Ok I’m going to start out with a spoiler. It turns out that I just do not like Old Forester bourbon. I really didn’t like the Classic 43% bottling, and I thought the 1920 Prohibition Style bottling overpriced and underwhelming. In both cases I felt the whiskey was missing something. So, I thought, maybe 100 proof (arguably the “Goldilocks Zone” for bourbon) is the answer to my quibbles?
Old Forester’s Signature 100 Proof is indeed bottled at 50% ABV, but notably is NOT bottled in bond. Like the rest of the Old Forester bourbon lineup, it is Kentucky Straight Bourbon from Brown-Forman, made from a mash bill of 72% corn, 18% rye, and 10% malted barley (for enzymes) and aged for an undisclosed amount of time in new charred American oak barrels. Originally released at around $30, it seems to have dropped a bit and can be found for the very-appropriate price of $20.
Nose: Alive and assertive, with classic bourbon aromas of dry oak, brown sugar and molasses, cherry juice, and anise (black licorice). The anise is actually a little more complex, something like root beer or sassafras. There is also a layer of vaguely-sweet corn (cornmeal) and a strong nose tickle.
Palate: Thin body but a robust, oaky wave of tongue burn and tastes hotter than 50% ABV. The oak is heavy, but in good balance with the corn-based sweetness. Some bitter charcoal invades the back half of the palate, boding ill…
Finish: Medium-to-long. Dry, with more of that bitter charcoal right away and little sweetness to balance it. Eventually the bitterness turns vegetal, like cocktail bitters, before fading.
With Water: A few drops of water open up a nice additional fruit aroma, like cherry candy (Jolly Ranchers), and makes the palate initially sweeter and tames some of the tongue burn. It even allows that cherry note to echo on the finish. I highly recommend a little water with this.
Overall: It starts strong, with classic bourbon flavors in appropriate balance, but then quickly devolves into an overly-hot, overly-dry bitter mess. After the first sip, the palate is somewhat ruined by all the bitterness and the experience becomes monotonous. Water improves it a bit (indeed, water is essential), but can’t single-handedly save this whiskey. Most of this is irrelevant in a well-mixed cocktail, but neat I cannot recommend it even at this price. If you find it for $20, you can dump it in cocktails without remorse. Much above that and I would look elsewhere.