Old Forester Releasing Single Barrel Rye—Jackie Zykan on What You Need to Know

Old Forester Rye Single Barrel 2021. Courtesy Old Forester.
Old Forester Rye Single Barrel 2021. Courtesy Old Forester.

Kentucky Bourbon brand Old Forester is releasing a new limited release of Old Forester Single Barrel Rye. This is the first new product from their rye recipe since its debut in 2019, and only the second product made with the Old Forester Rye recipe in history.

Single Barrel Rye will be bottled in limited quantities annually at barrel strength, mostly unfiltered, and will be available nationwide.

We spoke with Old Forester Master Taster Jackie Zykan to learn more about the product.

Zykan, who is in charge of the single barrel bourbon program, says Single Barrel Rye has been handled differently. There will be no private selection in this program (Single Barrel Bourbon is only available as a private selection). Instead, Zykan has chosen a group of barrels with some limited consistency among them for the rollout. 

She says the 75 barrels in this project were all “selected with the target Old Forester Rye flavor profile in mind, just ramped up and in full force.” That profile includes “floral notes and so many fruit forward notes. It’s not just all spice,” explains Zykan.

Like the 100-proof rye, the whiskey in these lots has aged at least 5 ½ years, in a heat-cycled warehouse. 

Speaking of proof, well, that’s going to be a bit of an adventure. Barrel Strength Rye will vary barrel to barrel, but a closer look at the photos provided by the distillery shows a toasty 127 proof—though that could be the top, the bottom, or somewhere in between.

It doesn’t sound like that’s going to be reflected in the taste. “It doesn’t drink like the proof that it is,” explains Zykan. “It is very, very, very well balanced.” It’s also minimally filtered. “We take the char chunks out with a mesh screen and that’s it,” says Zykan. “We’ve done no carbon treatment on it. It’s literally just being able to drink it straight from the barrel, but we kept the char chunks from getting stuck into your teeth.”

Zykan says Single Barrel Rye will enter the market twice this year, but there are no set dates for how this or future rollouts will be handled. “There’s no season,” she explains. “It’s just we get it out when we can.” With 75 barrels allocated for this year’s supply (and the first batch representing 38 of those), that means the supply will be front loaded for the year. 

“It’s literally just being able to drink it straight from the barrel, but we kept the char chunks from getting stuck into your teeth.”

It’s an admittedly small supply—Zykan admits it’s “a barrel and change a year for a whole state—that’s not a lot. I don’t expect to ever see it on a shelf,” she says, “unless they put a really feisty price on it, shove it way up towards the ceiling.”

That’s not how she wants things to work, but unfortunately demand for Old Forester’s rye recipe has far outstretched expectations since its debut in 2019. Zykan says they sold “three times as much” as expected in the first year, which prompted them to “crank up the stills.” Even then, the increased supply won’t be at bottling age until 2023 or so.

While we did ask about future private selection opportunities, we didn’t expect to hear anything firm. The distillery has limited supply, and that may prevent private selection for years more. “I don’t want to say it’s not something we’ve talked about,” Zykan says, “but is it our docket of things that have urgent attention right now? Not necessarily.” 

Fingers crossed we get to see it before the decade is out. 

For 2021 anyway, suggested retail falls at $80 if you can find it at retail. It will be available nationwide, if you’re lucky enough to come across one your state’s 100-200 bottles. For more, go to OldForester.com to find retailers. 

 Here are the Official Tasting Notes:

Color: Rich terracotta

Aroma: Dessert forward, creamy vanilla and lemon custard alongside rich caramel and dark brown sugar

Taste: Full-bodied with a base of ripe orchard fruit, subtle cinnamon stick, dried dill and hazelnut

Finish: Lengthy and spice driven, with peripheral black pepper and underpinnings of green anisette