Four Roses is a unique distillery in that, technically, it’s only been distilling it’s now critically acclaimed Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey since 2002, when the distillery was purchased by Kirin Brewery Company. Before 2002, Four Roses was sold as a blended American whiskey that didn’t have the reputation or variety that the present day Four Roses Distillery now enjoys. Thanks to Master Distiller Jim Rutledge, the distillery now holds the distinction of being one of the industry’s most respected distilleries. Four Roses uses two mashbills. The first is a lower rye mashbill consisting of 75% corn, 20% rye and 5% malted barley. The second is a higher rye mashbill consisting of 60% corn, 35% rye, and 5% malted barley. They also use five different yeast strains and combine them with its two different mashbills to create ten unique bourbon recipes.
Currently, Four Roses offers three standard expressions of its whiskey. The first is its Yellow offering, which is a mix of all ten Four Roses recipes. The Yellow offering is 40% alcohol by volume (80 proof), which is the lowest ABV of the three standard offerings. Four Roses also offers a Small Batch expression, which is a mix of its 4 of its recipes (two mashbills paired with two of its yeast strains). The Small Batch expression is a bump up at 45% alcohol by volume (90 proof). The final standard expression is the Single Barrel offering, which is made with the higher rye mash bill and the distillery’s “V” yeast strain. Four Roses Single Barrel is barreled at 50% alcohol by volume (100 proof).
Four Roses occasionally offers other expressions of their whiskey as well. Private barrel offerings can sometimes be found in select liquor stores throughout the country. These private barrel offerings are Single Barrel expressions that are selected specifically by the customer. These Single Barrel products can be sold using any one of the ten recipes depending on which barrel the customer chose. Finally, Four Roses releases a limited edition bottling of its standard Small Batch and Single Barrel expressions. These limited edition offerings are released annually and are usually bottled at barrel strength from barrels that Jim Rutledge deems are of exceptional taste and quality.
Today, we are taking a look at the middle child of the three expressions: Four Roses Small Batch. I purchased this whiskey for around $30 and sampled approximately 2 ounces neat in a Glencairn glass.
Four Roses Small Batch:
Medium-light to medium copper. When swirled around the glass, there are a few legs that stick to the side of the glass, but the whiskey doesn’t appear to be especially viscous.
Cinnamon-sugar covered apple slices, rose petals (imagine that!), caramel candies, buttered popcorn, some off-putting notes of slight rubber and turpentine, maple syrup, green grapes, raspberries, and Spanish cedar lined cigar box. Spoiler alert: the nose outperforms the taste, but not overwhelmingly.
Thin with a low viscosity, which is usually to be expected from a 90 proof whiskey, I suppose.
Cinnamon, baking spices, candied red apples, black pepper, pecans, tobacco, and some slight offensive bitter and vegetal notes. This bourbon lacks the level of sweetness that many other bourbons share and the taste is more one-dimensional than the nose would leave you to believe. However, the tasting notes that are present balance especially well with one another, creating a straightforward, no-nonsense presentation.
Peppermint, cinnamon, black licorice, and some lemon. The finish is fairly short.
Although Four Roses Small Batch is a solid tasting bourbon overall, the complexity of aromas that emanate from this whiskey make the nose the true star of the show. I think that a higher proof would address some of the issues I have with this whiskey, such as the short finish and thin mouthfeel. I also believe that a higher ABV would add a few more tasting notes to put the taste on par with the nose. Four Roses doesn’t disclose how long it ages its standard expressions, but I bet a few more years in the barrel might help with these issues as well. However, with the critiques aside, Four Roses Small Batch is a well-balanced, more floral take on the classic bourbon profile. It’s unintimidating and easy sipping, perfect for beginners and those who prefer a more mild whiskey-drinking experience. Either way, it’s a recommended stop for all bourbon drinkers along their bourbon-drinking journeys.
Final Score: 82/100