This month's release of Four Roses 2014 Limited Edition Small Batch offers fans of the Bourbon distiller a bump up in output from recent special releases, with 11,200 bottles hitting the market. Last year's small-batch release, the 125th anniversary edition, yielded about 6,500 bottles and the 2012 single-barrel edition was a 4,000-bottle release.
The latest from Four Roses comes at cask-strength (we tasted at 120 proof) and combines four of its trademark mashbill/yeast recipes at four different ages. The distillery is distinguished among Kentucky Bourbon makers in that maintains five yeast strains and two different grain formulations to attain 10 distinct profiles from which to blend.
Master distiller Jim Rutledge mingled three samples that use its rye-rich mashbill (only 60 percent corn) with one sample that uses a 75 percent corn formula. The first three were a 13-year-old made with a yeast that yields fruit notes, an 11-year-old with a mint-fruit contributing yeast and a nine-year-old with a spicy yeast. The sole corn-rich Bourbon was a 12-year-old made with the fruity yeast.
The nine-year-old in the mix represents the youngest whiskey Four Roses has used in one of its limited-edition releases. However, by the standards by which Bourbon matures (two to three times quicker than Scotch whisky) that is still well-aged Bourbon.
Four Roses 2014 Limited Edition Small Batch (120 proof, or 60 percent alcohol by volume; $99.99 per 750-milliliter bottle)
APPEARANCE: Lush amber/copper with slight green patina. Teases out medium-width legs ever so slowly.
NOSE: Fruity nose of grape and orange, with some floral aspects and a backing of olive oil.
PALATE: Explodes with a mix of hard candies: grape, cherry, pear, lemon drop. Once the intensity of the initial sip on the tip of the tongue dissipates, chunky barrel notes with caramel, toffee and nuts spread to the outer reaches of the palate, bringing spice and honey along.
FINISH: Vanilla, maple and caramel with some toastiness distinguish the long finish before it snaps shut with just one more hint of fruit.
CIGAR PAIRING: La Palina Classic Lancero (Dominican Republic, 7 inches by 38 ring gauge, $8.00, 92 points, Cigar Aficionado, December 2013) A toasty lancero that intensifies with each puff. Woody flavors become bold and strong with spicy licorice, coffee bean and caramel flavors. The finish is toasty with a touch of dried orange peel. We expected that the toasty, caramel aspects contributed by each element would fire up in conjunction with the other-and they did. What we weren't looking out for as much was that the orange and spice of the cigar would be as receptive to the whiskey. It was. The La Palina, an already complex smoke, broadens greatly. In return, the Four Roses takes on much structure, with its barrel and spice flavors coming to the fore much more quickly than without the help of the cigar.
Edmundo Dantes Conde 54 Exclusivo Mexico (Cuba, 6 1/2 inches by 54 ring gauge, $32.00, 93 points, Cigar Aficionado April 2012) This rich, complex toro exhibits a profound and dynamic balance, starting with bottom notes of red meat and earthy truffles, a midrange of cashews and top notes of cinnamon. The canvas of this cigar has almost the exact opposite, but similarly delightful, effect on this whiskey: The Bourbon's sweet, fruity character expands to the max. The olive oil noted on the Four Roses also fills out and gives it a rounder character. The cigar doesn't benefit as much, but does enjoy a bump to its nut quality, referenced above as cashew. Another felicitous pairing.