Four Roses distillery is currently producing some of the best and most exciting bourbons in America, which may be news to you because that's a relatively recent development. Four Roses was a venerable 19th century brand and a top seller in the US until mid-century when then current owner Seagrams decided to export the good stuff to Europe and Asia and debase the brand by only selling low end blends in the US. That's how it was for almost 50 years. It wasn't until 1995 when master distiller Jim Rutledge came (and ownership changed a couple of times) that the brand became something good again. And not just good; extraordinary.
Four Roses makes a range of special limited releases as well as their standing specialties. Like a lot of high end bourbon distillers, they also make a single barrel version that varies from cask to cask. But Four Roses takes it a monumental level further by actually varying the recipe used to produce the bourbon - with startling different results. The ten different recipes Four Roses uses are described as followed on their web site:
From the Four Roses web site: "Four Roses is the only Bourbon distillery that combines five proprietary yeast strains with two separate mashbills to produce 10 distinct and handcrafted Bourbon recipes, each with its own unique character, spiciness and rich fruity flavors."
"What the letter designations mean for the 10 recipes:
O = Designates produced at the Four Roses Distillery in Lawrenceburg, KY.
E = The mashbill that is 75% corn, 20% rye, 5% malted barley.
B = The mashbill that is 60% corn, 35% rye, 5% malted barley.
S = Designates straight whiskey distillation.
V/K/O/Q/F = Yeast strain used to create flavor characteristics.
And here are the 10 recipes - along with the descriptions of flavor (and some have listings of the releases that featured that recipe:
OBSV - Delicate Fruit, Spicy, Creamy - Four Roses Single Barrel - 100, The Mariage Collection 2008 Release, Limited Edition 2010 Barrel Strength Bourbon
OBSK - Rich in Spiciness, Full Body - Small Batch, 120th Anniversary
OBSO - Slightly Fruity, Spicy, Medium Body - Four Roses Small Batch
OBSQ - Floral (Rose Petal), Spicy, Medium Body - Limited Edition 2011 Barrel Strength
OBSF - Mint, Fruity, Spicy, Full Body
OESV - Delicate Fruit, Fresh, Creamy
OESK - Spicy, Full Body - Four Roses Small Batch, The Mariage Collection 2008 Release
OESO - Fruity (Red Berries), Medium Body - 40th Anniversary Barrel Strength Bourbon, Four Roses Small Batch
OESQ - Floral, Banana, Fresh, Medium Body - 2009 Limited Edition Barrel Strength Bourbon
OESF - Mint, Fruity, Full Body
In this review I'm tasting a single barrel bottle from barrel 22-1B, warehouse BN, bottled at 53.6% using recipe OBSQ. It's a "Private Selection" bottle - not the regular lower cost expression. The regular expression is also excellent, but was somewhat different in flavor profile. The private selection has a label that says "Private Selection" on the neck. The regular version has a leather looking tag around the neck.
In the glass it's orangy copper new penny amber colored. The nose is sweet with honey, clover flower and the tang of grape noble rot (rancio in the cognac world). With more time more classicly bourbon notes of toffee and leather creep in
First entry is sugar beets with a rush of vinous rancio, white raisins, sherry notes. Mouth feel is silky with good but not thick syrup factor. Spicy around edge of tongue - 107.2 proof showing up. Herbal notes proliferate in the transition to the finish: cilantro and parsley... Maybe some ivy. As the glow fades the oak tannins join the medicinal herbal edge of bitterness and the honey and the sherry-cognac rancio ends up feeling almost dry. This is a sophisticated and elegant flavor profile that feels almost more like a wood aged European eau de vie than a Kentucky bourbon but inhaling as the long finish fades brings up echoes of burnt sugar, leather and tobacco conjured out the fading viney and herbal flavors so I know this is Kentucky Straight bourbon whiskey. Just bourbon of a higher and more refined sort.
This bourbon is so good, so different, so unique, I can't wait to try other single barrel expressions. I'll be looking out for them.