The latest limited-edition Bourbon from Four Roses puts a new wow in the bouquet. The 13-year-old, single-barrel offering, which comes uncut and without chill filtering, also arrives as the distillery is celebrating the 125th anniversary of the Four Roses trademark.
The batch represents the output of 48 barrels in the taste profile that Four Roses codes as OBSK-for its rye-rich and spicy makeup. Using two separate mash bills (B=60 percent corn/35 percent rye and E=75 corn/20 rye) as well as five proprietary yeasts (F,K,O,Q and V), the company is able to put forth 10 different basic Bourbon profiles.
The OBSK profile is described as rich in spiciness and full-bodied. While those qualities certainly exist in this Single Barrel, the whiskey is also quite sweet and fruity. Four Roses master distiller Jim Rutledge says that he discovered the "special barrels" and immediately checked to see if there would be enough for a limited release. The 48 barrels will render about 6,500 bottles. Four thousand (34 barrels) will be distributed in the United States.
The fact that America will be getting the lion's share is an interesting turnabout, because for years Four Roses had very light distribution in the United States. In the late 1950s, then-owner Seagrams had stopped selling its straight whiskey (the product of aging only in new charred-oak barrels) here in favor of a blended Four Roses. The straight whiskey remained available abroad where it is quite popular. The Frankfort, Kentucky, distiller, now owned by Kirin of Japan, no longer makes a blend (a designation that can include spirit that is unaged or aged in used barrels). The straight Bourbon (the S in the code standing for "straight whiskey") is now sold throughout most of the U.S., with limited availability in New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming.
As a single-barrel release (each cask is bottled on its own without mingling with other vessels) the alcohol level is not standardized. The company says that proof will range from 100.6 (50.3 percent alcohol by volume) to 114.4 (57.2 percent), although the preliminary sample we received came at a scorching 120 proof (60 percent). Purchasers may also expect the taste profile to vary slightly from barrel to barrel. The fact that the whiskey is not chill filtered means that it may also cloud up under cold conditions.
On the occasion of the 125th Four Roses anniversary, the company also invites enthusiasts to visit its yearofthetoast.com website, where they can read toasting suggestions and enter a toast contest. The winning toast will be featured on next year's Limited Edition Single Barrel offering, along with the name and hometown of the person who submitted it.
(Cigar pairing notes on next page)
Four Roses 2012 Limited Edition Single Barrel Bourbon (between 100.6, or 50.3 percent alcohol by volume, and 114.4, or 57.2 percent; tasted at 120, or 60 percent; 13 years old; between $89-$99 a 750-milliliter bottle)
APPEARANCE: With its deep amber color, it takes forever to bead up and then comes down in large droplets.
NOSE: Begins with big honey notes, then shows orange peel and other sweet fruits as well as a snap of nuts before getting floral and perfumed (ironically with roses).
PALATE: Once again, it opens up very fruity-red berries, cherry, citrus-then turns to the expected spice with-ginger cinnamon and tarragon. Despite a zesty interlude, this whiskey remains resolutely sweet.
FINISH: The ending is long and luxurious with plenty of fruit, but includes cocoa, nuts and toffee.
NOTE: A small amount of water or an ice cube is a welcome addition (especially at the proof at which we sampled it). This will open it up quite a bit to its spicy and nutty charms.
CIGAR PAIRING: La Flor Dominicana Oro Tubo Maduro No. 6 (6 inches by 54 ring gauge, $12.50, 88 Points, June 2013 Cigar Aficionado). This cigar is big, dark, and oily. Initial puffs reveal a strong, woody backbone finessed by some coffee flavor and dried-fruit notes. A bold smoke. We picked the La Flor out of curiosity: How would its charred woodiness meld with the fruity sweetness of the whiskey? The experiment paid off as the Four Roses revealed depth and complexity in the cigar, with the coffee turning a bit creamy and the dryness of its fruit becoming sweeter. The whiskey didn't benefit quite as much, but still became more rounded and spicy.
Romeo y Julieta Wide Churchill (5 1/8 inches by 55 ring gauge, £19.78, 93 points, June 2013 Cigar Aficionado). The dark, oily appearance of this fat robusto hints at the hearty espresso and bittersweet chocolate notes that layer the palate with each puff. The smoke is dense and chewy. This pairing choice was a bit more conventional and as such was not as much a surprise when it turned out so good. The Cuban became more honeyed and mellow with the Four Roses. The whiskey, while already full-bodied with its fruitiness, took on chunkier, more chocolate notes and showed off its inherent spiciness. Brilliant pairing.