My previous (also first) Four Roses review practically slipped into gush territory. I remarked that, unlike most bottles I bestow with the Daily Drinker verdict, Four Roses Single Barrel could actually hold up as a sole daily and not eventually bore me. This is only aided by the variation that comes from being a single barrel product. What’s interesting is how, for a while, I shied away from single barrels for that very reason. The idea of acquiring an available expression that would almost certainly vary from bottle to bottle in some capacity simply wasn’t appealing. I imagine others feel similarly.
Enter the other core Four Roses products. Previously comprised of just the standard bourbon, Small Batch, and aforementioned Single Barrel, a fourth bottle was added in 2019 (the brand’s first in 12 years): Small Batch Select. The 90 proof Small Batch is a popular and available staple for many, made from four of the distillery’s proprietary yeast strains: OBSK, OESK, OBSO, and OESO. Ironically, Small Batch Select is made from more (six, to be exact) strains: the V, K, and F recipes from both the B and E mash bills. It’s also the highest proof (104), most expensive ($60), and sole non-chill filtered bottle in Four Roses’ core lineup.
Nose: Immediate fruit and vanilla. Red berries, maraschino cherry, and light brown sugar. Hints of orange peel, cinnamon, and clove. An air of mint and sassafras over caramel develops over time. Begins to remind me of raspberry cheesecake and vanilla ice cream.
Palate: Mild to moderate oiliness. Caramel and baking spice. Strong blend of vanilla, cherry, and pomegranate followed by a slow-developing cinnamon spice and black pepper.
Finish: Moderate strength and length. Delicate spice. Pepper, light brown sugar, and faint mint. Nice barrel influence with vanilla kicking back in.
I remember reading comparisons between Four Roses Single Barrel and Small Batch Select and being surprised by the consensus: Single Barrel was almost always preferred. Having finally tried both, I have to say I’m in agreement. The Single Barrel is sweeter and actually seems to show off its grain influence more, but in a way that shows a good balance between the grain flavor and barrel aging. By comparison, Small Batch Select demonstrates its baking spice characteristics in tandem with a discrete barrel char influence. Reinforcing this is an oilier component, contrasted by the Single Barrel’s appropriately creamy nature.
What I hope to communicate here is that Small Batch Select isn’t an inferior product when compared to the OBSV stalwart. Rather, it’s a different breed. Many of the qualities Four Roses can exhibit in the Single Barrel Barrel Strength bottlings are present here, particularly those that kept their sweetness in check. Combine that with Small Batch Select’s aforementioned statistics and how Four Roses at barrel strength often comes in under 120 proof and the numbers start to add up. $60 remains a highly competitive price point for bourbon, and while Four Roses Small Batch Select may not be a showstopper, it proves to be a balanced and competently executed product worth considering.