The Volstead Act came into effect across the United States on the 17th January 1920 following the ratification of the 18th amendment in 1919. Nationwide prohibition in the US made the production, storage, sale, possession and consumption of alcohol illegal. Its effects were immediate and marked – many distilleries and maturation facilities did not survive. Six distilleries were granted licenses to sell whiskey for ‘medicinal purposes’ during following 13 years: Brown-Forman, Glenmore, Frankfort, Schenley, American Medicinal Spirits and A.Ph. Stitzel. However, selling and distilling are two very different things, and until further legal amendments were made, to allow production (“distilling holidays”) – though still for medicinal purposes - companies were forced to purchase their whiskey from those without medicinal licences who had stock to sell.
Up until Prohibition, Old Forester (originally spelt with a double ‘r’) was the leading bourbon brand of Brown-Forman. Whilst Brown-Forman has added a considerable number of products to their portfolio in the near 100 years since (including BenRiach, Glendronach and Glenglassaugh since 2016), the old Forester brand remains the longest continually produced bourbon, having first been introduced in 1870. To celebrate the brand’s milestones, and also to give it a much needed image overall, the Whiskey Row series was introduced in 2015. Old Forester 1870 Original Batch marks the original creation of the brand by George Gavin Brown. Old Forester 1897 Bottled in Bond recalls the ‘Bottled-in-Bond Act’ of 1897 that introduced new labelling to indicate whiskey that had been produced in a single season, by one distiller, at a only one distillery. The final (currently) bottling in the series is Old Forester 1920 Prohibition Style. This bottling commemorates the introduction of Prohibition, but also, Brown-Forman’s ability to continue to sell alcohol, via a medicinal license on Louiseville’s Whiskey Row.
1920 Prohibition Style is bottled at 115 proof – that’s 57.5% ABV to everyone else. Medicinal whiskey during prohibition was required to be bottled at 100 proof, Brown-Forman Master Distiller Chris Morris chose to produce this bottling at 115 proof as he estimated that the angels share during maturation back in the 1920’s would have resulted in a loss of around 15 proof. Prohibition Style doesn’t possess an age statement, though we can surmise that as a ‘straight bourbon whiskey’ it will be at least four years old. The interwebs suggest that the mash bill used for the expression is probably the same as the usual Brown-Forman recipe: 72% corn, 18% rye and 10% barely.
Nose: Pronounced, sweet and rather fruity. Bananas, macerated cherries and candied apples provide a varied and fruity opener for what is a rich, sugary bouquet. Dark sugars, burnt toffee and leather all add depth, but livened with a touch a mint and menthol. Barrel char is already perceivable giving a full aroma of oaky wood smoke supported by light vanilla pod. Spicing hints at some cinnamon and pepper.
Taste: Full-bodied, rich and with a very viscous mouthfeel. An excellent arrival which brings both fruits – cherry and apple pies –as well as deeper notes of chocolate and coffee grounds. Sweetness is still maintained with burnt sugars and caramel and is joined by both nuttiness and heavy spice – big pepper. Mint and vanilla provide lighter notes and are joined by fresh oak and vanilla.
Finish: Medium to long, quite sugary, but fading from tingly pepper spice into woodiness and gentle cask char.
I like Old Forester 1920 Prohibition Style at lot – it’s punchy stuff at 57.5%, but still remains surprisingly drinkable with great body, well-defined fruitiness (particularly apple and cherry) and plenty of barrel character and spice. Its deeper chocolate and coffee characteristics are quite unusual to other Brown-Forman bourbons – and, unless I’m missing something, remain a bit of a mystery as to where they come from (assuming the same mash bill). I’m sure if you ask it’ll be down to excellent barrel selection and/or blending. Regardless, these add depth, complexity and flavours which complement nicely with the fruit and spice top notes. Not all too easy to find outside of the US, but certainly worth looking out for – should be in the region of $60 – which is well worth the asking price for a bourbon of this quality.