For bourbon enthusiasts, speculators, and collectors, September 2nd is a date circled on the calendar. That’s when Old Forester drops their annual limited release Birthday Bourbon, celebrating founder George Garvin Brown’s birthday, to the public. Available only at a select number of retail locations across the country, the bottle rapidly disappears. For most drinkers, the only way to secure one was to fly into Louisville, Kentucky, and head to the distillery on the release date to buy one of the limited number sold over the counter.
This led to a carnival-like atmosphere, with long lines forming on Louisville’s downtown streets hours before the distillery opened its doors. What was for sale quickly sold out long before sunset.
While Old Forester welcomed that enthusiasm, they realized that most of their fans were getting shut out. So, for the first time since they launched Birthday Bourbon in 2002, they will not be selling bottles at their Whiskey Row distillery. Instead, they are launching a nationwide sweepstake that will give everyone an equal chance to score one of their $149.99 bottles.
The popularity of limited edition and release bottles is a phenomenon that has spread across the whiskey landscape in recent years. Most distillers along Kentucky’s famed Bourbon Trail and across the country all offer bottles only available on site or in small retail offerings. Besides rewarding their loyal customers with something rare, they also build a buzz around a brand and increase their presence online.
Old Forester is no stranger to this trend. Besides the aforementioned Birthday Bourbon, one of the first limited batch bottles in the nation, the company offers a few others. Their Presidents Choice and 117 Series are only available a few times a year at select Kentucky retail locations, the distillery, with a few sold online.
“Back in 2002, when we introduced Birthday Bourbon, we couldn’t give the stuff away, literally. The bourbon craze hadn’t hit, and people didn’t know what to make of a one-time product,” says Chris Poynter, the public relations and partnership manager at Brown-Forman
The decision to not offer their Birthday Bourbon on site was just the latest step the brand has taken to clamp down on resellers gobbling up the rare bottles of Old Forester that often show up at their tasting room. Like the effect that resellers/scalpers can have on the price of concert tickets, gobbling them all up and then driving the prices sky high, whiskey has the same problem. Bottles of Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, Presidents Choice, and 117 Series sold online can have price tags from hundreds to thousands of dollars.
“There are some people here in Kentucky who make a living of going to the different distilleries and buying allocated and special release bourbons and reselling them,” says Poynter. “It’s something we can’t control, and we don’t encourage it. So we instituted a policy that only one limited release bottle a month can be bought by someone on-site.”
By rolling out a nationwide sweepstake offering lucky winners the chance to buy a bottle of Birthday Bourbon, Old Forester will be offering the boozy equivalent of Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket. From August 24-31, consumers can register online at Oldforester.com. The winners will be notified via e-mail on September 2nd. They will have to come to the distillery to buy their bottle in person, filled with liquid hand selected by Master Distiller Chris Morris. While this change might upset some loyal fans in their hometown, it does level the playing field for all their drinkers.
“Birthday Bourbon holds a special place among Old Forester’s limited releases, celebrating the legacy of the Brown family,” says Morris. “We’re excited to open up the opportunity for bourbon lovers all over the country to get their hands on this beloved bourbon.”