Conservatively, I would say that 87% of the Four Roses Single Barrel depletions at any bar I work at are due to it ending up in my mouth.
Conversely, my Partner-In-Bars, Dave Purcell, would rather sit in the pool with a bottle of the Four Roses Small Batch. I’ve sourced Four Roses Barrel Strength Single Barrels and have dived into the history of the distillery in the past. All of this is to say that I am a big fan of Four Roses and became very excited when they announced their first permanent product line extension in over 12 years. And immediately became wary when they announced that it would be called the Small Batch Select.
Four Roses is one of the two great modern distilleries to emerge from the collapse of the old Seagram’s Empire. While Four Roses languished as a bottom tier blended whiskey for the later half of the 20th century it quickly became a staple of the new Bourbon Boom in the ‘00s when the distillery was purchased by the Japanese beverage conglomerate Kirin. Under the leadership of Master Distiller Jim Rutledge Four Roses became one of the most sought after Bourbon’s in the world. This was in part due to the process that Four Roses uses to make their whiskey.
Four Roses makes 10 different Bourbon recipes. And they’re all coded so you can tell what whiskey is being used in every bottle. For every code there are four letters, the first and the third will always be the same. The first letter will always be ‘O’, signifying that it was made at the Four Roses Distillery in Lawrenceburg, KY and the third letter will always be “S” meaning that it is Straight Bourbon.
The second letter will then signify that mash bill. Four Roses utilizes two different mash bills:
Mash bill E, which is 75% corn, 20% rye, and 5% malted barley
Mash bill B, which is 60% corn, 35% rye, and 5% malted barley.
These mash bills are then fermented with one of five unique yeast strains, which is designated by the fourth letter:
K – rich in spiciness, full bodied
O – floral, spicy, medium bodied
Q – slightly fruity, spicy, medium bodied
F – herbal
V -delicate fruit
The Single Barrel is always OBSV, high rye and delicate fruit. The Small Batch is a blend of four: OBSK, OESK, OBSO, OESO, and the standard Yellow Label is a blend of all ten. Special releases throughout the years have used different mash bills in different amounts.
My initial hesitation upon hearing about the Small Batch Select was two fold. I’m just not as big of a fan of the Small batch as the Single Barrel and I didn’t know if it would be different enough from the Small Batch to warrant a new extension. So, what makes it different?
First up is the proof. Bottled at 104 Proof and Non-Chill Filtered the Small Batch Select is hotter than the Single Barrel which comes in at 100 Proof. Second, while there is no age statement Four Roses has said that it is a blend of 6-7 year old Bourbons. Lastly, that blend is a blend of six of the recipes: OBSV, OBSK, OBSF, OESV, OESK, and OESF. We still don’t know the proportions, but this brings in distinctly different flavors from the standard Small Batch.
NOSE: Baking Spice, red fruit, and oak
PALETTE: Vanilla, apricot, cinnamon, oak, and dark chocolate
FINISH: Medium and dry, tobacco and leather
This fourth Four Roses is truly distinct from its siblings. Enough to warrant its entry to the family. My initial skepticism came from the name yet upon further research and tasting its clear that this new entry is vastly different from the established small batch while still being a technical small batch.
It’s also important to note that this is new Master Distiller Brent Elliott’s first permanent edition to the Four Roses line up since taking over in 2015. Coupled with previous limited releases like the Al Young 50th Anniversary and the 130th Anniversary Small Batch I think we’re getting a sense of how Brent’s palette differs from Jim’s.
While this won’t replace the Single Barrel for me it is a worthy addition that fans of Four Roses will love but is also a great introduction for new comers to the brand.