Campbell Brown (right), president of Brown-Forman's Old Forester bourbon, and brand ambassador Jackie Zykan (pictured below) were in London recently, in time to catch the London heat of the brand's ongoing cocktail competition, and to present a masterclass in London.
Old Forester's history goes back to 1870, when it became the first bourbon to be sold in a sealed bottle. Brown, a fifth-generation family member and a part of the company for 21 years, was appointed president of the brand earlier this year. 'Old Forester plays a role emotionally, as it's the whisky that the company was started on,' he told Imbibe.
It's a brand that has been important to the company in the past, but sales had fallen in the last few decades. Three years ago, says Brown, the company started seeing growth from US cities like Chicago and San Francisco. 'The buzz was pretty loud, and coming from quarters we hadn't seen before,' he explained.
There's an on-trade focus to Old Forester's activity in the US, as well as the UK. 'If it weren't for bartenders, what they're trying to do, and their curiosity... They're largely responsible for me being here,' explained Brown. Brand ambassador Zykan's appointment this summer is a further nod to the importance of the on-trade. 'Jackie is a famous, if not infamous bar manager, who happens to have a chemistry degree,' Brown said.
And as the brand grows, in its home market and abroad, Brown-Forman is planning for the future. 'The exciting thing is we're building a distillery,' said Brown. 'It's expected to be open in 2017.' This will be an urban distillery, in downtown Louisville.
US whisky might already look like it's doing well in export markets like the UK, but Brown sees yet more potential. 'It's early days, and we've still got lots of runway when it comes to introducing it to consumers.' He believes there's room for further experimentation in US whisky when it comes to proof. 'And rye is obviously exciting – we've got our eye on that,' he added.
Old Forester's 86 proof expression is currently the only one from the range available in the UK, although Zykan presented some of the other exceptional whiskeys in the range during the masterclass in London (most notably the 100-proof 1897 Bottled in Bond). Don't expect to see those any time soon, though. 'We've got a lot of work on 86 first,' said Brown.