Old Forester Rye Review [In Depth]

Old Forester Rye

Old Forester rye

Old Forester Rye Details

Distillery: Old Forester (Brown Forman)

Type & Region: Straight Rye, Kentucky, USA

Alcohol: 50%

Composition: 65% Rye, 20% Malted Barley, and 15% Corn

Aged: At least 4 years old

Color: 1.3/2.0 on the color scale (russet muscat)

Price: $20-25

From the Old Forester website:

“A historic recipe, acquired in 1940 by Owsley Brown I, Old Forester Rye features a mash bill of 65% Rye, 20% Malted Barley, and 15% Corn. Such a high proportion of barley allows for a fully natural fermentation process, forgoing the need for artificial enzymes commonly found in high rye mash bills. Additionally, a generous percentage of malt yields a unique floral character, balancing the sharp, brisk spice of the rye grain. Continuing our legacy of quality and consistency, Old Forester uses its own proprietary yeast strain, produces every barrel, and distills every drop”

Company Website

old forester rye overview

Old Forester Rye maybe one of the newer Brown Forman whiskeys, but the owner of Old Forester is not new to rye whiskey. They’ve been making other ryes whiskey such as Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Rye and Woodford Reserve Rye for years (with 70% and 53% rye respectively). 

Old Forester is one of the oldest names in whiskey, known for being one the first bottled bourbons sold, so a new type of whiskey under that name is exciting. And instead of repurposing what they already have in-house, Old Forester went with a new mash of 65% rye, 20% malted barley, and 15% corn for Old Forester Rye, which I believe to be quite unique for rye whiskey.
Rye whiskeys tend to be either very rye heavy (e.g., 95% rye from MGP) or corn heavy (e.g., 51% rye and 39% corn from Heaven Hill), but not barley heavy. Since it is so unique, it’s also very interesting. As a relevant tangent, some also even venture into wheated ryes such as Manifest’s Wheated Rye.
One thing to note is that I reviewed Old Forester Rye before knowing the specific mash bill, so I made a couple interesting observations that made more sense to me after the fact. All I knew going in was that this was rye whiskey, so you’ll see some interjections based on what I learned after the fact. Time to uncover more about this new mashbill in this Old Forester Rye review.
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old forester rye smell

Old Forester Rye is quite dark with caramel, baked bread, and licorice with hints of vanilla, orange, and apple. This is not a bright and tropical anise-forward rye that I’ve gotten used to drinking, and is even less rye-y than Rittenhouse, which I consider to be in the middle of the rye-y spectrum. 

There’s a lot of baked bread and roasted grains in Old Forester Rye, and now with knowledge of the mash, I believe it’s because of the high percentage of malted barley.
Another thing I notice (and with hindsight probably because of the barley) is a slightly soggy oak and chocolate, reminiscent of Woodford Double Oaked. In addition to the bread, there’s quite a bit of roasted oak, cinnamon, and allspice. There are some interesting components to the nose, and the 100 proof is well controlled.

Swirling brings out the heat, but it does settle after a few seconds, letting me smell the same sweet caramel with a lot of baked bread crust and grain. The maltiness reinforces its youth, but it’s nice. 

There’s also quite a lot of oak, but it’s not overdone, with more cinnamon and nutmeg followed by vanilla, pine, and a blade of grass. Fruitiness appears here and there, and I’m starting to notice more mint and bubblegum from the rye.
For me, Old Forester Rye smells more likely a bready and malty bourbon than a rye, but that could both be the rye (with caraway seed) and barley contributing to the breadiness that I get less of in bourbon. Old Forester Rye is definitely dark, bready, and different. 

old forester rye taste & aftertaste

At first taste, I get caramel, vanilla, oak, cinnamon, slightly burnt bread, and a little citrus with some alcohol kick, but not too much. For the most part Old Forester Rye tastes like high-rye bourbon. The flavors are similar after “chewing”, but become a little more interesting. 

There’s the same honey, oak, cinnamon, and orange, but now I’m starting to get some of the anise and licorice I expect from rye. The sugar, oak, and spice come all at once, followed by slightly burnt bread.

I speculate that all this baked breadiness comes from the uniquely high amount of malted barley in the mash. Digging a little harder, I find a piece of baked apple with a spring of mint, but it’s easy enough to miss as it competes with some of the alcohol bite.

Old Forester Rye is primarily dark, spicy (more from cinnamon and nutmeg and less from dill, anise, or licorice), and roasted, but the roasted notes don’t come off as harsh or unpleasant.

The finish is sweet and bitter with caramel, vanilla, bread, oak, and a shred of orange. With “chewing”, there’s still the same mix of sweet honey and bitter roasted oak on a small piece of rye bread, minty frosting, and lemon. 

After a few minutes it turns into Lipton Sweet Tea, which I drank more of than I’d like to admit as a kid, and a little licorice also appears at the end.
Old Forester Rye has some interesting notes, but I wish they’d start sooner and not wait till the last moments to appear.

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Old Forester Rye Rating

Mid Shelf

I pleasantly surprised to say that Old Forester Rye is pretty good. It’s one of the darker and more bready rye whiskeys that I’ve had, unique compared to the super high rye MGP-sourced rye whiskeys and the barely legal 51% ryes from the likes of Buffalo Trace and Wild Turkey. 

On the spectrum of rye whiskeys though, Old Forester Rye drinks closer to those 51% “barely legal” ryes, with more caramel, wood spice (cinnamon, nutmeg), and baked apple than the licorice, dill, and tropical fruit explosion from MGP ryes. If anything, it’s closest to a very high rye bourbon, or a loaf of pumpernickel bread.

There are interesting tidbits to be found in this well rounded rye, but it tends to be a little more straightforward than what I would want from a higher rated “Mid Shelf+” rye whiskey. It’s definitely not bland, but keeps the scents and flavors at surface level without much depth or evolution afterwards. 

Still, it doesn’t take away from the fact Old Forester Rye is borderline “Mid Shelf+” whiskey, and very affordable and accessible. Brown Forman still did a good job here.

Speaking of Brown Forman rye for under $30, I suggest that you go for this Old Forester Rye and skip Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Rye, which I really don’t like. Old Forester Rye is the superior whiskey and carries itself well for a “budget” rye.

I probably wouldn’t buy this again for myself though because I prefer Knob Creek Rye. I also prefer the MGP and Alberta-sourced nearly 100% ryes because of their abundant bright, herbal, and tropical notes (e.g., pre 2018 batches of High West Double Rye).

Still, I recommend Old Forester Rye to anyone who’s looking to get into rye and/or try something new.

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