Four Roses puts out some of the most unique and tasty bourbons. They are also very affordable. We were lucky enough to taste their core line last week on the latest episode of Expression Session, and they did not disappoint.
Four Roses is a bit unique in the bourbon world by virtue of their mash bills. The distillery uses ten distinct mash bills and either blend them in various ways or bottles them straight from the barrel, unblended. It breaks down like this: They have a high rye mash bill and a low rye mash bill. Then, they use five distinct yeasts with each mash bill, creating the ten recipes. The yeasts breakdown as delicate fruit, slight spice, rich fruit, floral essence, and herbal notes. The mastery of Four Roses is in how those flavor spectrums that imbue the core of the spirit are put together to create the end product.
We drank five drams this time around with fellow journalist and travel writer, Ben Setiawan. In the end, the Limited Edition from 2017 was the favorite but we still had a lot of fun tasting Four Roses along the way. Here’s what I thought.
Four Roses Bourbon
Average Price: $25
This is the gateway to Four Roses. This bourbon is a blend of all ten mash bills from the distillery. The juice has aged a minimum of five years in new American oak and is then married to create a great entry point bourbon.
This sip is surprisingly light in the right way. There’s distinct berry fruitiness with a hint of florals, vanilla, and oak. The sweetness leans more towards honey than caramel with a slight apple orchard presence. The end is swift and to the point with the fruit remaining the star of the show.
This is crafted as a cocktail base. Use it as one and you won’t be disappointed.
Four Roses Small Batch
Average Price: $35
This expression is a blend of four mashes with slight spice and rich fruit yeasts. The whiskey is aged an average of six to seven years before it’s small-batch blended and bottled.
This keeps hold of the lightness in a nice, approachable way. There’s a bit more oak present alongside the fruit and a full nose of spice. The sip leans into the berries and spice as the more oaky elements fade away. The dram lingers for a few moments as the spice warms you up.
This is another great mixer, especially for highballs with nice fizzy water.
Four Roses Small Batch Select
Average Price: $60
This juice is a little more refined and it shows in the deeply satisfying taste. The bourbon is a blend of six mash bills with delicate fruit, slight spice, and herbal notes centered in the blend. It’s aged for an average of six to seven years before it’s small-batch bottled at a high proof of 104.
Sharp notes of berries and nog spices come through clearly. More classic bourbon notes of stone fruits, vanilla beans, and oak shine in this velvety sip. There’s a real weight to the dram as the spices and fruits shine brightly even as they fade away slowly.
I drink this as a sipper with a rock or two. It’s also a killer cocktail base for a Manhattan.
Four Roses Single Barrel
Average Price: $50
This is a single barrel, which in Four Roses’ terms means it from a single mash bill. In this case, that’s mash bill number one which is high rye with a delicate fruit yeast. The expression doesn’t come with an age statement but is generally aged anywhere from seven to eleven years.
There’s a nice heft to this dram that wallows in rye spice, bourbon vanilla, pear orchards, and a fresh maple syrup earthiness. The palate draws on the nose and hits a dark red cherry fruitiness with a plummy chewiness next to the spice and oak. The sip lingers in your senses and warms your body as it fades away through all that fruit, oak, and spice. Add a little water and you’ll open up a bitterness akin to powdered dark chocolate.
Solid sipper, great in a high ball, and perfect in a cocktail.
Four Roses 2017 Limited Edition Small Batch
Average Price: $400
This expression from Four Roses is a holy grail from the distillery. Around 13,000 bottles are released every year. When they’re gone, they’re gone. The 2017 edition is a barrel strength blend of a 15-year-old low rye/slight spice mash, a 13-year-old of the same, and a 12-year-old low rye/delicate fruit bourbon. The end result is a bottle of the good stuff.
Clear notes of powdery allspice mix with rich and oily vanilla, stewed plums, and apricot. That signature berry essence is at play as cherry candies and oak mingle with a nice, mellow spice. The sip fades away at its own pace while it pings with more spice and cherry.
Solid sipper with a rock. Though given the fruitiness, it’s also a masterful cocktail base for something simple like a (very expensive) Manhattan.
Check out the full tasting below!