A while back in my extensive discussion of Woodford Reserve, I mentioned that I thought a similarly priced bottle which was a far better value in terms of quality and taste was the Four Roses Single Barrel bottling. I’ve come back to it time and time again and find it’s one of my all time favorites.
If you’re not familiar with Four Roses, it’s an interesting operation. Their Four Roses (“Yellow Label”) bourbon is a mix of their ten recipes that they produce. Yes, ten recipes. Four Roses essentially makes ten separate bourbons which vary by mashbill and by yeast strain.
Mashbill is not a surprising way to vary character – it can have a huge effect. Their two mashbills are “B” and “E”. E is a 75% corn, 20% rye mashbill; B is a 60% corn, 35% mashbill. There are also five yeast strains used with both of the mashbills – these combinations produce the ten bourbons.
If you’ve never managed to have a tasting where yeast was the variable, I highly recommend it. Retailers like Binnys and The Party Source both have all ten recipes available, and it exposes huge differences in the bourbons. I had my first education on the role of yeast strains on mashbills with High West’s David Perkins during a marathon tasting. We had four extremely different whiskeys at one point – the only difference between them was the yeast used. No one in the room guessed that as the variable.
The recipe used by Four Roses in the standard widely-available single barrel bottling is the OBSV recipe. This means the “B” mashbill (35% rye) and the V yeast, which Four Roses describes as having a “delicate fruit, spicy and creamy” character. This combination happens to be one of my very favorite – everything is in exquisite balance.
This is a great bourbon for the fourth of July. I think it does everything with a touch of class. It’s phenomenal when drunk neat; it takes ice and mixers well (if you’re a mixer guy). I’ve used it for phenomenal mint juleps and this afternoon it’s going to be a part of my bourbon and vanilla ice cream milkshake. The spice adds so much character but it doesn’t live exclusively in the domain of aggressively spicy and hot whiskeys. It’s accessible and refined – a perfect model American.
The nose has nice, well-developed notes of rye which have deep nuance. It’s almost reminiscent of a super-fresh deli rye bread (a favorite!). There’s wood which gives depth and almost has a light cedar quality to it. There’s some floral hints as well as some light black pepper on the nose. Black cherries, a faint touch of maple syrup and a hint of orange round out the nose with some nice top notes.
The palate is great and continues where the nose left off: It’s nice and sweet initially but the darker fruit tartness moves in. Rye spice and creamy vanilla are in balance; light cinnamon and white pepper add a gentle but not overwhelming heat. It’s a perfectly balanced set of textures and flavors.
The finish is a little interesting but works nicely in my opinion. It starts dry with wood, but then cherry and vanilla pick up. Cinnamon heat is present, but then it dries and goes bitter but in a more vegetal direction than wood – endive and romaine hearts are present. After a while some corn sweetness comes out and you can almost imagine the character of the new make underneath all of this.
This Four Roses is one of the best bottles sitting on your liquor store’s shelf that doesn’t require you to have the determination of a bounty hunter or a close relationship with your spirits buyer to find. It’s got a much more complex set of flavors and aromas that it draws from when compared to most bourbons out there. It’s really enjoyable, a permanent fixture in my bar and in my opinion, a can’t-fail classic. If you’re looking for a great bourbon to celebrate the Fourth – look no further.
At a glance:
Four Roses Single Barrel – 50% ABV
Nose: Nice, well developed notes of rye which have a great, deep nuance. Almost reminiscent of super-fresh deli rye bread. Nice wood with it, giving depth. Almost a light cedar quality to it. Lightly floral; a hint of black pepper. Black cherries, a faint touch of maple syrup and a hint of orange.
Palate: Nice and sweet initially with a bit of darker fruit tartness. Creamy vanilla, nice gentle rye spiciness, light cinnamon and again a very faint touch of white pepper. Wood adds some depth again to the palate but it’s not bitter. A little gentle heat but it’s very even-tempered.
Finish: Slightly dry at first and opening on wood, picking up the cherry notes and a bit of the vanilla. Cinnamon adds a bit of heat for a moment as it dries and goes a touch bitter with a light hint of endive or romaine heart. Settles more on the vegetal notes and a bit of corn sweetness comes out.
Comment: Four Roses has a better than average track record for me. This standard OBSV recipe single barrel bottling is just a time-honored classic in my opinion. I love it, it’s got sweetness and creaminess but it’s nicely balanced with some spice and heat with tartness as well. It doesn’t get cloying and while the finish is a bit dry, it works very well in my opinion. For the price it’s one of the most consistently solid bourbons you can find regularly.