Each September, the Four Roses Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, releases a limited edition, small batch bourbon. Each expression is a special release. It's not part of the distillery's core range. The supply is limited to a few thousand bottles. When the supply runs out, the expression is gone forever. The recently released 2021 Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch Bourbon includes some of the distillery's rarest bourbon expressions.
Four Roses bourbons are typically a blend of different ages and mash bills. What is unique about Four Roses, however, is that the ages and the identities of the different distillates that go into each blend are listed on the bottle. This practice allows the consumer to know exactly which of the distillery's spirits, their ages, mash bills and specific yeast strain, are used in each year's Limited Edition Small Batch and how that blend has changed in each yearly version.
American bourbon producers have historically used different mash bills and multiple yeast strains to create different aroma and flavor profiles in their whiskeys. The Four Roses distillery, however, has the distinction of using five different yeast strains. Applied to two different mash bills, it gives the company 10 very different distillates that it can use for blending purposes.
Combine that with different aged spirits and Four Roses Master Blender, Brent Elliott, has a dizzying array of liquids to choose from in compiling each year's Limited Edition Small Batch bourbon.
Four Roses uses two different mash bills. The first mash bill consists of 75% corn, 20% rye and 5% malted barley. It is designated by the letter E. The second mash bill consists of 65% corn, 35% rye and 5% malted barley. It is designated by the letter B.
The five different yeast strains are designated by the letters K, O, Q, F and V.
Yeast K produces a full-bodied, notably spicy spirit.
Yeast O has a rose petal, floral quality. It's medium-bodied, with some spiciness, but less than that produced by yeast K.
Yeast Q is slightly fruity, with a medium body and a spicy character.
Yeast F is characterized by more dried herbal notes.
Yeast V is also fruity, with a light, creamy, spicy character.
Every barrel at Four Roses carries one of 10 (four) letter codes. These are: OESK, OESQ, OESO, OESF, OESV, OBSK, OBSQ, OBSO, OBSF and OBSV.
The first letter is always an O, and indicates that the whiskey was produced at the Four Roses distillery. The second letter is either an E or a B, and refers to the mash bill used to produce the spirit. The third letter is always an S, and indicates that the spirit is a straight whiskey.
Under US rules, to be designated a straight whiskey, a spirit has to be made using a mash bill containing only grain, must be distilled at less than 160 proof (80% ABV) and must be casked at a proof strength of at least 125 proof (62.5% ABV).
The last letter corresponds to one of the five yeast strains utilized by the distillery.
The 2021 Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch, 114.2 proof (57.1% ABV), consists of a blend of spirits designated OESV 16 YO, (58%) OESK 12 YO, (23%) OBSV 16 YO, (13%) and OBSQ 14 YO, (6%). The bottling is non-chill filtered. This year's blend features distillates that emphasize floral and fruity notes. Both features are readily apparent in the 2021 release.
According to Four Roses Master Distiller Brent Elliott:
Hand-selecting the barrels to make up our annual limited-edition bottling is one of my most rewarding experiences each year. The ability to work with 10 bourbon recipes each with distinct characteristics opens up endless possibilities. This year's release brings a proof higher than any of the past Limited Editions, creating robust complexity and layers of flavors resulting from the variety of constituent batches and recipes.
During a Zoom call to introduce the spirit, Elliott zeroed in on the influence of the Q strain on the resulting blend. Even though that spirit accounted for less than 6% of the final blend, he noted that:
It doesn't take a lot of Q or F to really influence the overall character of the blend. … Because it is 14 YO (OBSQ component) , I'm not really getting the floral component, but there is just enough of that unique candy flavor and … when that combines with the V (OBSV and OESV) in the other batches and the K, it creates a really unique, somewhat berry-like, candy flavor. It's very robust, which I think it's partly to do with the higher proof.
When it hits my palate, I get a lot of flavor upfront: semisweet, fruity, unique fruit. Then it really starts to unfold, especially on the finish. That's where I see the complexity. The soft flavors start to unfold, the vanilla, the caramel, maybe some hints of cinnamon. Those flavors … unfold into a nice, long, warm, slightly sweet finish.
Not as much oak as the 2019 or 2020. I think both of those were sort of an exploration into utilizing some of the older batches. This year is more of an experiment with layering flavors and incorporating the Q yeast strain. … It's been a long time since we used the (Q) strain in a Limited Edition.
Elliott joined Four Roses in 2005. He has been Master Distiller since 2015. In 2020 he was named Distiller/Blender of the Year at Whisky Magazine's Icons of Whisky America awards.
Four Roses, Small Batch Select Limited Edition, 2021, NAS, 57.1% ABV, 750 ml
The color is a rich amber. On the nose, the high proof is very noticeable. It shows a creamy note along with hints of ripe red berries, some light floral potpourri, spice notes of cinnamon, a hint of old leather and some seasoned oak. There is a slight savory note that becomes more pronounced as the whiskey opens up and which is typical of aged bourbons.
On the palate, it's oily, initially slightly sweet and creamy, with a pronounced pepperiness that fades quickly and a cinnamon note. There are additional flavors of prune, orange zest and a bit of milk chocolate. The oak notes are well-integrated but discernible in the background.
The finish is long, slightly peppery, with lingering fruit notes, some slight wood notes and a bit of bitterness on the end.
The addition of a little water brings out some more pronounced prune and licorice notes on the nose. On the palate, it is smoother, with a dried fruit sweetness and a creamy texture. The pepperiness is more subdued but seems to linger longer.
Four Roses will distribute approximately 14,500 hand-numbered bottles of the 2021 Limited Edition Small Batch Bourbon to be sold in the United States with a suggested retail price of $150.
The Four Roses Distillery Visitor Center will also offer a limited quantity of the Limited Edition Small Batch via a public lottery. Whiskey enthusiasts may register for the lottery until September 12 by visiting the Four Roses website . Winners will be selected via a random draw. They will have to pick up their whiskey at the Four Roses Distillery.
This is a smooth, flavorful whiskey. It's excellent. The kind of whiskey that you could linger over for hours. Serve it straight up or on the rocks.
Appearance 9/10, Nose 29/30, Palate 29/30, Finish 29/30, Overall Score: 96/100
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