Might as well make it all bourbon for this week’s whisky reviews. This is the 2016 release of Four Roses’ annual Small Batch Limited Edition release. In the last four years or so this series has gone from easily findable to not-very easily findable. I purchased a bottle of the 2012 release at a store in the Twin Cities, leaving many on the shelf behind it. Shortly thereafter it was swept up in trophy bourbon hysteria and I’ve not seen a bottle in the wild. I got this one in Europe, without too much fuss, at the original retail price.
This is the first Four Roses Small Batch, Ltd. Ed. that’s entirely the work of Brent Elliott, their current master distiller, who replaced the recently retired legend, Jim Rutledge. Well, “replaced” in a payroll sense: it remains to be seen if he will be able to carve out the kind of career Rutledge did. For his first Small Batch Ltd. Ed. he vatted three recipes: a 12 yo OESO, a 12 yo OBSV and a 16 yo OESK. Having memorized my Four Roses Recipe Roundup reviews, you know that this means that two of the three components are from low-rye recipes and that the yeast strains used are the fruitier O and V and the spicier K. Of course, we don’t know what the ratio of the components are and so it’s hard to predict if higher rye of the OBSV will play a big role or if the older OESK will impart both more fruit and greater oak impact. Anyway, let’s see what it’s like.
Four Roses Small Batch, Ltd. Ed. 2016 (55.6%; from my own bottle)
Nose: Honey, butterscotch and toasted oak with some light marmalade in the background. The oak gets dustier as it sits and the sticky citrus mixes with some plum sauce. With a lot more time spicier rye notes begins to pop out on the nose. Water pushes the oak and spice back a bit and pulls out more of the butterscotch and orange.
Palate: Sweet arrival and then there’s a big burst of rye spice. The oak is a bit sharp as I swallow. Prickly but drinkable at full strength—the texture is a bit thin. Gets spicier as it goes. With time it gets a little fruitier (orange and apricot) but the oak is still the story here. Still oaky here with water, but there’s better balance now.
Finish: Long. Pepper and oak. As on the palate, far less oaky here with water and some of the sticky fruit hangs around longer.
Comments: I have to say this is the least impressive of the Four Roses Small Batch releases I’ve yet tried—at least straight out of the bottle; I’ll be interested to see if it gets better with some air and time. I like the nose but it lacks intensity and on the palate and finish it’s just a bit too spicy and oaky for me (though not very tannic). Frankly, I’d take three bottles of the Henry McKenna Bottled in Bond for the retail price of one of these (and I’m happy that I didn’t pay over the retail price). I liked it better with water.
Rating: 86 points.
These vary greatly from year to year with 2012 and 2013 being the most revered ones typically. The 2014 was ok and the 2015 was a quite a bit better. I agree that the 2016 is good but not great. Interestingly enough, in doing some blind tastings of four roses bottlings a year or so ago with a buddy of mine, the 2012 Small Batch actually under performed against a handful of store pick Single Barrels. That really changed our perception of some of these vaunted older bottlings.
Thanks. I remember Tim Read saying way back when that the 2012 edition fell off dramatically after the bottle had been open for a while—I wonder if that might have played into your tasting results. I went through my bottle very fast so can’t confirm if that happened with mine as well.