This week we took a trip to Kentucky’s Whisky Row in downtown Louisville, Kentucky and made a stop at the Old Forester Distillery for their exclusive tour. This distillery crafts Kentucky straight bourbon whisky, but not just any old bourbon. Old Forester created the first bottled bourbon in 1870 and has been on the market longer than any other bourbon. In 2018, Old Forester Distillery returned home to Whisky Row, housed in the same building that the brand called home from 1882 to 1919.
At the beginning of our tour, our energetic tour guide Lucy told us about the interesting history of Old Forester. Created by George Garvin Brown, a pharmacist, and named after Dr. William Forrester, the brand was the first to be sold in sealed glass bottles and signed by George to ensure quality.
In 1910, a fire halted operation at the distillery but led to the creation and sale of the first double barreled-bourbon, as a result of storing the bottling ready bourbon. Soon after, Prohibition began, but Old Forester was given one of the very few permits to sell and manufacture their whiskey for pharmaceutical purposes. They remain the only company to have sold their brand before, during, and after Prohibition.
The distillery process itself starts off with fermenting corn, rye, and barley to create alcohol. The distillery’s large tanks keep 4500 gallons of mash. The smell in the air was just like banana bread and yeast. There were also helpful graphics along the wall to explain the fermentation process.
Next in the journey of creating whisky is distillation and cooperage. At this point in the tour, we were taken up a glass elevator with a great view of the 44-foot tall copper still, Big Penny. A still is used to separate and purify the liquid that will soon become your alcohol of choice.
As for cooperage, the making of barrels for alcohol to be stored, each barrel is crafted with American White Oak and then stored in their climate-controlled warehouse. Old Forester distillery is the only downtown distillery which has an active cooperage and charring barrels in the same facility where spirits are being aged. The brand does have another mass production facility outside the city but it was cool to be able to see the production from start to finish.
Next in the tour was getting to watch the bottling and boxing process. The bottling line has a capacity of 2400 bottles a day, bottling different designs and series of bourbon.
Then final stop on the tour was at the tasting area where we got to sample 4 different types of Old Forester. We tasted the 1870 (90 proof), 1897 Bottled in Bond, Old Forester 1910 (93 proof) old fine whisky double oak, all served with chocolate covered marshmallows. The last tasting was of the Old Forester Prohibition Style 1920 (115 proof), definitely the strongest of all the samples.
We chose the Old Forester Tour for our visit. Running at about only an hour and a half, this tour and distillery experience are a great way to immerse yourself in the history of Kentucky whisky and bourbon and learn that all bourbon is whisky but not all whisky is bourbon. The tour costs $32 and we felt like it was well worth it for the guided walk through the bourbon making process and the tasting experience. You definitely need to take some time out of your next trip to Louisville to learn (and taste) the history of Old Forester.
Editors Note: Make sure to plan ahead if you are visiting the area because the tours book up fast year round.