I know very little about bourbon and so will suggest that if you want to find out more about Four Roses you visit StraightBourbon.com or blogs such as the Sour Mash Manifesto, Scotch & Ice Cream, Sku’s Recent Eats or Chuck Cowdery’s blog. All I know really is that, along with Buffalo Trace, Four Roses present the most successful alternatives to the big name bourbons and Tennessee whiskies in the market; and that they make bourbons from a number of “recipes” (the variables are the mash bills and the type of yeast, I think)–this limited edition small batch is a vatting of four of those recipes as indicated above.
While I’ve been trying over the last year and a half to give myself a bourbon education–and this has largely been facilitated by samples from people who have far more experience with bourbon than I do–I don’t really have a well-developed ability to make distinctions in bourbon or correlate particular qualities I find in them with aspects of their production. I do know what I like though and I really like this Four Roses bottling. I’m not going out on much of a limb, of course: this was many bourbon mavens’ pick for the best bourbon of 2012. I found it sitting (along with many other siblings) on the shelves of a prominent Minneapolis store last November and having just read a rave review that morning I decided to chance my arm. I opened it almost immediately and was very happy indeed. A few months later this was the recipient of the highest aggregate scores in our local tasting group’s American whiskey night (we’re mostly scotch drinkers but there are a couple of bourbon aficionados in there too). As I’ve now decided to drink it down pretty quickly here is a formal review:
Four Roses, Small Batch Ltd. Ed., 2012 (55.7%; from my own bottle)
Nose: Floral, honeyed, bright. Dark rum, light molasses, cinnamon, vanilla. After a minute or so the wood comes floating through, light and polished. With a little more time, darker sweetness emerges and an intense fruitiness: raisins, apricot jam made with brown sugar, figs; some toffee too and some dark honey. The wood is always there, anchoring the other aromas but not being obtrusive at all. Really very lovely. Gets a little drier with time and rye notes get stronger. A touch of water draws out some maple sugar and toffee.
Palate: Incredibly smooth at 55.7%: rich toasted wood and brown sugar with cinnamon and nutmeg and all-spice. I’m getting stronger rye notes on the palate from the get-go than I did on the nose (now I wait for someone who knows how to read the “recipes” on the label to tell me that this particular batch is very low on the rye mashbills). With time it becomes much drier–like maple sryup mixed with balsamic vinegar. And there’s more tingly wood spice too now. Interestingly, the nose went from bright/light to dark aromas, and the palate has moved from darker flavours at first sip to brighter flavours following. With more time, there’s some fruit–apricot again, and maybe a hint of dried orange peel. Water makes the fruit a tad muskier and marries it fully to the dry, floral notes. It also pushes the wood back a little.
Finish: Long, spicy, dry. After a while the fruit begins to hang around.
Comments: This is great stuff. I’ve not had very many bourbons, and I’ve certainly not had very many high-end bourbons but this is among the very best I’ve ever had. It’s certainly a bourbon to give to single malt drinkers who say they don’t like bourbon. I’ve read some reports of the whisky falling apart if the bottle stays open too long but mine is as good now as it was when I first opened it last November (and it has sat at the halfway mark since late March). Still. I don’t think this will last much longer, and I can only hope I’ll be able to get a bottle or two of the 2013 release.
Rating: 90 points.