Old Forester 86 vs 100

Old Forester 86 vs 100 | Is higher proof bourbon better?

Is higher proof bourbon better? A common question, especially when you’re venturing into the vast offerings from the American bourbon-hub of Kentucky.

As a rule of thumb, the higher the proof, the more flavour you get. With less dilution, stronger bourbons, whiskies or whiskeys tend to retain more of their original flavour. But it doesn’t necessarily guarantee better quality either.

In this comparison, I’m reviewing Old Forester 86 vs 100 proof to see how their different alcohol strengths affect their overall drinking experience. If you’re curious to see how these bottles stack up against each other you’re in the right place.

Let’s see which Old Forester gives the best value for money.

Quick brand overview

Old Forester are owned by the Brown Forman Corporation. Their spirits are sold as Kentucky straight bourbons which are produced at the Brown Forman distillery in Shively, KY, USA. They were founded in 1870 by George Garvin Brown and were famously the first bourbon brand to sell their whiskies in clear glass bottles instead of selling it from the barrel – revolutionising the industry forever.

Interestingly, Old Forester are the only bourbon continuously sold by the same company before, during and after prohibition. They were granted one of just six licenses authorising lawful production for the purpose of ‘medicinal applications’.

You’ll notice that Old Forester spell whisky without an ‘e’. As one of very few American brands to use this iteration, it intended as homage toward George Brown’s Scottish ancestral roots. (For the same reasons, Maker’s Mark also spell theirs whisky too.)

Old Forester 86 vs 100

Bottle of Old Forester 86 proof whisky

Old Forester 86 proof

Nose: Spice, baked pastries, orange & toasted wood

Palate: Sweet, syrupy, oaky & caramel

Mouthfeel: Drying

Finish: Oak & orange

Age: 4 years (minimum)

Barrels: Charred American oak

Mashbill: 72% corn, 18% rye & 10% malted barley

Strength: 43% ABV / 86 proof

Price: £25 / $32

Bottle of Old Forester 100 proof whisky

Old Forester 100 proof

Nose: Wood, banana, cayenne pepper & cherries

Palate: Sweet, spicy, vanilla, toffee, tobacco & marzipan

Mouthfeel: Nutty, astringent

Finish: Oaky, drying & slightly bitter

Age: 4 years (minimum)

Barrels: Charred American oak

Mashbill: 72% corn, 18% rye & 10% malted barley

Strength: 43% ABV / 86 proof

Price: £52 / $65

Whisky cocktail in rocks glass beside Old Forester 86 proof bourbon bottle

A closer look at Old Forester 86

Positioned as their flagship bourbon, the 86 edition uses the same mashbill as their 100 proof bottle. With a relitively standard percentage of rye (18%), it’s a typical ratio with the corn in the grain recipe. Balancing sweetness and spice, Old Forester delivers quintessential bourbon flavours.

Distilled at the Brown Forman distillery in their 44 foot tall Vendome column still, the whisky is matured in new charred American oak barrels for a minimum of 4 years. After ageing, the bourbon is then cut with water down to 86 proof.

Nose: The nose of Old Forester 86 delivers a warm, inviting aroma with bright notes of orange blossom and cedar. It’s apparent that this bourbon has been aged for some time, as there are hints of rye bread and buttermilk pancakes layered beneath the citrusy top notes.

There’s a slight ethanol acidity going on, but this seems to subside with a little swirling in my glass. With a little more nosing, the predominant sweetness from the caramel and maple syrup come through, balanced with an oaky undertone and subtle hints of pine resin.

Palate: This bourbon has a smooth, creamy texture that’s instantly apparent in the mouth. On the front, there’s abundantly sweet caramel and maple syrup notes, accompanied by a pleasant oaky flavour with subtle hints of pine.

Drinking it neat, it’s got a nice peachy sweet flavour. With some water, even more so. But with only a small amount added, I lose some of the finer savoury flavours which I regretted. I suspect, becuase it’s already been ‘cut’ with water, it seems to become too simple if you add more to your glass.

So far, the taste is well-rounded, with the intense caramel sweetness giving way to the spicy oakyness that lingers on the mid-palate. There’s also just enough of a rye ‘bite’ which gives some nice heat to this bourbon. Overall, it’s an enjoyable sip with reasonable depth and complexity.

Mouthfeel: The 86 is surprisingly light and smooth for a bourbon of its strength. On the tongue, it’s buttery and creamy, verging on overly sweet. There’s a subtle presence of alcohol heat, but nothing that could be considered overwhelming or unpleasant. Instead, it adds a warming depth to the experience which helps enhance the aromatic, oaky notes.

Finish: The woodiness from the mid-palate lingers on, joined with a sweetness that rounds out the flavour profile. Juicy orange and spicy oak notes stand out on the finish and give it a slightly drying sensation. There’s also a subtle hint of rye bread warmth that ties everything together nicely. Overall, it’s a nice aftertaste.

