Four Roses “Single Barrel” (43%, OB, H294D, 2003, 70 cl)

After the Four Roses in disguise, called Bulleit, let’s compare it to a true Four Roses (with a similar profile). In 2012 I reviewed the current 50% ABV version of the Four Roses Single Barrel and I refered to this discontinued 43% ABV. version, calling it: “Too weak, very light and too floral and girlie for my taste”. At the time of writing I thought I finished the bottle, but as luck would have it, I found a box of archive sample bottles filled with different Bourbons I used to have. I guess it pays to save something for later! So many years later, let’s find out if this 43% ABV version is as hideous as I seem to remember it! By the way, this one is said to be 8yo and was bottled on 12 April 2003.

Four Roses Single BarrelColor: Orange gold.

Nose: Yup it’s the floral rye again. Lilac and Lily of the valley. Easily recognizable and even more pronounced than the new 50% ABV version, the only bottle I had, I forgot to fill up an archive sample of, so no direct comparison is possible, only from memory and notes. Fruity and floral, it’s almost a perfume. Powdered vanilla and coffee creamer. Almonds and fresh cookie dough. With air dusty wood comes into the fold. Elegant and perfumy. Not a lot of wood actually. Well integrated. A lot of honey is starting to emerge too as well as some turkish Delight and licorice, and anise. Don’t like how the honey and floral aroma’s turn out together. Add to that a slightly acidic fruit note, and you’ve lost me a bit. No notes of toasted cask. It comes across as a designed Bourbon. A Four Roses for people who wear a bow-tie, not for rugged lumberjacks. It is actually a Bourbon for the metro man. Although it’s not quite clear what I am, this is my least favorite Four Roses expression to date, but wait, I still have to taste it again after all those years. The nose is something I don’t always like, although I do recognize the quality.

Taste: Paper and wood, pencils (cedar). Quite a lot of waxy notes. Lightly sweet, but the sweetness washes away with the added water to be replaced with some sour, and slightly bitter oak. Honey and creamy sweetness, but here these two do a better job at integrating with each other. A bit weak on entry and not so long a finish, built around the paper and weak woody note, especially when compared to its stronger brother. Good aftertaste though, nice aroma’s return and a great creaminess is added to the aftertaste. Nice delayed effect. The aftertaste even seems stronger than the finish itself, nicer too. The move to 50% ABV was a good move. Alright, this isn’t my least favorite Four Roses anymore. Now it is the “Yellow Label”…

Even though I prefer the 50% ABV “Single Barrel”over this one. Both are well made and do resemble each other. This 43% ABV has some exaggerated floral Rye and doesn’t combine all that good with the honey and fruity notes. The 50% ABV is the same, but for me is better balanced. Having said that, this may be a tad more special, more unique, so it is definitely worth seeking out.

Points: 83

Four Roses 12yo “Single Barrel” (52.8%, OB, 2012 Limited Edition, SN 81-2R, 174 bottles)

Four Roses seems to be a very transparent producer of Bourbon. First of all they let you know everything about the ten recipes they make and how they are used in their expressions. For those of you who don’t know, There are 2 different mashbills and 5 different yeast strains, giving ten recipes. Apart from the ten recipes, the portfolio seems rather logical too. Starting off with the Four Roses “Yellow”. It is their entry-level Bourbon and is made in large quantities. Next comes a small batch and after that only single barrel expressions, the first of which is reduced to 50% ABV and the rest bottled at cask strength.

As I wrote in the last review of the “Yellow”, they can use all of the ten recipes to get the consistency you want for a bulk product, although most of it is OBSK and OESK, where B is 60% corn, 35% rye, and 5% malted barley and E is 75% corn, 20% rye and 5% malted barley. The “K” Yeast strain gives light spiciness, light caramel and a full body.

It gets really interesting when you have one of the Single Barrel expressions at hand since they can be made with only one of the ten recipes. Earlier I already reviewed the 50% ABV single barrel version which is a OBSV, where the “V” yeast strain gives light fruitiness, light vanilla, caramel and creamy notes, and “B” is the high Rye mashbill.

