Last week, we were delighted to be invited to the UK launch of the latest bourbon whiskey release from the Four Roses distillery. It is located in the town of Lawrenceburg, which is in the famous American whiskey producing state of Kentucky. The event was held at the award winning Hawksmoor gourmet burger restaurant and was hosted by the Four Roses UK Brand Ambassador, Dan Priesmann. There we were treated to a whistle-stop tasting of the Four Roses range, before sampling this new Small Batch Limited Edition with a gut-busting chilli cheese burger (or a medley of butternut squash and vegetables in Karen's case!) and a plate load of chunky chips.
Four Roses was founded by Paul Jones Jnr. and first produced whiskey in 1888. It moved to the current Lawrenceburg site in 1910. The distillery is currently owned by the Kirin Brewery Company from Japan and is one of Kentucky's largest distilleries, producing eight million litres of whiskey a year. Much of this is released under the Four Roses name although, as with the other Kentucky distilleries, they also release whiskies and bourbons under different names. The most well known such example made at Four Roses is Bulleit bourbon.
Four Roses is unique amongst bourbon producers in that they use two different grain recipes (one with a recipe mix of 75% corn, 20% rye and 5% malted barley and the other with a mix of 60% corn, 35% rye and 5% malted barley) and five different strains of yeast for production. The result of this is that they end up with 10 different versions of Four Roses - each grain recipe is exposed to one of the five yeast strains and the resulting 10 bourbons have differing characteristics. To make each final bourbon in the range, they use a different combination of the 10 - the regular and best selling Yellow Label has some of all 10 included, the Small Batch uses just four of them and the Single Barrel uses just one which is specially selected for its supreme quality.
Details of the bottling
This Small Batch Limited Edition has been described by Jim Rutledge, the Master Distiller at Four Roses, as "the best whiskey that I have ever made". That is some statement, considering that he has worked at the distillery for over 40 years! The Limited Edition consists of just 12 specially selected casks and therefore numbers are very low - most are destined for the American market with just 120 bottles making it to the UK, which is the only place outside of the USA where it is being released. The bourbon has been made by combining the 12 casks, which are from three of the 10 recipes. These have been aged for roughly twice as long as the regular range and it contains whiskey of 10,11 and 15 years of age. It is bottled at 55.1% ABV and will retail in the UK for £70.
Our tasting notes
The colour is a warm orange amber and the nose is expressive but gentle. There are plenty of vanilla and sweet oak aromas to start with and these are then joined by a lovely combination of notes - dark dried fruits (think of prunes), toasted almonds, cinnamon spice, bittersweet cereal grains, dried coconut and orange bitters. There is also a bitter charred whiff of charcoal. On the palate this feels creamy and mouthcoating. There is plenty of initial wood spice (imagine cinnamon, oak and sandal wood), which then softens to reveal other flavours. First come notes of spiced orange zest, caramel and fresh almonds. These are softened further by some vanilla and coconut. Then some bittersweet characteristics start adding depth and complexity - think of robust cereals and some tobacco/cigar leaf, which give a pleasant and positive slightly musty edge. The finish is very long, with the high alcohol level helping with this. There is a lovely mix of drying wood spices (the cinnamon and oak again), bittersweet cereals and distinct tangy orange zest.
What's the verdict?
This a delicious whiskey that is powerful, expressive and intense. It wakes up your senses from the moment that you come in to contact with it - it smells warming and comforting, it feels great in your mouth and slowly reveals its complex nature and it lingers on your palate long after you have swallowed it. It is a fine example of a well made and sympathetically matured bourbon and a whiskey to be savoured and sipped.