Price: For me, the 86 offers good value for its price tag. You can easily pick up a bottle for around US $32 / UK £25, placing it around the mid-range for bourbons. The quality of this bourbon is spot on for the price; you don’t need to pay top dollar to get a tasty and well-balanced whisky.

At 86 proof (43% ABV), the flavour profile leans heavily on sweet side. As bourbons go, it was sweeter than what I’d usually like. More spice would have been welcome to balance things out, but by no means was it a bad pour. Overall, Old Forester 86 provides reasonable value for money; giving you a pleasant tasting experience without assaulting your wallet. Guilt free bourbon at it’s finest.

Plate of barbeque ribs

Old Forester 86 proof food pairings

Starter: Old Forester 86 pairs nicely with smoked meats like salami or jerky. The smokiness of the meats complements the subtle hint of rye in the whisky and helps to bring out its sweetness and warm spice flavours. A light salad or small bites of pickled vegetables are also a great way to start your meal, as they help to balance out the whisky’s strong flavours while providing a light contrast that prepares you for the main course.

Main Course: When it comes to the main course, Old Forester 86 pairs well with red meat dishes such as steak or lamb. The rich and sweet notes in this whisky are balanced by the savoury and earthy flavours of these proteins. It’s also delicious when paired with gamey meats like quail and pheasant, which are enhanced by its spicy notes. Other bold flavoured dishes such as hearty stews, roasted vegetables, or BBQ ribs all pair nicely with this bourbon too.

Dessert: To finish your meal, pair Old Forester 86 with a classic dessert like apple pie or peach cobbler. Its creamy mouthfeel helps to soften any tartness from the fruit filling, while its caramel notes further amplify the sweetness in these treats. Other desserts that go well with this whisky include pecan tarts, vanilla ice cream topped with chocolate sauce, and crème brulée – all perfectly complementing its oak-driven flavour profile.

Whisky cocktail in rocks glass with chocolate garnish on rim

Old Forester 86 proof Cocktail suggestion

For a decadent twist on this age-old classic, why not try this Orange Chocolate Old Fashioned? The sweetness from the chocolate liqueur blends nicely with the caramel notes in the whisky, while its spicy notes are rounded out by a dash of aromatic orange bitters.

Ingredients

  • 50ml Old Forester 86 Proof
  • 12ml Crème de Cacao
  • 3 drops Rose Water
  • 2 dashes orange bitters
  • Small chocolate block (garnish)

Instructions

In an ice filled mixing glass, measure in all your ingredients. Stir with a long bar spoon until thoroughly cold and combined. Carefully strain into a double old fashioned glass (DOF) filled with ice. Garnish with an orange peel or small chocolate block on the rim for added flair. Serve.

Bottle of Old Forester 100 proof bourbon on drinks cabinet beside rocks glass and green plant

A closer look at Old Forester 100 proof

Nose: Compared to the 86, the smell of Old Forester 100 is richer. Straight out the gate, it has an immediate hit of ethanol which subsides to a woody aroma of oak and pine. There’s also an intense sweetness that fills your nose, with wafts of banana, fudge and butterscotch.

With some swirling, the nose reveals a coffee-like aroma mixed with chocolate. Definitely more complex and nuanced than it’s lower proof sibling, the 100 has a deep smell which you could easily get lost in. There’s a slight hint of toasted nuts and tobacco going on too, which is lovely.

With deep inhalations, there’s a bit of rye heat and spice going on. I can certainly sense the stronger proof of this bottle.

Palate: Taking a sip of Old Forester 100 reveals a medley of flavours that include sweet and spicy notes. On the front, there’s fruit flavours of apples, pears and dates. Like the 86, it’s got the same intensity of sweetness which hits you right away.

Drinking this neat, there’s definitely more ‘oomph’ to this bourbon. The higher proof delivers a richer and more intense profile with tremendous hints of vanilla, toffee and marzipan emerging in the background. However, considering it’s strength, there’s actually not much heat to this bourbon which took me by surprise.

Personally, I’m quite happy drinking this neat. Earlier, I made the mistake of adding water to the 86 which simplified and sweetened it’s taste. (Plus, if I added any water to this bourbon, I’d theortetically end up back with the undiluted 86… which makes no sense at all. ) Anyways, the 100 proof isn’t harsh at all, with lovely flavours of winter spice on the mid palate. Clove, cinnamon and more toasted nuts.

It’s worth noting that the sweetness of the 100 is similar to the 86, but in a less cloying way. I’m tasting better depth of sweet nuts, almonds mixed with toffee. Overall, it feels more mature with a slightly drying aspect to the oaky finish.

Mouthfeel: Old Forester 100 is pretty smooth and velvety on the tongue. Its strength is balanced nicely with a nutty, almost creamy texture that coats the palate. There’s a slight astringent quality present as well, which increases in intensity. The finish is oaky and slightly drying on the tongue, but not overly so. If you let it sit for a few moments before swallowing, subtle notes of winter spices become even more apparent. All in all, the mouthfeel of Old Forester 100 is quite enjoyable and satisfying.

