Over the last several months we've been bouncing back and forth between a score of delicious barrel-sample bottles of Four Roses Bourbon. We narrowed it down to two, each a distinct recipe. Now you get to come taste both and pick a favorite (or not). It's like Choose Your Own Adventure, but with booze. In the past we've visited the distillery to select and purchase a private barrel, but this time, I have to say, it was pretty nice to have the factory come to us.
Fanatics will know about the ten proprietary recipes Four Roses uses (newcomers read here). Basically, they have two grain bills and five separate isolated yeast strains, which in combination give them a multitude of styles.
Quickly, they have one recipe that uses 35% rye (labeled "B") and another that uses only 20% rye (labeled "E"). The rest is more or less corn with a dash of malted barley. Their yeast strains are each labeled by a letter as well, and generally denote the sorts of flavors that one can expect them to produce.
This is the recipe that is standard in their flagship "Single Barrel" offering. It's bottled at 100 proof (50% ABV) and is renowned for its balance of hardiness, sweetness and spice. Ever consistent, the OBSV is an old favorite. This time they sent us a total of ten samples (each from a different barrel) and eventually, after much discussion and delay, we picked a favorite.
As I've mentioned before, it's always amazing how different these barrels can be. I liken it to siblings in a family: certain prominent features persist, like wide-set eyes or a prominent nose, but each has a totally distinct personality. In my estimation this is pretty classic Four Roses Bourbon—dusty aromatics, rich fruit core, elegant spiciness and a lingering finish. But what set it apart is how all the elements come together in this barrel in nearly perfect proportion.
This is a recipe they reserve mostly for their older whiskeys. The barrel we chose came to us after twelve years, eleven months on the rack. That's some old ass whiskey! Because of its age and placement in the warehouse, and whatever other alchemy goes on in that place, this barrel lost over 70% of its original contents to evaporation. So in the end, it came out at 123 proof (61.5% ABV) and we only got 84 bottles from it. But I'm here to tell you: what it lacks in quantity it far and away makes up for in taste. Very complex.
Nose in the glass, I'm immediately overwhelmed by rich aromas of tobacco barn and creamed corn. The thing about this whiskey to note is that it's very high proof and yet eminently drinkable. The palate has an inviting sweetness that gives way quickly to a big spicy tobacco component. The flavors keep developing all the way through, ending with a slightly smokey and very dry, almost Scotch-like finish. Holy cow!