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Cigar Spirits: Old Forester Signature 100

6 Apr 2016


With bourbon demand high, there are plenty of excellent bourbons to be found if you’re willing to pay a high price. But there are also plenty of fine bourbons available for around $20, if you know where to look.

Today I want to introduce you to one of my favorite hidden gems: Old Forester Signature 100. Before I tell you why I think this is such an underrated bourbon, lets review the history of Old Forester.

Prior to 1870, when George Garvin Brown introduced Old Forester in bottles, bourbon was sold in barrels, and if you wanted whiskey you went to a bar or store that sold it and filled up your own container. Today, the Old Forester brand is owned by Brown-Forman, whose biggest brand is Jack Daniels. It is made at the company’s distillery in Shively, Kentucky. The same distillery supplies barrels for Brown-Forman’s premium brand, Woodford Reserve.

If you are ever near Lexington, I can’t recommend enough visiting the Woodford Reserve distillery in nearby Versailles. Surrounded by scenic Kentucky horse country, the distillery formerly known as the Oscar Pepper Distillery is the platonic ideal of a bourbon distillery. But much of the bourbon that goes into Woodford Reserve is distilled at the more industrial Shively facility alongside barrels that will become Old Forester.

Since both bourbons are made with the same mashbill (72% corn, 18% rye, and 10% malted barley) there is a temptation to suggest that Woodford Reserve and Old Forester are the same bourbon, just marketed differently and sold for a different price. While that may be an overstatement, they certainly share a family resemblance, which makes Old Forester ($18 for one-liter bottle) and Old Forester Signature 100 ($22 for a 750 ml. bottle) candidates for good value.

The standard 86-proof version is easy to find on a lower shelf at most liquor stores. It makes for a great mixing bourbon (it’s particularly tasty in a mint julep) and a decent sipping one. It may take a little effort to find (some markets seem to have plenty while others don’t have it at all), but the 100-proof Old Forester Signature is a step above and worth the extra effort and slightly higher price.

The nose of the deep copper-colored bourbon is sweet with cherry and caramel. The palate features rich fruit, brown sugar, baking spices, and butterscotch. The finish shows the first major woodiness, along with more ripe fruit, spice, and caramel. It’s a hearty 100-proof, but still quite smooth.

This easy drinking bourbon pairs nicely with almost any well-made cigar. I’d particularly suggest a well-balanced, medium-bodied smoke like Arturo Fuente King T Rosado Sun Grown, Davidoff Colorado Claro Short Perfecto, Las Cumbres Tabaco Señorial, or Tesa Vintage Especial.

Ultimately, although there are other bourbons more complex and sophisticated than Old Forester Signature 100, that doesn’t diminish the fact that Old Forester Signature is delightful neat and cheap enough you won’t hesitate to use it in a well-constructed cocktail. That makes it a staple in my bar and an under-rated bourbon.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

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