Four Roses Small Batch, Ltd. Ed. 2017, Al Young 50th Anniversary

Almost exactly a year after my review of the 2016 Four Roses Small Batch, Ltd. Edition, here is my review of their 2017 release. a limited edition small batch release from last year to honour the 50 years of service of brand ambassador Al Young. This is not the annual release Small Batch Ltd. Edition, which came out later that year. In that series I’ve previously reviewed the 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2014 releases as well; if anyone wants to send me samples of the 2011, 2015 and 2016 releases so I can round out my reviews for the decade so far, please get in touch.

Since American distilleries tell us these things I can tell you that the Al Young release was composed in the following proportions from Four Roses’ various recipes: 5% 23 yo OBSV, 25%15 yo OBSK, 50% 13 yo OESV, and 20% 12 yo OBSF. In other words, 50% high and low rye recipes (the B and E parts), 55% from mashbills using light, fruity yeast (V), 25% from a mashbill using light, spicy yeast (K), and 20% from a mashbill using herbal yeast (F). And if it had an age statement it would be a 12 yo. What does it all add up to? Let’s find out.  Continue reading


Four Roses Small Batch, Ltd. Ed. 2016

Four Roses Small Batch, Ltd. Ed. 2016
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.  Continue reading

Four Roses: OESK + OBSK

Four Roses 10, OESK, for Beach Liquors
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.  Continue reading

Four Roses: OESF + OBSF

Four Roses 10, OESF (for Prestige Liquors)
My planned Four Roses recipe roundup went on an unplanned hiatus after the first three entries in November. I’ll be finishing up now before the year is out. To refresh your memory, I’m reviewing paired single casks of the OE (low-rye) and OB (high-rye) mashbills made with a different yeast strain each time. I started out with OESQ/OBSQ, went from there to the OESV/OBSV, and then to the OESO/OBSO. The original plan had been to do the K strain next and end with the F. However, people who know better recommended I flip the order of the last two, and so here I am now with the OESF/OBSF pair. As with the previous pairs, both of these bottles come from single cask selections made by liquor stores. This series got off to a very good start for me with the Q strain; I liked the V and O a little less. Here’s hoping the F will be closer to the Q casks in quality. The F strain is said to be the most herbal one, and I’m interested to see if that means that this will be the most rye’ish of the recipes. Let’s see how it goes.  Continue reading

Four Roses: OESO + OBSO

Four Roses 10, OESO, Liquor Barn Selection
Here is the third entry in my Four Roses recipe roundup. Already posted this week: head-to-head reviews of OESQ and OBSQ barrels and of OESV and OBSV barrels. I really liked both barrels of the the Q, preferring the low-rye OE selection a little more. I was less excited about both V barrels, preferring the high-rye OB in that case. What will be the story with this pairing, which features the O yeast strain? Four Roses says it imparts rich fruit, light vanilla, caramel and full-bodied texture—that should put it right in my wheelhouse. Let’s see.

Once again, these are both store selections. They’re also both 10 year olds, though the OBSO is at a whopping 60.6% abv to the OESO’s 52.6%!

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Four Roses: OESV + OBSV

Four Roses 9, OESV, for Crown Liquors
Here is the second installment of my Four Roses recipe roundup. For details on what I’m doing check out this post from last week. And see here for my head-to-head review of two single barrels, one low-rye (OE) and one high-rye (OB) made with the “Q” yeast. Today’s head-to-head features the “V” yeast, which is said to impart light fruit, light vanilla, caramel and a creamy texture. In today’s pairing the OESV is at a higher strength and is two years younger but I’m starting with it anyway as I expect the higher-rye recipe will be bolder in general (and it’s not like 57.6% is very much lower anyway). Today’s barrels are also store selections—I’m not sure where these stores are located or what their reputations are vis a vis single barrel picks. Anyway, I really liked yesterday’s OESQ/OBSQ pairing; I’m hoping these will at least match them. Florin (the man who filmed the moon landing) predicted that I would like the “V” yeast recipes the best but he also enjoys plum brandy so who knows what that is worth.  Continue reading

Four Roses: OESQ + OBSQ

Four Roses 10, OESQ, for the Cove
Here is the first of my head-to-head reviews of Four Roses’ various bourbon recipes. You can read far more detail about this than you care about in my post about this last week. Basically, I’m going to be comparing Four Roses low and high-rye recipes in pairs—each review will feature a comparison of the OE (low rye) and OB (high rye) mashbill with the same strain of yeast (there are five yeast strains and so there’ll be five posts with paired reviews). At least in theory, I should be able to get some sense of how the mashbill interacts with the yeast. All the reviews will feature pairs of single barrel releases selected by various stores. In this case the two barrels are of the same age (more or less; in addition to the age in years, Four Roses includes additional months but I’ve disregarded that). They’re also at fairly similar strengths. Doubtless there are other variables as well (warehouse location, for example) and it’s also unsound to take any single barrel as representative. With those caveats in mind let’s jump in.

