Buffalo Trace vs Old Forester Comparison

Buffalo Trace vs Old Forester 86

Alex author
Founder, writer
buffalo trace vs old forester 86 header

Two sub-$30 bourbons (sometimes) face-off

In my continued pursuit of bourbon knowledge, I figured that I should do a Buffalo Trace vs Old Forester comparison to find out how these two distilleries’ affordable options compare. Plus I have the bottles, so why not. I’m always down to learn.
Time for a brief history lesson. Old Forester is one of the longest-selling brands in bourbon. I’m talking over 100 years, founded before Prohibition. Buffalo Trace is actually relatively new, created in the late 90s after the George T Stagg distillery was renamed to Buffalo Trace. It too has its own history, but Buffalo Trace (the name), actually isn’t all that old.
People love to rag on Buffalo Trace for all the hype and unavailability, but I could care less. In Japan, where I did this comparison, it was laughably easy to find and affordable ($20-25), so I’m not jaded or annoyed by it. It just exists as another Kentucky bourbon on the shelf, that’s way too easy to ignore. Plus, I got this bottle from 7 Eleven, where they don’t sell slurpees.
So with comparison, I want to understand how they’re different and help you get a better sense of what to expect and why you might pick one over the other based on your preferences.
Let’s get to learning in this Buffalo Trace vs Old Forester Bourbon Comparison.
The table below outlines the two whiskeys.
buffalo trace vs old forester 86 bottle details comp
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As an FYI, I bought and use these Glencairn glasses for my reviews and comparisons (because they’re the best): Glencairn Crystal Whiskey Glass, Set of 6, Clear, 6 Pack. Full transparency, this is an affiliate link, so I may earn a commission if you buy this or something else from Amazon.

How do they compare?

buffalo trace vs old forester 86 radar comp
buffalo trace vs old forester 86 bottle traits comp

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And the winner is...

buffalo trace bourbon review
It wasn’t that difficult for me to pick Buffalo Trace as my preferred bourbon in this comparison. At the same time, it’s not quite the lopsided victory for a few reasons. But there is one big caveat – Buffalo Trace and Old Forester 86 Proof have radically different profiles, so a lot also comes down to personal preference.
But ultimately there are 3 reasons why I pick Buffalo Trace.
  1. Buffalo Trace doesn’t have that metallic, vodka-y, and somewhat unenjoyable alcohol flavor. It’s not overpowering, but it definitely sticks out enough to be a dealbreaker and push me towards Buffalo Trace. It’s an unfortunate part of an otherwise good bourbon.
  2. Slightly richer flavors
  3. I prefer the more vibrant, tropical, and fruity traits. So, the winner for you depends on what you like.
Take everything I write as information and suggestions because this mostly comes down to your own preferences. I keep harping on the different profiles, so I’ll cover that now.
Old Forester is the more dark, banana-y, oaky, apple-y and earthy bourbon. Buffalo Trace is more bright, vibrant, tropical, fruity, and herbal. Both are somewhat fruity, but express it differently. Old Forester with darker banana, apple, and cherry, while Buffalo Trace with brighter, vibrant, and tropical peach, cherry, and pineapple.
In the flavors, Buffalo Trace is more fruit and herbal-forward at first, but there’s an oaky, roasty, earthy, and dry surge in the back that always catches me off guard after the scents promise something a little different. Old Forester is more dark, creamy, and oaky. I think both are about equally as earthy in the flavors.
After tasting Buffalo Trace, Old Forester gets a little more funky vanilla and grain, which suggests that it’s not quite as developed overall as Buffalo Trace. It’s the same thing that happened with Evan Williams Black Label, the relative youth starts to show.
But even with slightly lower proof, Old Forester has noticeably thicker mouthfeel and “nosefeel”. I mean that it feels more viscous and creamy, although the actual flavors themselves don’t have that same substance and viscosity as Buffalo Trace, which is unfortunate. I call it empty or underutilized space. It’s a distinctive and kind of weird Brown Forman trait.
And truly, Old Forester tastes good for the most part, but that damn metallic alcohol taste pops up and I can’t escape it. It’s not overpowering, but it’s clearly there and makes me reel a bit every time. I can’t ignore that unpleasantness, which pushes me hard towards Buffalo Trace. It’s kind of hard to come back from that one.
Switching back, it becomes more apparent that Buffalo Trace has slightly richer flavors that hold up better after having Old Forester, although it doesn’t have that same level of viscosity. It seems like a strange contradiction: not as viscous yet richer, but I attribute it to the fact that Buffalo Trace doesn’t have pillowy empty space that doesn’t add much.
On top of that, Buffalo Trace’s slightly higher ABV might help with the richness, so Old Forester 100 Proof might take care of that and still be comparably priced to Buffalo Trace.
So if you want to hate Buffalo Trace because of the hype, that’s definitely your right. Purely in terms of how it smells and drinks, I think that it’s a solid bourbon that does some things well, and it keeps winning these comparisons. Nonetheless, it has some weird stuff that doesn’t fully mesh with me.
The hype is an unfortunate effect of many other factors that bias people’s opinions. I still wouldn’t make Buffalo Trace my go to affordable bourbon (that might go to Elijah Craig Small Batch), but I still prefer it over Old Forester 86 Proof.
Alex author
Meet the Author: Alex

I have far too much fun writing about whiskey and singlehandedly running The Whiskey Shelf to bring you independent, honest, and useful reviews, comparisons, and more. I’m proudly Asian American and can speak Cantonese, Mandarin, and some Japanese.

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If you’re on the move, this Glencairn-like stainless steel snifter glass should survive your travels. Shattered glass Glencairn’s really suck. Full transparency, this is an Amazon affiliate link, so I may earn a commission if you buy this or something else from Amazon.

BrüMate NOS’R, Double-Wall Stainless Steel Whiskey Nosing Glass – 7oz (Matte Black)