Bottled Bourbon

Historical Marker #2103 in Louisville notes the significance of the “Old Forester” brand, which was the first commercially bottled bourbon.

It will likely never be known who produced the first bourbon distilled in Kentucky. The spirits' history dates back to the Bluegrass State's earliest days in the late eighteenth century. At that time—and throughout much of the nineteenth century—bourbon distillers commercially packaged their products in barrels, casks, and kegs. Naturally, this led to an inconsistency in product quality.

In order to maintain a consistent level of appearance and taste, in the 1870s innovative distiller George Garvin Brown of Louisville started producing Old Forester in sealed glass bottles. Not only did this new practice provide a better product, it also allowed individual buyers to purchase the branded name on the retail market. Previously, bottled whiskey was most often only available through purchase through bars or saloons that bought the product wholesale in barrels and then sold (often watered down) the whiskey to individuals in generic bottles. This practice hurt the reputation of the product, cost the distiller in sales, and did not allow the opportunity to build brand loyalty with customers.

Brown, who got his start as a pharmaceutical salesman, was also an innovative distiller in that he trademarked his Old Forester label. While the origins of the product's name are somewhat obscure, it appears that Old Forester was named for a Louisville physician, William Forrester, presumably a customer and proponent of the product's medicinal qualities. Early bottles of Old Forester were spelled with double "r's." The name was later changed to one "r."

Today, the Brown-Forman Corporation continues to offer Old Forester. The Old Forester brand is the nation's oldest continually bottled bourbon. It even survived Prohibition, when it was bottled for medicinal purposes. In addition to Old Forester Brown Forman also produces some of the most recognizable names in whiskey and bourbon, including Woodford Reserve, Early Times, and Jack Daniels.

Images

Bourbon Barrels

Bourbon Barrels

Before Old Forester, bar keeps bottled their own whiskies from barrels. Often the liquor was watered down and of inconsistent quality. Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society. View File Details Page

Bottled Bourbon

Bottled Bourbon

Other distillers soon followed Brown's successful practice of bottling their whiskies at the distillery. Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society. View File Details Page

J. T. S. Brown Distillery

J. T. S. Brown Distillery

J. T. S. Brown, a partner in the creation of Old Forester bottled bourbon, also operated a distillery in Anderson County, shown here. Courtesy of the University of Louisville. View File Details Page

Brown-Forman

Brown-Forman

Brown-Forman has taken over the production of Old Forester. Shown here is an advertising car from 1936 with the Old Forester name prominently displayed on the front fender. Courtesy of the University of Louisville. View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Tim Talbott, “Bottled Bourbon,” ExploreKYHistory, accessed July 27, 2017, http://explorekyhistory.ky.gov/items/show/416.
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