chronicling the evolution of bourbon during the brand’s long history. Old Forester was one of the few distilleries allowed to continue limited production and bottling of whiskey for (ostensibly) medicinal purposes during Prohibition, and 1920 is a testament to that era of the brand. Medicinal whiskey had to be bottled at 100 proof, but according to Old Forester lore, if you “knew a guy who knew a guy,” you could get it straight out of the barrel at something closer to the 115 proof at which this is bottled. Regardless of how much truth there is to the story, the higher proof works beautifully here, giving the whiskey a bold, outsize flavor without going off the rails.

Old Forester 1920 is a classic high-proof bourbon, ticking all the boxes you’d expect: caramel, vanilla, oak, etc. But while there aren’t any real surprises, the execution is close to flawless, with the flavors in perfect balance and the alcohol adding a kick without a burn. Put it in a cocktail, and you’ll know it’s there. Sip it neat, and it doesn’t overwhelm. Add an ice cube or water (neither of which it really needs, but of course it’s up to the drinker), and it doesn’t get dumbed-down. This is a special bourbon that’s priced reasonably enough that you don’t have to wait for a special occasion to drink it. 

Interesting Facts

Old Forester is the only bourbon to be distilled by the same family before, during and after Prohibition. The key word is “during.” After the Volstead Act took effect in 1920, effectively shutting down the (legal) booze business, Old Forester was one of a handful of distilleries granted a permit to produce “medicinal” whiskey, which it did until Prohibition’s repeal in 1933. The bourbon came in packages labeled “For Medicinal Purposes.”

The bottom line: Old Forester 1920 harks back to a curious chapter in the brand’s long history, but it’s also a showcase for the high-quality bourbon it’s producing today. If you’re not already an Old Forester fan, this should convert you.