Four Roses OBSV Part Two: Extra-Aged Bourbon

Earlier this week, I wrote about the standard off the shelf 50 proof Four Roses Single Barrel (OBSV). I said it was a great value for the price and one of the best bourbons in its class. It’s time to take this opportunity to see what happens to that recipe when you age it up a bit.

Four Roses’ big push is on their ten recipes, highlighting the role of mashbill and yeast which do definitely play a big role in determining the flavor of a bourbon. However, most whisky aficionados know, the time in oak changes the spirit dramatically. The vegetal notes of new spirit fade away in favor of the tannins and spicy body that wood imparts; the turbinado sugar flavors mixes with the wood influence and becomes more like maple syrup, toffee and caramel. Too little time in the wood and you might as well be riding shotgun with Popcorn Sutton. Too much time and you’d be better off brewing a tea with pencil shavings. Bad wood will take you in the direction of popsicle sticks and napkins. There’s a lot of room to go wrong.

Due to the climate in the midwestern US, which was far too extreme for me (hot summers and cold winters drove me from southern Illinois to southern California), bourbon is ready for prime time in anywhere from four to eight years. Twelve years can be pushing it but some bourbons wear the age well. For the most part, the old-age crown is worn most readily by the Pappy Van Winkle bourbons, effortlessly holding up to 15 and 20 years of age. Heaven Hill’s Elijah Craig also manages 12 and 18 20 years (but at $150 I don’t expect to have a judgement on the 20 soon). What then of the other distilleries? There’s a lot that can go wrong in over a decade.

I was excited when I heard about the Four Roses Gift Shop exclusive, a 17 year old OBSV recipe. While I’m a big fan of OBSK, OBSV is a reliable favorite. Getting the chance to try an extra-aged version was a rare treat. Unfortunately, one problem: my wife wasn’t about to sign off on me jetting to Kentucky to pick up a bottle of bourbon.

Fortunately, a good friend offered to pick up a bottle for me and ship it back. I took him up on his offer, sending him a couple bottles of Southern Californian microbrew in exchange. Soon, the whiskey was in my hands. I could hardly wait to see what would happen with this one. Would it show too much oak? Would it be the greatest thing ever? Perhaps worst of all, might it be a very middle of the road and safe barrel pick?

The nose on this one is great – warm and woody, with dark fruits prominent up front. Plums and black cherries compete against very creamy vanilla; deep wood notes provide a bed for everything. Rye spiciness is evident and even slightly aggressive, but not to the extent that it’s disagreeable or too harsh.

The palate starts dry with plenty of wood. Cinnamon, black cherries and vanilla take over, moving the palate away from dry astringency. Toffee and maple syrup pick up, and then rye comes storming in again, providing a nice kick and a slightly floral quality. With a little more time the wood comes into focus but it’s not so dry, and it’s nicely balanced by light orange zest.

The finish, much like on the standard OBSV, is drier than the palate. Black pepper and oak lead; cinnamon and black cherries come side by side behind it. Finally, rye spice and a hint of nutmeg are the last flavors standing.

I was really surprised by the 17 year old version of this whisky. I certainly expected an uptick in dryness, black pepper, cinnamon, and wood, but the creaminess on the 17 is much more pronounced to me than it is on the younger standard version. There’s a strong wood influence to be sure, but it’s not in the least bit tired. It’s full of life and flavor, but with a weight and deliberation that you’d hope for in a bourbon of this age.

Quality-wise, I have to say that this particular barrel (78-30, Warehouse QS), honestly stands shoulder to shoulder with other highly regarded bourbons like those found in the Buffalo Trace Anniversary Collection; Pappy Van Winkle, or the Parker’s Heritage collection. Honestly, I think if Four Roses could find the right push for this one, they could release these in limited quantities to a broader market and have a serious contender for the Van Winkles of the world, which are becoming a chore to find anymore.

