Digging deeper and deeper into the many intricacies of whiskey production is one the main reasons I find it so fascinating. That whiskey is made from a combination of water, grain, and yeast is easy enough to conceptually understand. It’s when we start getting into the minutiae of the process, however, that the real intrigue of this hobby comes to life. For example, a key part of Four Roses’ branding is their use of proprietary yeast strains. The distillery utilizes two high-rye bourbon mash bills and five of these strains, granting them 10 recipes from which to create their bourbon. These recipes are indicated by four-letter codes, with each strain meant to impart certain characteristics. Every Four Roses recipe has the same first and third letter (O and S, respectively) while the second and fourth represent the mash bill and yeast strain.
Here’s the breakdown:
O: Produced at the Four Roses distillery (always the first letter).
E: 75% corn, 20% rye, 5% malted barley mash bill (one of two options for the second letter).
B: 60% corn, 35% rye, 5% malted barley mash bill (one of two options for the second letter).
S: Straight whiskey (always the third letter)
V: Delicate fruit strain (one of five options for fourth letter)
K: Slight spice strain (one of five options for fourth letter)
O: Rich fruit strain (one of five options for fourth letter)
Q: Floral essence strain (one of five options for fourth letter)
F: Herbal notes strain (one of five options for fourth letter)
There are four whiskeys in Four Roses’ core lineup. We’ll be looking at their readily available single barrel today, which is the only expression of the four made from a single recipe: OBSV. Although the bottle itself bears no age statement, the Four Roses site states it’s aged a minimum of 7-9 years. It’s bottled at 100 proof and sells for roughly $40-$50.
Nose: Vanilla and citrus with a slight floral undertone. Manages to smell creamy and vibrant. Light brown sugar, slightly dry oak/rickhouse aroma, and fruity/floral tobacco. Bit of toasted or burnt orange. Hints of cinnamon and clove. Bit of a varnish quality with spring or summer fruit and flowers in the background.
Palate: Cherry, brown sugar, and orange oil followed by vanilla cream, quickly offset by mild-moderate tart essence—possibly grapefruit. Really nice development on the palate. Pushes a hair into the aggressive side with an impression of smoke, but ultimately feels subtle and well composed.
Finish: Leads with lightly drying combination of orange and lemon followed by gradually mellowing into vanilla cream again. Good length; feels just right. Pepper note emerges with the lingering citrus. Initially bitter, drying sensation slowly releases the sweeter, softer notes from the nose and upfront palate. Slow-developing caramel on tail-end complements the residual orange oil note.
I’m of the mind that having multiple daily drinker contenders is practically a necessity when you’re hobbyist. This is despite the fact I’ll give certain bottles the coveted (?) Daily Drinker Verdict, meaning I think they fit into the realm of being satisfactory day in and day out. I’m also a total sucker for variety, however, so having the same thing over and over again will often leave me bored. Yet with Four Roses Single Barrel, that very belief is strongly challenged. Even more interesting is how I felt about Four Roses for the longest time. My first time trying the Single Barrel (long before I bothered reviewing) left me so unimpressed that I couldn’t imagine myself revisiting it. Fast-forward a couple years and a few more whiskeys and wouldn’t you know it? I decided a revisit was in order. My second go was more enjoyable, but still left me mostly unenthused. Now I’m here trying Four Roses Single Barrel yet again, only this time it finally clicked.
There’s a distinct subtlety and elegance to this bourbon. Not necessarily in a way that leaves me floored, but more in a way that adds much needed perspective. It’s to the point that Four Roses Single Barrel has me looking at several bottles with far more scrutiny. $40-$50 remains a good range for getting quality bourbon (and rye), but it’s also become more cluttered with some questionable options. This only makes for an even stronger case for the Four Roses. I’ll even raise the stakes and say that more expensive and/or less available bottles would struggle to top Four Roses Single Barrel. Affordable, easy to find, and positively delicious; I struggle to think of a better combination.