Some of the finest bourbons I have ever had the pleasure to taste were examples of Four Roses Single Barrel. Paul Pacult poured a Four Roses single barrel selection at an event called "The 10 Greatest Spirits in the World" back in 2008. It was, specifically Warehouse CS, barrel #48-SP. To say it was a highlight experience would be putting it mildly. Later I acquired a single barrel bottle from barrel 22-1B, warehouse BN, bottled at 53.6% using recipe OBSQ which was a single barrel limited edition selection for Park Avenue Liquors. I gave it 5 stars in my review and called it "cognac-like". A couple of weeks ago at Whiskey Live NY I had the opportunity to try the Limited Edition 2012 Single Cask, recipe OESK, 52.5% abv. (briefly mentioned in this post). This one might be the best of all of them. However, when you look in most liquor stores, the Four Roses Single Barrel offering you'll find is a much less expensive lower proof (50% abv) version with a bottle that has a less shiny label and a leather-looking strap at the neck. This version costs a lot less; $31.99 at Shopper's Vineyard currently. The others cost more - often multiples of that. Is this "standard edition" of a piece with the amazing ones? They all have the pyramidal trapezoid bottle; but do they share the ability to wow?
To see I got one of those Shopper's Vineyard bottles, specifically Warehouse QN Barrel 60-1E 50% abv. I e-mailed Four Roses and asked "what recipe mash bill and yeast this barrel used. OBSV?"
Brent Elliott of Four Roses replied: "By your mention of the product being 50% alc./vol., I was 99% sure it was our standard SB recipe (because that is always bottled at 100 proof), but to be sure I checked our records and indeed it is our SB recipe OBSV. That is the high rye mashbill with our “delicate fruit” yeast." (I describe the Four Roses mash bill and yeast variety code in this post.) Remember that this is a single barrel offering and there will be differences between barrels. What we're looking for is a pattern of excellence. Here are the tasting notes:
Color: light copper bronze reddish color
Nose: first and foremost sandalwood perfume, then bitter citrus, peach, caramel and some spicy green herbal notes like thyme flowers or oregano blooms. There is also some rich sweet bacon deep in the back. This is a big perfumed fragrant and appetizing nose. I could sniff this for hours... (in fact, that's exactly what I'm doing).
Entry is sweet like powdered demerara. The expansion is peppery, bold, herbal, juicy with orange marmalade and canned peaches and effusively wooded in the best and most fragrant way. The sandalwood essence carries directly from the nose, through the sweet entry into the powerfully wooded midpalate and out into the long glorious and drying finish with gentle tannins and echoes of charred oak. The signature of the high rye mash bill is all over, from the vibrancy and sweetness in the nose to the effervescent fizzy spice and big kick in the midpalate and the sweet herbal notes all over.
This is a triumphant American sipping bourbon.
I know it seems like I've been giving every bourbon five stars lately. Am I just easy on bourbon, or am I just very choosy in selecting which bourbons to review? My last review was for Rock Hill Farms, another high rye mash bill bourbon. Rock Hill is more dry and austere - a bit more refined and noble. Four Roses 100 proof Single Barrel is more juicy, fruity and full - but no less satisfying. So, given that the Four Roses is 1/3 less expensive is Rock Hill worth it? Yes. What about those more expensive limited edition Four Roses single barrel selections? Are they worth the extra money? Yes. Each of these items has its own unique mix of attributes. They all provide tremendous enjoyment all offer excellent value - especially compared to other spirits such as Scotch, Irish, Canadian, and Cognac. Is the "standard edition" Four Roses Single Barrel 100 proof an awesome value - absolutely. It is a landmark product in my opinion in the value for the money equation. The other standout value in bourbons is Elijah Craig 12. EC12 is almost 1/3rd again less expensive than Four Roses Single Barrel 100 proof. It's a different animal, however, with it's high corn mash bill and longer barrel aging. It's softer, fruitier, more dank and dark, and more densely wooded. The Four Roses Single Barrel has more punch and zest and more herbal notes because of the rye. They share the wonderful sandalwood perfume. Do what I did and get both. They are both permanent additions to my cabinet and a great gift to bring to others.