November 26, 2013

War of the Roses

We've been wanting to review Four Roses since we started SmokyBeast.  But, being the big fans that we are, we wanted to do something special.  This is something special.

Four Roses Limited Edition Whiskies: Single Barrel 2011, 2012, & 2013;  Small Batch 2012 and 125th Anniversary

The Standard Line

Before we get into all that beautiful whiskey, let's take a step back.  Four Roses offers a line of standard expressions that are widely available, great buys for the money, and well worth your time and interest.  The standard line includes three bourbons:

The Yellow Label is a perfect mixing bourbon that comes in under $20.

The Small Batch, at around $35, is a very nice versatile bottle that fits mixing, rocks, or sipping.

Our favorite of the standard bottles is the Single Barrel, which comes in at 100 proof for around $40.  It's always a great purchase, but particularly the private barrels that are picked up by local liquor stores.  Some of the really excellent ones come at full cask strength, like the one that's available this week from our friends at DrinkUpNy.

Yellow is the New Black

But the real glory comes from Four Roses' Limited Edition releases.  There are two LE releases every year: a Limited Edition Single Barrel in the spring, and a Limited Edition Small Batch every fall.  The Single Barrels are hand-picked treats from Four Roses' vast troves of barrels.  Each release is a specific recipe out of their ten distinct secret bourbon sauces.

As awesome as the LE Single Barrels are, the Limited Edition Small Batch has been the absolute runaway franchise hit.  Four Roses' Master Distiller Jim Rutledge hand picks and blends single barrels together each year to make the LE Small Batch.  Last year's 2012 LE Small Batch won huge acclaim from reviewers.  Based on all that extreme hype, when Four Roses announced that this year's LE Small Batch would be a celebration of the distillery's one hundred and twenty-fifth anniversary, people really started to lose their minds.  It rocketed up into the same league as Pappy Van Winkle, jumping off the shelves & being pre-ordered on allocation and selling out before it even arrived.

Twenty Roses Holiday Marathon

So, to kick it up a notch and really get into the holiday spirit, SmokyBeast reached out far and wide into the bourbon cosmos and came up with a lineup of the last five Four Roses Limited Edition releases: The 2011, 2012, and 2013 LE Single Barrels, the legendary 2012 LE Small Batch, AND the newly released and impossible to obtain 2013 125th Anniversary LE Small Batch.

We assembled another crack squad of whiskey heavyweights (building on our posse from the now legendary Michter's tasting), recruited from the far corners of the Metropolitan Tri-State Area with a singular shared mission:  To taste all twenty of these roses and not stop drinking until we had unanimously declared a victor.  The panel consisted of your faithful narrators, hubby & wifey, our resident whiskey historian Joshua "Cap'n Coop" Feldman of Coopered Tot, and the section chief of our single malt & fine food division: the Mistress of Malt, the Babe of Barley, the Islay Gourmet -  Susannah B from What Tastes Good.  Equipped only with our trusty Glencairn crystal, a few rations of pita crisps and tzatziki dip, and facing several hours of high-test cask strength bourbon, we hunkered down and got serious.  For our holiday mini-marathon, we'll be releasing one review each day of Thanksgiving week and dropping the final winner on Sunday.

Part One: Four Roses 2011 Limited Edition Single Barrel

So here we go.  First up is the 2011 Limited Edition Single Barrel.  What do we know about this beast?

It's a cask strength, 58.9% (118 proof!) powerhouse.

The age is 12 Years.

The recipe is OBSQ.  That means:

O - It's distilled originally by Four Roses.

B - The mashbill (recipe) is:
60% Corn
35% Rye
5% Malted Barley

S - It's a straight bourbon.

Q - Refers to the specific yeast strain used.  The Q yeast is described as: Slightly Fruity, Spicy, Medium Body

Tasting Notes

Appearance:  Light copper.

Nose:  There are a lot of herbal / floral notes going on here.  Wet grass and spring daisies, backed by some serious heat: mustard seed, anise, and pink peppercorn.  A few drops of water bring out some sweetness - lemon drops, cherries, and honeycomb.

Palate:  It's a big spirit and needs proper time to open up and a benefits highly from a splash of water.  Once water and bourbon combine and settle we get a rich and spicy blend of chiles, peppers, herbs, and flowers.

Finish:  A long finish for a bourbon led by a warm belly.  A perfect warm up and beginning to our tasting on this cold night.  There is a hefty does of spirit warmth, some medicinal notes of mint and menthol, and a nice combination of the heavy spice and florals.

Review:  A fierce beast.  This is definitely showcasing the spice and balls of Four Roses.

Tune in tomorrow for War of the Roses Part II: 2012 Limited Edition Single Barrel!  /SB


  1. I have to admit that I'm pretty damn excited to follow this all week. I didn't find the 2011 LE single barrel, myself, and I'm disappointed I didn't. Out of curiosity, was it an OESQ or an OBSQ?

    1. was an OBSQ, despite initial myopia (too many sippin' glasses and not enough readin' glasses!!). thanks to numerous readers for the correction!!!

  2. I will now only answer to Mistress of Malt. Ha!

    Love that you're releasing one review per day. The tension builds!

  3. Great reviews, really enjoy your blog. I just bought a bottle of the 2013 Small batch in the UK, which is shipping to my cousin in Ireland and in turn to me. The things your reviews make us do!

    1. Thanks David. That bottle is definitely worth shipping to the four corners of the earth. Be warned however, great bourbon is addictive!

  4. The 2011 Single Barrel was a bit of an odd one which Jim Rutledge explained at a Four Roses event (note that this story is second hand since I read about it on Reddit). Turns out the barrels Jim picked went to Europe because the bosses wanted to increase distribution there. Unfortunately Jim was also out of the country when replacement OBSQ barrels of similar age were picked for the US. As such Jim didn't know until later when he got a taste and found the bourbon to be a bit hotter than what he picked. This makes me wonder if anyone will locate a European 2011 Single Barrel to taste and compare.