Four Roses Single Barrel (Private Selection – Four Roses Gift Shop) OBSV 17y 53.3%  ABV
Nose: 
Warm and woody, with dark fruits – plums, black cherries – jostling for attention against creamy vanilla aroma while deep wood notes provide a bed. Rye spiciness is evident and slightly aggressive but not disagreeably so.
Palate:  Dry on the palate initially with plenty of wood; giving way to cinnamon and black cherries with a light bit of vanilla, slight toffee and faint maple syrup. Rye picks up right behind this, giving a nice kick and slightly floral note. Light orange balances the wood which starts to come to the forefront again.
Finish:  Finishes dry with black pepper and oak, a little cinnamon and black cherries; rye spiciness and a hint of nutmeg.
Comment:  Interestingly, I think the creaminess is better developed in the 17y version of OBSV than the 10y. The barrel notes give a strong influence to this and it’s quite powerful, but not at all tired. Full of life and flavor, but moving deliberately according to its age. If Four Roses released this wide they might have a contender to the Pappy throne.
Rating: A-

8 thoughts on “Four Roses OBSV Part Two: Extra-Aged Bourbon”

  1. Tim great series on Four Roses. Excellent reviews.

    I attribute FRs ability to age longer to their single story warehouses. True that they may miss out on some of those really fantastic high rick gems but they avoid the oak monsters also. I think what FR does as a total program (10 recipes, unique yeasts plus aging) make them one of the most innovative distilleries in the world.

    Now when are they going to give us a rye?

    1. Thanks for the insight on their warehousing, Jason. I bet that really does even out the pack quite a bit. Granted, it does preclude some of the more extreme effects, but to be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever been disappointed in any Four Roses single barrel offering I’ve had… which is honestly quite a feat. The E mashbill isn’t necessarily my cup of tea but it’s never been bad in my experience.

      I’d love to see a Four Roses rye. Their rye in the B mashbill is really nice.

  2. When I was at the distillery, one of the senior tour guides recoiled when I asked him about a rye. He said that it would mess up their identity, which is kind of cryptic but I assume refers to the public perception of Four Roses. They’ve never made a rye, and since their official bottlings are undergoing tremendous growth (according to their newsletter, case sales are up by like 50% each year), I imagine they’re trying to get firmly ensconced in the public consciousness with the offerings they already have. Also, I imagine that Bulleit sales are doing pretty well, eating up more of their time.

  3. Tim – very nice write up. For many years FRSB was not in my wheelhouse. I have the same bottle in my bunker but have yet to open it. I’m trying to resist opening anything new as I have somewhere north of 130 bottles open at present. The last 17 year I tried from FR (100th Anniv) was not to my liking. Hope the Gift Shop offering is a better experience.

  4. Tim, thanks for this and for so many other honest, funny, and insightful reviews.

    I’m going to be heading down to Kentucky next week, and was just curious to know if the bottle you review here did in fact come from the gift shop, or from the distillery itself (I believe they are in separate locations). I’m asking because I called the gift shop to ask if they had anything special for sale, and was told that they only had the very standard offerings (not even including the limited-edition bottles). Any thoughts/advice on getting my paws on one of these?

    Thanks in advance,

    Adam

    1. Adam –

      Glad you’re going to get to check it out! The label specifically flags this as a 4R Gift Shop release. The last I heard in April-ish was that there were two barrels for this program and once they were gone, they were gone. Then again, I’ve seen periodic mentions that people have stopped in and picked them up. Unfortunately I don’t really know much beyond that. I thought I’d heard someone say there was a rumor of another barrel being selected, but this is a fuzzy recollection of an innuendo.

      I guess it’s a roll of the dice? You might want to hit Straightbourbon.com and ask there if you draw a blank; perhaps someone has a bottle bunkered that they’d be willing to part with. I revisited this one this weekend and it’s really a hell of a great whiskey. I know old stocks are hard to come by, but there’s something to be said for letting a handful of barrels age out…

      Best of luck!

  5. Tim,

    Thanks so much for the speedy response. I just got off the phone with the 4R Gift Shop. They don’t have any special bottles at this time, though they will have the 2012 Limited Edition (not sure if that’s small batch, single barrel, or both), at around the time I’ll be down there.

    The woman I spoke to also mentioned that although they don’t release these special Gift Shop bottles on any precise schedule, they do tend to come out with something around the time of the Bourbon Festival. So if you know anybody in the area, you might ask them to look into it at around that time.

    Happy hunting, and let me know if you get a line on something!

    Thanks,

    Adam

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