Today we’ll have a look at a limited edition single barrel expression bottled at cask strength and made with the OESK recipe. E is the low Rye mashbill, so I expect it to be sweeter than a “B” and the “K” yeast strain gives light spiciness, light caramel and a full body. So it should be a full-bodied, sweeter, more classic Bourbon than the 50% ABV expression.

Four Roses Single Barrel 2012Color: Dark gold copper, marginally darker than the 50% ABV expression.

Nose: Creamy and sweetish, already less woody and strict than the 50% ABV expression. It starts off with notes of hay and dry grass. Wax with a hint of leather. An old, well maintained saddle maybe? Hints of dried yellow fruits. Apricots I would say. Quite some honey after breathing, but soon after that more dry and dusty (and slightly acidic). Bad morning breath, wow.

Taste: Starts with toffee sweetness, but like the nose, the sweetness soon steps aside to let the wood through. Quite spicy and wood. The wood gives it spice, but also a more nutty and slightly acidic profile. At 12 years old this Bourbon had a lot of time to interact with the wood. The wood leaves, vanilla cinnamon and a hint of honey, but also a slightly soapy and slightly bitter finish. The finish itself starts as an attack, is long, but stays with the woody notes. Even the sweet mashbill can’t do nothing about that. Besides this, I also feel the end of the, somewhat simple, body, and the especially the finish lack a bit of balance. It’s not completely harmonious. I guess this one may have been in the cask too long. The wood won a battle with the sweetness and obviously won, where there shouldn’t have been a battle in the first place.

By the way, the picture here is of another, similar looking 2012 limited edition. The picture is for the 52.9% ABV version from barrel 81-2A, which is a sister cask of our 81-2R. Both come from the same warehouse: SN.

So what’s the verdict about our super premium limited edition? It’s a nice special edition, and a learning experience for the aficionado. I understand the pick and it most certainly is an interesting experience. So should you try it? Yes, should you buy a bottle and drink it by yourself, not really! This one is for sharing, discussion and comparing the other recipes of Four Roses.

Comparison to the 50% ABV expression is easy. That one is sweeter and more easily likeable. The difference in ABV is small, but the age probably made the difference, making the 12yo more about wood. Both are not very complex, but the 50% ABV is definitely more drinkable and better balanced, but also slightly weaker in taste. The limited edition also brings quite a lot of heat to the table. I’m trying both head to head but none is better than the other, although very different. It’s a tie!

Points: 83

Four Roses (40%, OB, 2011)

After the highly specialized Octomore, let’s get back to basics with this Four Roses Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey aka Four Roses Yellow, since it has, and you’ve guessed it, a yellow label, although with every revamp of the look, the yellow label gets less yellow. The one I’m about to review, is one that was released a few years ago, but since this is the entry-level best known product of the distillery, I expect a lot of consistency exists between different batches. Four Roses is a bit of a tricky Bourbon for me. Four Roses have their ten recipes and it depends of the usage of these recipes in blending the Bourbons if I like them or not. For instance, if you have read my review of the Single Barrel expression, you know I found the new 50% ABV version quite good, whereas I didn’t like the older 43% ABV version as much. For me it was too floral. Don’t get me wrong. It’s about the taste, not the amount of alcohol in the finished product. I understand that this yellow labelled Bourbon I’m about to review is around 6 years old and can contain any of the ten recipes Four Roses makes, although most of it is OBSK and OESK. If this means nothing to you, please have a look at my other Single Barrel review.

Four Roses YellowColor: Orange gold.

Nose: Smells young, and slightly alcoholic. Light and creamy. Even some yeast and quite some honey. Dusty, with charred oak and whiffs of the new oak underneath. It has more to do with oak than the florality of the old single barrel expression. It seems a bit closed to me, since it is a bit hard to get all of the aroma’s out of my glass from the start. Maybe it’s reduced a bit too much. Another layer shows us some cardboard and a leafy, grassy note. Dry grass mixed with the slightly spicy note that has to do with the toasted oak. The honey note quickly disappears, making it less sweet and somewhat more spicy. Otherwise quite light and yes, simple. Bourbon tea.

