Here is the last installment of my Four Roses recipe roundup—try to contain your excitement. On the advice of more knowledgeable people, I’m ending the series with low and high-rye variations on the K yeast strain, which is said to be their spiciest. Let’s get right to it—I’ll have more comments on the entire exercise at the end.
Four Roses 10, OESK (55.6%; single barrel for Beach Liquors; from a bottle split)
Nose: Toasted oak and cinnamon up top; pine and sour plum below. Gets quite spicy as it sits, with some nose-tingling black pepper and red chilli flakes in there too; some salt too. Softens up with more time and more fruit begins to poke through (apricot) and there’s some light toffee too. Fruitier with water but also more herbal.
Palate: Leads with the fruit (some lemon here too) and then the spice and oak come crashing in—the oak is not tannic or astringent. Drinkable at full strength but it’s a little hot and tight. Gets fruitier with time here too. With water it gets quite herbal (dill, sage).
Finish: Long. Spicy and herbal; the salt pops back up here at the end.
Comments: This is indeed spicy as advertised. Quite nicely balanced though—at least without water. Probably a bit too spicy and herbal for me overall but a very good example of this style of bourbon. If I had a bottle I’d probably hold the water.
Rating: 85 points.
Nose: Quite similar to the other but with less fruit and more salt. As it sits it gets fruitier and more herbal. There’s a dusty quality to it too. Fruitier and stickier with water and then the rye bite pops out again.
Palate: Oak and spice (cinnamon and pepper again); not much fruit here either at first—other than that it’s quite like the other. Also quite drinkable despite the higher strength. Gets spicier and more herbal with time and eventually fruitier (a bit of plum, some orange) and sweeter. Water emphasizes the spice again (cinnamon).
Finish: Medium. Not much new here. More rye with water and then more oak—the finish is much longer now.
Comments: Basically, a more intense version of the OESF. I liked this one better with water, and on the whole.
Rating: 86 points.
Conclusions: I don’t know how coherent this exercise was as a whole. I could list the barrels in order of my scores (I think the OESQ was my highest) but I’m not sure that any of these barrels are representative of their recipes. I also couldn’t say with great confidence that if I didn’t know which barrel was which recipe, and what the expected profile of that recipe is, that I could have told them apart very successfully. This is, no doubt, largely a matter of my being not very well-versed in bourbon; but I have also been told by more knowledgeable people that with the expansion of Four Roses’ single barrel program over the years there’s been something of a regression to a mean—that the recipes were more distinct when fewer barrels, selected to exemplify the recipe’s characteristics, were being released. To truly gauge the qualities of each recipe, and my preferences among them, I’d have to taste far more of each.
And frankly, I’m not interested in doing that. And that’s only because what the distribution of scores (almost all in the 84-87 point range) shows is that a randomly selected Four Roses barrel of any recipe is likely to be quite good—at my level of interest in bourbon that’s good enough information. What’s also good information for me, personally, is that my expectations didn’t map on to my scores. I expected I’d like the OE recipes more—as I tend to prefer lower-rye mashbills in bourbon—but that wasn’t consistently the case: while the OESQ was my top score, the two lowest were also OE recipes (the OESO and the OESV), and I had three OB recipes right behind the OESQ. And I liked both versions of the K and F strains, which emphasize spicy and herbal notes respectively (the qualities of high-rye mashbills that often get a bit much for me). So I guess I’ve learnt that my expected preferences don’t mean much either.
Anyway, I’d be interested in hearing from others on the question of how distinct the recipes are or aren’t in your experience. Did I just luck into a series of unrepresentative barrels whose profiles were clustered together? Am I just not very adept at parsing the narrower band of flavours and aromas of bourbon? Or does any of this reflect your own experience as well?