Finish: The aftertaste is reasonably long with a lingering, heady mix of oak, tobacco and winter spices. Woody notes are the most prominent, with oak tannins being the major aspect. There’s also a faint hint of peppermint to round it out.

The finish is surprisingly smooth for a beverage with such high proof, leaving behind just enough heat without being harsh or overpowering. Whereas other bourbons can be too sweet when sipped neat, Old Forester 100 offers an intense yet balanced experience that I find pretty enjoyable.

Price: Compared to the 86, Old Forester 100 is roughly double the price. At US $65 / UK £52, it’s a pricier option for the 100 proof category, especially when you consider other cheaper bottles such as Wild Turkey 101.

Dont get me wrong though, this higher ABV yields more complex and nuanced flavours than the 86. The sweetness of this bourbon was a delight to sip with all the winter spices I could ever hope for. The finish is smooth and oaky with a lingering sense of heat that adds complexity without being overpowering. All in all, Old Forester 100 makes for an incredibly enjoyable and affordable sipping experience.

For those looking to enjoy quality Kentucky Bourbon with a bit more strength than your average proof bottle, Old Forester 100 is an ideal choice. It offers a delicious mix of intense sweet and spicy notes that are held together in a smooth and velvety texture. The finish is rich and oaky without being overly harsh or overpowering.

Aerial view of roasted pork joint in white oven dish with rosemary on top

Old Forester 100 proof food pairings

For starters, dishes that pair nicely with Old Forester 100 proof whisky include smoked salmon crostini, crispy bacon and brie bites, or even a simple charcuterie board. To highlight the sweet and spicy notes of the whisky, opt for items such as honey-roasted figs or warm spiced nuts. The whisky’s oaky finish also pairs well with bolder flavours like aged cheeses, roasted garlic bruschetta, and hearty mushroom pate.

For mains, try braised short ribs in red wine served with creamy polenta and roasted vegetables. The fruity notes of the whisky will bring out the sweetness of the dish while its nutty taste will complement the more savoury elements. Another great option is a roasted pork with creamy mashed potatoes and sautéed greens. The richness of this dish will work perfectly with Old Forester 100 proof whisky’s velvety texture on your palate.

For dessert, you can go for something decadent like a classic chocolate fondant or an indulgent sticky toffee pudding. The intense sweetness of these desserts will be balanced by the slight dryness from the whisky’s oaky finish. Alternatively, if you’re looking for something a bit lighter you could opt for fresh berries served with cream or a light lemon meringue tart – both of which would compliment Old Forester 100 proof whisky’s complex flavour profile perfectly.

Close view of two highball whisky cocktails side by side

Old Forester 100 proof Cocktail suggestion

This refreshing Green Tea Sling is an exquisite mix of flavours for the perfect summer sipper. A combination of ginger, cucumber and green tea, this beverage pairs perfectly with the citrus and sweet notes of Old Forester Bourbon. The cucumber adds a cool, crisp flavour to the drink while the ginger provides a slightly spicy kick.

Ingredients

  • 50ml Old Forester 100 Proof
  • 100ml Unsweetened Green Tea
  • 12ml Simple Syrup
  • 12ml Ginger Liqueur
  • 2 Cucumber Wheels
  • Fresh Mint
  • Lemon

Method

Measure-in all the liquids to an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Seal and shake for 15 seconds until thoroughly mixed and icy cold. Strain into an ice-filled Collins glass and garnish with the cucumber wheels, sprigs of fresh mint and a lemon wedge. Serve.

Old Forester 100 proof bourbon bottle on drinks cabinet beside cocktail glass and playing cards

Final thoughts

Old Forester 86 is a nice, low-shelf dram. It’s accessibly priced and delivers your typical bourbon flavours of vanilla and spice. If you enjoy sweet whiskies, the overarching toffee-like flavours will certainly put a smile on your face. At points, the apple sweetness felt a little too simple for my tastes, but it’s not a bad bourbon at all. I’d be quite happy with a bottle of this to drink neat. For mixing or cocktails, it’d be a nice, guilt free base-spirit for the likes of a classic Manhattan. Not a bad bourbon at all.

Old Forester 100 is most certainly the big brother in this sibling line up. It’s got everything the 86 packs, but with more maturity, potency and depth. For me, it was thankfully less sweet than it’s younger brother with subtler aromatic notes of tobacco, coffee, nuts and dried fruit. It just felt more refined and better balanced. Plus, the lack of heat or harshness made it just as easy to sip.

Author’s recommendation

Choosing between the two, I’d go with the 100 proof edition from Old Forester. Yes, I know it’s predictable option here, but I think it’s retained its complexity which you just can’t salvage with the 86. But, for the money, I’m not totally convinced it’s the best in it’s price category. I’d sooner grab a bottle of Four Roses Single Barrel or Wild Turkey 101 if I yearned for a higher proof bourbon.

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