The latest example in the Four Roses limited-edition line, due to hit the shelves in a couple weeks, is a powerful, corn-rich, single-barrel Bourbon meant as a tribute to its fans and a nod to a milestone for the company.
For years, Four Roses distribution had been restricted to offshore releases with almost no availability in the United States. That changed 11 years ago when the company widened at-home sales of the Bourbon, which had achieved great popularity (especially in Asia). According to the master distiller Jimmy Rutledge, this whiskey was "put away at a time when Four Roses had just returned to the states and it's remarkable to see how far we've come as a company since then."
To honor loyalists of the whiskey, the bottle includes a toast chosen as part of the Four Roses 125th anniversary celebration, when consumers were invited to make submissions. The winning toast came from Frank Wheatley of Louisville, Kentucky, and reads: "If I could age like Bourbon, I wouldn't mind getting old."
Four Roses distinguishes itself apart from most other Bourbons with its range of whiskeys using a combination of different mashbills and yeast strains. For the standard release (Yellow Label), they are mixed in combination. This limited-edition version (about 5,000 bottles) uses but one. Of the 10 possibilities, the one utilized is designated OESF. The code stands for a straight whiskey (S), made with a grain formulation of 75 percent corn, 20 percent rye and 5 percent barley (E). The "F" notes the use of an herbal, fruity and minty yeast strain.
Because it is a single-barrel (the casks are not mingled) and also not cut with water, alcohol strength is not standardized. For this particular single-barrel, proof varies quite widely: from 108.3 to 127.6. (Consumers should seriously consider adding water). Furthermore, the Bourbon is not chill-filtered.
(Cigar pairings on next page)
Four Roses 2014 Limited Edition Single Barrel (variable strength between 108.3 and 127.6 proof, tasted at 120 proof, or 60 percent alcohol by volume; 11 years old; $99 a 750-milliliter bottle)
APPEARANCE: A coppery, caramel color with a patina of green. Its legs, which come in medium-sized globules, are excruciatingly slow to run down the glass.
NOSE: Once you get past the huge dose of alcohol, it shows a brilliantly candied aroma. Floral undertones join with very upfront caramel and honey notes. But there's deepness as well, with whiffs of oak and cloves.
PALATE: Hits on all cylinders. Starts out voluptuous with rich olive oil, then turns to maple syrup. Next comes sweet fruits (cherry and orange slice). Then toffee, hinted at in the nose, takes off. All this happens with subtle spice and mint overtures, injecting a bit of tang. Finally, rich barrel flavors round out the whiskey.
FINISH: An on-and-on finish manages to recall just about every note from the palate, especially a creamy orange character.
CIGAR PAIRING: My Father Cedros Deluxe Cervantes (6 1/2 inches by 44 ring gauge, $9.00, 91 Points, Cigar Aficionado June 2014) An elegantly rolled Lonsdale whose full draw imparts a woody tasting smoke complemented by touches of tea, leather and coffee. Under the Bourbon's influence this cigar opens up quite a bit, becoming markedly more round in body, developing rich, fruity and spicy flavors. The Four Roses simply shimmers with more intensity from its mint and spice aspects. There's also another hurrah from the fruit and barrel notes. Deep into the pairing, the leather notes of the cigar arise in earnest.
Arturo Fuente Don Carlos No. 2 (6 inches by 55 ring gauge, $12.35, 94 points Cigar Aficionado February 2014, No. 6 Cigar of the Year 2013) The No. 2, which first hit the market in 1997, is a considerably fat pyramid. As with most Don Carlos cigars, the smoke is a slow starter-it takes some time before the full flavors emerge. When they do, the reward is a pleasant mix of nut and cocoa notes with a tiny bit of spice and sweet cedar. The cigar coaxes an aspect that was previously missing on the Bourbon (chocolate) and creates a tour de force pairing. The sweetness and spice of the Four Roses hurries along the aforementioned reticence of the Don Carlos to expose its charms. Together, the two become a veritable confection with consummate complexity.