Taste: Cardboard, wood and sugary sweet. Waxy paper. Sugar water sweetness and a very nice oaky note. New oak, with again a grassy, spicy and soapy note. There are some good flavours in this and even has enough character for an entry-level Bourbon. The wood and cream give it its initial likeability and backbone. It maybe a bit simple, but it’s very nice as an unoffensive entry-level bourbon should be. Nice body, medium finish.

Start with something like this, share a bottle with mates, get to know it. Compare it to several other entry-level Bourbons, like Jim Beam (white), Evan Williams (black), Buffalo trace and others. Quickly move on from there, if you’re an adventurous person. My review may seem a bit harsh, but it’s actually not that bad at all. This Bourbon is pretty decent, has some nice aroma’s and is very drinkable and buying this, won’t scare your wallet at all. With the age comes also a rather simple body with a not too long finish. I hope it’s strong enough for mixing, but I couldn’t say. I’m no mixologist.

Compared to the aforementioned single barrel expression, the single barrel has more depth to it, seems better balanced and benefits greatly of its higher strength (50% ABV), although it has a tad more of the feared florality. Luckily it’s not enough to spoil it for me.

Points: 78

Bourbon Week – Day 4: Four Roses “Single Barrel” (50%, OB, BS 38-3O, 70 cl)

And now we return to Bourbon. A Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky from Lawrenceburg Kentucky. First of all, when writing about Four Roses we have to look at their ten recipes. What? Ten recipes. Four Roses has ten different recipes for making Bourbon. They combine two different mash bills with five different yeast strains. The ten recipes are called OBSV, OBSK, OBSO, OBSQ, OBSF and OESV, OESK, OESO, OESQ, OESF.

The letters V, K, O, Q and F designate the yeast strain used. V is described as giving light fruitiness, light vanilla, caramel and creamy notes. K gives light spiciness, light caramel and a full body. O gives rich fruitiness, light vanilla, caramel and also a full body. Q gives essences of floral aroma’s and finally F gives essences of herbal aroma’s.

The letters B and E are used for the Mash Bill. B is 60% corn, 35% rye, and 5% malted barley. E is 75% corn, 20% rye and 5% malted barley. You might wonder what the O and S stand for. O stands for Four Roses Lawrenceburg, and S means Straight Whiskey. If you want some more information about how a specific recipe might taste, have a look over here.

I think this is genius, because this scheme allows for a lot of variation (you hope) in the finished product. There are some people in the USA, that bought some single casks from those ten different recipes, if not all. I know for a fact that Binny’s just did that, but there are more. So if you’re interested in the differences between those recipes, you can have a go with those specific single barrel bottlings.

Now, we have here a Single Barrel (100 Proof), do we know which recipe it is? Yes we do! It’s OBSV (60% Corn mash bill, Rich in Spiciness, Full Body). I’m very curious. I love the concept, and the looks of it. I once had the previous version of the Single Barrel (43% ABV), which I didn’t like too much. Too weak, very light and too floral and girlie for my taste. OK, let’s have a look at this new one and see if its more masculine 😉

Color: Dark Gold Copper

Nose: Dusty, slightly woody, fern, not overly complex, or is it? Give it some time, creamy, vanilla ice-cream and an exotic sweetness you can smell in a good Gewürztraminer. It also had a meaty component, like gravy. All in all, a very intriguing nose. I like this.

Taste: Spicy, licorice. Hints of wood only, almost no toast. This rose has quite a firm body. Since it’s a “B” and not a “E” I’m surprised at its sweetness. But is definitively tastes as a Bourbon with a high rye content. It’s like a ping-pong match between the corn and the rye. It’s not balanced in a way that you have a ‘married’ taste, that tastes always the same, but it’s balanced. It goes to and fro, your palate never gets a rest, and is always surprised with each sip. There goes a coconut by the way…

For me this is a work of high quality and more than one step up from the old Single Barrel. It seems to me this is like a sponsored bottle: for the quality you get it’s really dirt cheap, even without the discount I got, so I bought me a case of this. 50%ABV is excellent too. Again kudos, this time for the people at Four Roses. Excellent.

Points: 83