Get ready to hop in the way-back machine for this Old Forester 1897 review. This expression is the second in their Whiskey Row release. Each of the four bottles in the release highlight important moments in the Old Forester history. You can check out our review of the first expression, 1870.
1897 is not just an important moment in Old Forester’s history, but an important moment in the history of bourbon. It was in that year that the U.S. Bottled in Bond Act changed bourbon manufacturing, elevating the spirit from moonshine to a guarantee of “sealed-in quality.” This Old Forester 1897 review will go over the history of the Bottled in Bond Act in the United States and what it meant for the Old Forester Distillery. Plus, we’ll highlight some Whiskey Row love from Instagram influencers who can’t get enough of these special releases.
The U.S. Bottled in Bond Act of 1897
If you were shopping for whiskey before 1897, there was no way to tell what you might get in a bottle. Bottlers used all kinds of devious methods to deceive customers into buying their products. Rather than barrel-aging whiskey, which took time and money, a bourbon producer would use iodine or tobacco to dye clear alcohol to make it look barrel-aged. Even if you were just buying a shot of whiskey at a bar, you might have gotten over-diluted, dyed, and otherwise counterfeit spirit.
There were plenty of people who took a lot of pride in American whiskey manufacturing and saw the threat to the industry from unscrupulous businessmen trying to make a quick buck. The Bottled in Bond Act came from a desire to protect whiskey distillers and consumers. It would also make American whiskey competitive in the international market, where Scotch and Canadian whiskey dominated. The Bottled in Bond Act required whiskey to come from one distiller, one distillery, and one distilling season. It had to age for four years, and be bottled at 100 proof.
The Act separated those who source and bottle from actual distillers. While there are still brands that source and blend whiskey today, they can’t call their product Bottled in Bond. And plenty of distillers put out whiskeys younger than four years and bottled at lower than 100 proof, but again, they can’t call those products Bottled in Bond. The bond guarantees the consumer a high-proof aged spirit.
Whiskey Row Release 1897 Bottle
Prior to 1897, George Gavin Brown was bottling whiskeys he purchased from other distillers. The first expression in the Whiskey Row line, 1870, uses a blend of three bourbons from different years and different Old Forester warehouses to recreate the first iteration of the brand. But with the changes in regulation, Brown wanted to compete with the best bourbons in Kentucky. To do so, he needed a distillery and needed to increase the proof of Old Forester from 90 proof to 100 proof.
In 1901 Brown purchased a distillery from B.F. Mattingly, , who over the course of a decade lost a 1500-acre farm trying to turn a profit at the distillery. Mattingly made Mattingly & Moore Whiskey alongside his brother. That brand now belongs to Heaven Hill distilleries, who sells it as a value bourbon. The shuffling of these two brands and distilleries exemplifies the story of American whiskey through the 19th and 20th centuries. Brands and distilleries rarely disappear, they just change owners.
That is, except for Old Forester…
The Brown Forman group still owns Old Forester, which is why they’re able to create the Whiskey Row expressions. They have a continuous history since the brand’s establishment in 1870. With 1897, you’re drinking a Bottled in Bond bourbon that holds itself to the same standards George Gavin Brown established in 1901 when he purchased his first distillery. So, by this point, you may be wondering: How does 100 proof, 4-year aged bourbon from Old Forester taste?
Our Old Forester 1897 Review
If you rarely find 100 proof spirits in your glass, we’d recommend decanting a bottle for a day or two before you try it. Bourbon drinkers sometimes refer to the “neck pour” of a bottle, which isn’t always a good representation of the spirit. Pouring a spirit into a decanter aerates it, revealing deeper nuance to the flavor notes and allowing some ethanol to release. It’s the same way you would decant older red wines to “open them up,” and release more vibrant flavors.
There’s no denying 1897 is hot, both on the nose and in the first sips. This bourbon goes into the barrel at 125 proof before coming down to 100 in the bottle. If you’re used to sipping the flagship Old Forester, that bottles at 86 proof, set up a few glasses next to each other and do a side-by-side tasting of both expressions. You might find you prefer a whiskey with a little more heat. If the 100 proof is too fiery for you, it’s an easy fix. You can dilute in the glass with a splash of water, or a sizable chunk of ice.
Once you get past the proof, you’ll notice strong tropical notes both on the nose and in the first taste. Charred coconut and burnt brown sugar stand out, along with hints of banana and vanilla. The finish is warming with plenty of spice, despite the corn-heavy recipe. The mash bill is mostly corn and rye, with just 10 percent barley to bring in very subtle roasted notes in the palate’s base.
IG Influencers Put Their Trust in Bottled in Bond
@no_bad_whiskey Has a Favorite Old Forester
“1897 might be my favorite Old Forester. It’s perfectly proofed and wonderfully deep in flavor. It’s rich and buttery and plainly delicious. But you know this.”
@bourbon_connoisseur Knows Their Holidays
“Old Forester 1897. Bottled in bond act of 1897. Coincidence? This bottle is everything you want. 100 proof, bottled in bond, sweet, Spicy, smooth, and bitter. Overall a very well rounded bourbon. It hits all the taste notes just right. Camel, fruit, oak, a hint of vanilla, all while the end is so very smooth. Cheers.”
@bonjour_whisky Breaks Down the 1897 Notes
“Old Forester 1897 B.I.B 75cl, 50% – Kentucky
Nose: Sweet honey and vanilla and a hint of smoke are immediately noticeable, along with salted caramel and warm allspice
Plate: Heavy on sweet flavors like honey and caramel, with notes of dark fruit and oak
Finish: A distinct smokiness pops out, and oak predominates in the warm, moderately long finish. Some caramel remains”
@bourbonandwings Knows a Good Bottle
“Grabbed this gem today at @totalwine
Really enjoy the vanilla and caramel notes.”
@bourbonandbsides Pairs Great Bourbon with Great Music
“Wife’s Choice Wednesday! Great pick @valeriesdiaries! Bourbon: The second member of the Old Forester Whiskey Row Series, 1897 Bottled-in-Bond. To be labeled Bottled-in-Bond, whiskey must be from one distillation season, in the same year and aged in a federally bonded warehouse.”
Final Notes on this Old Forester 1897 Review
While Old Forester 1897 is great as a sipping whiskey, also consider using higher proof bourbons, such as 1897, in cocktails. They have broad shoulders to carry almost any mixer, and the charred and roasted flavor notes will stand out in your favorite classic cocktails. Try Old Forester in a Manhattan, Old Fashioned, and Kentucky Mule. This mid-priced bourbon will serve you well either as a daily sipper or for special occasions.
Have you tried Bottled in Bond bourbons before? Let us know some of your favorite things about 100-proof whiskey in the comments below!