Today, I am reviewing two bourbons that I have been asked about a lot over the past year and a half – the Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batches from the last two years (2012 and 2013). Each year, Four Roses releases two limited edition whiskeys. Every spring just before the Kentucky Derby, Four Roses releases their Limited Edition Single Barrel. Every fall, Four Roses releases their Limited Edition Small Batch, especially blended for the occasion by Four Roses’ Master Distiller, Jim Rutledge. Each year, the bourbons that are blended together are different recipes and ages, meaning that each year, there is a different flavor profile. The Limited Edition Small Batch bourbons are different from Four Roses Small Batch, which is always comprised of the same four bourbon recipes. As you may have guessed, neither of these two Limited Edition Small Batch bourbons are particularly “bargains,” but they are both retailed at under $100 for a bottle, which puts them just within the upper limits of my price range for bourbons on the blog.
Before I get to the review of these two wonderful bourbons, I should say a few words about Four Roses’ ten bourbon recipes. Four Roses uses two different mashbills, one with a medium rye content and one with a high rye content. In addition, Four Roses uses five different yeast strains. If you are statistics wizard, you have already realized that Four Roses has ten different combinations of grain and yeast at their disposal. It is the quality and distinctive flavors of these bourbon recipes that allow Jim Rutledge to create some of the best bourbons you can buy. If you want to know all there is to know, check out the Four Roses website.
The first bourbon I am reviewing is the 2012 Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch. It was made from four different bourbon recipes, expertly blended together by Jim Rutledge. The oldest bourbon in the batch was a 17 year-old “OBSV,” made from Four Roses’ high rye mashbill and their delicately fruity “V” yeast strain. The youngest bourbon used in the batch was the same exact recipe (OBSV), just an 11 year-old version. The final two recipes used were a 12 year-old “OBSK” (high-rye mashbill with spicier yeast strain) and a 12 year-old “OESK” (low-rye mashbill with the spicier yeast strain). These four bourbons came together at barrel strength (111.4 proof, 55.7%abv) to create a brilliant bourbon.
On the nose, this bourbon is rich and full, with a healthy dose of cinnamon, backed up by French toast (with maple syrup), caramel, vanilla, oak, and a whiff of floral scent. The palate is full and rich as well, with a nice bit of heat at barrel strength. It is quite sweet, with vanilla, strawberries, black cherries, but it moves to spicy wood and hot cinnamon. The finish is very long and very delicious, the highlight of this bourbon. It starts spicy and woody (with a bit of cigar box), but it fades to a gentle vanilla custard with strawberries after a few seconds. It goes on and on. With water, the nose gets a freshly-cut cedar note, and a lot more floral. Even with water, this whiskey is still hot and delicious. That cinnamon spice doesn’t leave, but there is a little more caramel in the mouth and a bit of rye in the finish. Overall, this is a phenomenal batch of bourbon. It is delicious and incredibly balanced and complex. Nothing is overpowering, and everything works together. It gets even tastier as it empties in the bottle, with the sweetness coming to the fore more as the spiciness fades. It never loses its complexity, though. My grade: A/A+. Price: $80-90/750ml. Quite simply, this is my favorite bourbon that I have ever had the pleasure of enjoying.
Now, onto the long awaited 125th Anniversary bourbon that was the 2013 Limited Edition Small Batch. After tasting the earliest blending experiments, Jim Rutledge reportedly said that this was the best bourbon he had ever made. That, in combination with the success of the 2012 LE Small Batch, made this bourbon a very difficult one to find. Luckily for me, I was able to snag a bottle. This bourbon is comprised of three different bourbon recipes at three different ages. The oldest bourbon used in this small batch was an 18 year-old OBSV, very old for a bourbon. The other two bourbons were both 13 years old, an OBSK and an OESK. The result is quite a unique, and very delicious bourbon bottled at barrel strength (103.2 proof, 51.6%abv).
On the nose, this bourbon is fantastic, probably the most potent nose I have ever encountered in a bourbon. As soon as I cracked this bottle open, a sweet, vanilla, floral aroma filled the room, screaming to be poured and savored. There are also notes of sawdust, tobacco, leather, and cherry cola. It is a creamy nose that balances sweet notes, floral notes, and old, rustic bourbon notes almost perfectly. The palate is full-bodied with a lot of those same cherry cola notes, rounded out by vanilla, red velvet cake, Virginia pipe tobacco, strawberries, and dark chocolate. The finish is medium-length with oak, cedar, and vanilla. With water, the nose evolves into some citrus notes, and some more antique notes come out (many leather-bound books and rich mahogany if you’re Ron Burgundy). The palate gets sweeter and loses some complexity with water, bringing out a lot of cherry notes that I don’t like as much. Nevertheless, it is still a very good bourbon however you choose to drink it. My grade: A/A-. Price: $90-100/750ml. This is delicious, old, deep bourbon that just leaps out of the glass and fills the room.
Overall, I really like the 125th Anniversary bourbon, but not as much as the 2012 version of the Limited Edition Small Batch. The 2013 bourbon is definitely older with more wood influence, and more elegance. However, I prefer the sharper, more complex (in my opinion) profile of the 2012 edition. That is not at all to say that the 125th Anniversary bourbon is not a great bourbon, because it is. In fact, I suspect that many people with side with Jim Rutledge and say this is the best bourbon to come out of Four Roses because of the combination of sweet, fruity notes with old bourbon qualities. However, if I could buy but one Four Roses bottle again, it would be the 2012 Limited Edition Small Batch bourbon, as it was my favorite bourbon to this point in my life. Unfortunately, both of these bourbons are pretty hard to find on shelves nowadays, unless those shelves belong to a wealthy bourbon collector. With that in mind, the 2014 Four Roses Limited Edition line figures to be just as good, so be ready to jump on the bottles as soon as you see them.
Much thanks to William at A Dram Good Time and Geno at Kappy’s for helping me get my hands on this year’s LE Small Batch!