Oh yes, the “Q” yeast strain is said to impart floral notes. Continue reading

Four Roses Recipe Roundup

Four Roses Recipe Roundup
No, I’m not cooking with Four Roses. I’ve recently acquired single barrel samples of all 10 of Four Roses’ bourbon recipes and will be tasting and writing them up soon. This post is to invite your feedback on my proposed tasting plan.

First, for those who don’t know: Four Roses uses two mashbills and five yeast strains. This means they have five recipes for each of their mashbills. This recipe is indicated on bottles (where relevant) by a four letter code. All the codes have O as the first letter and S as the third letter. The “O” identifies the distillery and the “S” indicates that it’s a straight whiskey. The second letter indicates the mashbill: “B” for the high-rye mashbill, which is 60% corn, 35% rye and 5% malted barley; and “E” for the low-rye mashbill, which is 75% corn, 20% rye and 5% malted barley. So all Four Roses recipe codes will start either OBS or OES. The fourth letter indicates the strain of yeast used. There are five of these: “F” imparts herbal notes; “K” imparts light spiciness, light caramel and full-bodied texture; “O” imparts rich fruit, light vanilla, caramel and full-bodied texture; “Q” imparts floral notes; and “V” imparts light fruit, light vanilla, caramel and a creamy texture.  Continue reading

Four Roses Single Barrel (1789b for Paws & Claws)

Four Roses, Paws & Claws
Let’s keep the bourbon reviews going a little longer, and let’s stick with the highly useful reviews of bourbons that are no longer available and were not widely available in the first place. This Four Roses single barrel was another bottling by the secret society 1789b—they who are the keepers of the True Cross and guardians of the location of the only known copy of the suppressed Hardy Boys mystery, The Secret of the Warren Commission. No, the “Paws & Claws” bit doesn’t refer to the exciting activities they get up to at group meetings on full moon nights: I’m told proceeds from this bottling (or some fraction thereof) benefited the animal rescue group, Paws & Claws. That’s a good thing.

On the label it says this is 9 years and 8 months old. That’s a longer way of saying it’s 9 years old.  Continue reading

Four Roses Small Batch Ltd. Ed., 2014

Four Roses Small Batch, Ltd. Ed. 2014
Sku likes to make fun of my habit of posting pictures of sample bottles alongside reviews and I suspect he takes particular pleasure in giving me unfeasibly crappily labeled sample bottles for just that reason when we do swaps. See evidence at left. But enough of Sku’s mistreatment of me and on to the whisky!

I’ve had three of Four Roses’ ever-popular annual limited edition releases of their small batch series. I loved the 2012 (as everyone did) and thought the 2010 and 2013 were pretty damned good too (I’m not an exactly a rebel, flying in the face of received wisdom here). Word on the street has been less enthusiastic about the most recent iteration. Is this because it is really not as good? Or is it because fickle camp followers like Sku have moved on to new crushes such as Woodford Reserve? I will be the judge. You are welcome.

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Four Roses Small Batch Ltd. Ed. 2013

I have previously reviewed the 2010 and 2012 releases of Four Roses’ annual limited edition release of their Small Batch series. The 2012 release was one of the most lauded bourbons of that year and this edition, commemorating the 125th anniversary of the distillery, debuted to no less acclaim. It was also much harder to obtain. I found the 2012 edition on the shelf of a store I wandered into looking for something else, and there were many bottles still on the shelf when I left with mine. For the 2013 release, however, you had to promise your firstborn child just to get on a list for a raffle and as ours was already fully toilet-trained and sleeping through the night it didn’t seem like a good deal. As bourbon in any case is not really my major obsession in the world of whisky, and as I am inordinately lazy, I was only too happy to leave the chase to those with more energy and desire (I haven’t even bothered to look around for the 2014). Fortunately, thanks to a sample swap I get to taste it anyway.  Continue reading

Four Roses Small Batch Ltd. Ed. 2010

Four Roses Small Batch Ltd. Ed. 2010The cult of the Four Roses Small Batch Limited Edition was a little slower to form than those of the annual Van Winkle and BTAC releases but it is now in full effect. I have previously reviewed the 2012 Limited Edition which, like yesterday’s Pappy 15, I purchased off the shelf in a Minneapolis store with no fuss at all (leaving many unclaimed behind it). Last year’s edition, however, I didn’t even see anywhere in the region and as I no longer chase hard to find bottles I don’t expect I’ll ever own another again. Luckily, I do know people willing to share and so here is a review of a Four Roses Small Batch Limited Edition from 2010, well before anybody was getting over-excited about this whisky.

Four Roses Small Batch, Limited Edition, 2010 (55.1%; from a sample from a friend)

Nose: A little dusty at first but then some rich caramel and orange peel and a mix of dark honey and light molasses come wafting up. Gets more and more expansive with air and time and now there’s polished wood and a rich cherry/citrus glaze and some mushroom liquor too. Just a bit of cold black tea as well. With water the fruit expands and there’s some apricot too now and some dark buttered toast with marmalade. Continue reading

Four Roses Small Batch Ltd. Ed. 2012

Four Roses Small Batch

I wish all distilleries would list their vatting recipes on their labels.

I know very little about bourbon and so will suggest that if you want to find out more about Four Roses you visit 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.
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