Review: Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch 125th Anniversary Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey / by Jason Hambrey

13-18 Years; Charred Virgin Oak
Distiller Four Roses (Lawrenceburg, Kentucky)

This product is a blend of three different bourbons – an 18 year old “OBSV” recipe (high rye mashbill, with a yeast with “delicate fruitiness”), a 13 year old “OBSK” (high rye, with a full body and spiciness), and a 13 year old “OESK” (low rye mashbill, with a spicy yeast). It is also bottled at barrel strength, non chill-filtered (none of the fatty compounds are filtered out, as typical with whisky), and came out at a very reasonable price. Four Roses could have charged twice what they did and they would have had no difficulty at all selling every bottle…whisky is that popular right now. I am very glad to both have gotten a bottle and not had to pay an absurd amount to get it.

Four Roses matures their bourbon in single story warehouses, unlike most of the bourbon distilleries in Kentucky which have multi-level warehouses. This means that there is less temperature variation in the warehouse from top-to-bottom and thus barrel strength here is not much more than 50%, as compared to some distilleries which release barrel strength bourbons which hit close to or above 70%. Lower temperature means less evaporation through the cask, less ABV rise, and a bit slower maturation.

This whisky was received extremely well, and Jim Rutledge, the master distiller at Four Roses, himself said that it “could be the best Bourbon we’ve ever put in a bottle” – an impressive statement, particularly given the fabulous releases recently from Four Roses which have started many talking about the distillery producing the best bourbon in the world at the moment. 12,500 bottles were produced.

Review (2014)

  • Batch: 2013

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2013

Nose: Rich corn comes right out, of great quality – somehow I find Four Roses does an incredible job of letting the grains shine brilliantly in their products. Creamy, with lots of fruit….Dried cherries, dried blueberries, dried raspberries, cherry juice, dried apricot, caramel, orange, green apple skins, oak, honey, pencil shavings, leather, menthol – I find it takes some time to open up- quite dense at first, but opens up. Vanilla, too, of a growing quality. Interestingly, after some time the creaminess increases and the fruitiness and the creaminess makes it not difficult to imagine that you’re smelling cherry cheesecake rather than bourbon. With the addition of a bit of water, the creaminess comes out even more, with more intense vanilla, more charred oak, and some more grainy, malty character.

Taste: Fruity, with cherry juice and lots of flavour, and some light tannic structure too. There is a nice creaminess to it, along with a touch of smoke, dried apricot, and some cacao and honey. It is interesting – the corn seems to take the start and then the rye seems to take over before the rich corn has the final word. The creaminess continues, and there’s a bit of a candied nature like cherry licorice. This is full of control and flavour – even sipping the smallest amount gives your palate an incredible journey. Surprisingly, given the age of the bourbons in this, it isn’t very oaky – it’s still vibrant and fruity, though the oak is of course still present. It does pretty well with the addition of some water – usually I don’t like adding water to whisky, even if they are at high ABV, because I like the intensity of flavour and usually I don’t find I taste more with water. But in this one, a bit of water cuts a bit into the sweetness, seems to add a more viscous texture, and brings the whisky to embrace even more the integration of the smoky oak into the mix, and I very much like this effect.

Finish: Oak at first, then fading away, then some nice creamy notes, dried apricot, cherries, vanilla, and even some peanuts. The oak eventually comes back, and endures a long time, and it is complex too – I really like the smoky nature of it and the bit of earthiness in it too. It also changes shape a bit even after some time, sometimes a bit spicier, sometimes a bit fruitier, which is very nice.

This is a great bourbon – there’s lots of fruit, spice, texture…it’s more on the creamy and honey side of bourbon rather than a woody or spicy side.

Exceptional (3% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date receive this, my highest recommendation).

Value: Very high, based on $100.