Old Forester 1920 Review (A Nostalgic History)

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This Old Forester 1920 review hits hard on the nostalgic history of bourbon production in America. While Prohibition was an undeniably bleak time in our country’s history, it elicits visions of speakeasies, forbidden spirits, and a devil-may-care attitude. Old Forester understands that nostalgia, which is why the fourth and final release in their Whiskey Row line of products is the 1920 Prohibition Style.

The Old Forester distillery is exceptional among all Kentucky bourbon producers, in that the same owners ran the production before, during, and after Prohibition. You can trust these guys know what they’re doing–there’s a continual flow of knowledge from master distillers going all the way back to the brand’s founding in 1870.

This Old Forester 1920 review will touch on what legal bourbon distilling looked like in 1920, and the reimagining of the product in the 1920 expression. We’ll bring you some reviews from Instagram whiskey influencers who know and love the Whiskey Row lineup and give you some tasting notes of what to expect in your glass with a pour of Old Forester 1920.

Bourbon Production During Prohibition

One of the ironic parts of Prohibition was that doctors would prescribe a pint of whiskey to their patients for medicinal purposes. As a patient, you could refill your prescription every ten days. Depending on your drinking habits, you could coast through Prohibition with a prescription. Doctors of the early 20th century believed whiskey could help with conditions like anemia, pneumonia, and high blood pressure. The government awarded six Kentucky distilleries permits to continue production through Prohibition for medicinal whiskey.

Old Forester was one of those six, and it’s the only one still around today in the same iteration as it was then. National Distillers, also with a medicinal permit, sold to Jim Beam in the eighties. Unrelated, but a fun fact, Beam disassembled and moved from Kentucky to Mexico to continue their operation south of the border through Prohibition. Two of the other distilleries sold to Guinness in the eighties and then Sazerac bought them out at the turn of the last century.

It’s in the family…

You can see why Old Forester is unique; it’s owned by the same family that founded it. The brand survived through Prohibition and the rest of the 20th century without merging with other brands, or separating their distillery from their brand, or selling to one of the major spirit corporations that own a majority of the bourbon operations in Kentucky these days.  This also explains why 1920 is the last expression in the Whiskey Row line. The medicinal permit they received at the start of Prohibition helped to secure the future for the Brown Forman distillery and Old Forester brand.

Our Old Forester 1920 Review

Considering they meant it as medicine, it should come as no surprise that 1920 Prohibition Style is the highest proof, at 115. It’s not 100 percent true to the whiskey of the time. Bottle in Bond was still in effect, meaning Old Forester at the time would still bottle at 100 proof. The distillery instead uses 100 proof as the barrel entry proof.

During a time in the barrel, evaporation takes place. As the percentage of water in the spirit reduces, the proof increases. In our reviews of the Antique Collection from Buffalo Trace, we went over how the proof of barrel strength bourbons is always different from year to year. Changing environmental conditions impact how much water evaporates from the barrel. Old Forester 1920 isn’t a strict barrel proof spirit.

There’s a math to it…

Basically, Old Forester calculated the average amount of evaporation that would take place and set the proof for the Prohibition Style spirit at 115. So, if you’ve been waiting for a special bottle to break in a new decanter, this is your chance. If you sip the first pour of the bottle neat, you may get a nose full of ethanol and not be able to discern any of the more nuanced flavors.

Once you give the over-proof bourbon a few days to aerate, you’ll notice candied fruit, spice, and citrus. In the glass, you’ll find big and unapologetic flavors. This is the whiskey you should pour whenever you say, “I deserve a drink.” There’s burnt caramel, rye spice, and nuttiness. Experiment with this bourbon in some of your favorite cocktails and you’ll keep finding fresh things to love.

What Liquor Pros on IG Think About Old Forester 1920

@whiskeyub Picked a Perfect Daily Sipper

A nottle os 1920
1920 belongs in a lineup of great bourbons. | Image credit: @whiskeyub on Instagram

“My #1 daily drinker is Old Forester 1920. Always available and never disappoints. Great for the bourbon novice and experienced alike. This one hits the sweet spot for me on spice and sweetness. At 115 proof it’s dangerous as it is super smooth. How about that finish? I really don’t know what more you could ask from a bourbon.”

@htx_bourbon_hunter Found a Good Bottle

Old Forester
Not for the faint of heart, 1920 carries its proof with pride right on the label. | Image credit: @htx_bourbon_hunter on Instagram

“Notes: Cherries and burnt maple syrup on the nose. Caramel, peppercorn, and char with nice heat on the palate. Long smokey oak finish.”

International Influencer, @whiskybison, Loves Old Forester

Old Forester 1920 Review
This prohibition style bourbon looks great when shot with style. | Image credit: @whiskybison on Instagram

“I really like OF Whiskeys but this happens to be my favourite behind their 100 proof variant…because it’s so bloody delicious. Think of ripened cherries, drizzled in dark chocolate, maple syrup and the smell of fine mahogany, while sipping in front of a crackling fire. Warm, spicy and a hint of smoke. Yep, this is good stuff!”

@lowclass_highproof Trusts Old Forester in Times of Trouble

Review by @lowclass_highproof
Stylish glass and a stylish bourbon | Image credit: @lowclass_highproof on Instagram

“In stressful times, comfort food helps. And Ol Fo 1920 might be my version of comfort food. To my tastes, it might be the perfect do-it-all daily sipper…earth, leather, spice. The palate is a parade, going from caramel to chocolate (I honestly swear, I get brownie-like chocolate notes about halfway through) to lingering heat and spice in the finish. If you’re looking to start your barrel proof adventure, this is your gateway drug. And probably your regular fix, too.”

@admiralwhiskey is Never Without a Bottle

Old Forester 1920 Review
When you always have a backup, bottle kills are bittersweet. | Image credit: @admiralwhiskey on Instagram.

“Grabbed a replacement of the Old Forester 1920 because it really is that good. This recipe is also something along the lines of what survivors of the 1918 flu would’ve been drinking so… perfect COVID-19 quarantine whiskey. Stay safe and healthy out there.”

Final Notes on this Old Forester 1920 Review

The 1920 Prohibition Style doesn’t have much more to offer from the other Whiskey Row expressions besides being over proof. We still think it’s worth getting a bottle, along with the rest of the Whiskey Row line. Here’s why: Old Forester uses the same mash bill for all their bourbons. The recipe comprises 72 percent corn, 18 percent rye, and 10 percent malted barley. If you’re wondering why they all hit so heavily on the burnt caramel and vanilla, the answer’s right there in the recipe. It’s a lot of corn.

But the Whiskey Row line, along with the flagship 86 proof, show the variety that can come from a single mash bill. As a whiskey drinker, fill your glass with the goal of both enjoyment and developing a better understanding of a distillery and style. You’ll start looking forward to bottle kills because you’ll get to try something new. Over time, you’ll develop skills honed sharp enough to get a job as a Master Taster.

Has any bourbon ever surprised you in the glass–been better or worse than you expected? Let us know the bourbons that surprised you the most in the comments below.

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