Calling out the “best Four Roses bourbon” may be fun, but it isn’t particularly easy. The brand is renowned for having a deep bench with ten unique bourbon recipes. Having ten barreled bourbons in the various warehouses — which are based on two mash bills (one high-rye and one low-rye) and five different yeast strains — means there are a lot of great flavors to play with when marrying barrels and blending the final expression that makes it into each bottle.
All that variability makes for an interesting line of whiskey. It’s also a pretty small slate, all things considered.
Whereas some brands (even small ones) have six, ten, 20, or more expressions to choose from, Four Roses has four core bottles and one yearly limited release. Yes, there are plenty of one-off releases in the single barrel and small batch formats. But as far as yearly standards go, there are only five Four Roses bottles to choose from. That makes ranking them deceptively hard — you spend a lot of time splitting hairs.
To rank these five bottles, we had to consider price and availability, along with taste. We looked first and foremost at what tasted the best, then factored in the value and the ease-of-finding each expression. We know, very scientific stuff.
Let’s get into it!
5. Four Roses Bourbon
Average Price: $23
This introductory juice from Four Roses is a blend of all ten of their whiskeys. The barrels are a minimum of five years old when they’re plucked from the warehouses, blended, brought down to proof, and bottled.
There’s a bit of steeliness to the nose that’s mellowed by hints of dried florals, apple, and a touch of honey and spice. The taste doesn’t veer too far from the nose as the apple turns more honey, with mild vanilla and more honeyed sweetness. The end is subtle and short with a touch of green oak, spice, fruit, and one more dash of honey.
Was anything else going to be last on this list? This is a workhorse bourbon that’s best used as a mixer in cocktails or highballs. Can you drink it on the rocks? Of course. Still, there’s a lot of room to go up — quality-wise — from here.
4. Four Roses Small Batch Select
Average Price: $60
This expression uses six of Four Rose’s ten whiskeys in their small-batching process. The idea is to blend both high and low-rye bourbons with yeast strains that highlight “delicate fruit,” “slight spice,” and “herbal notes.” The whiskeys tend to spend at least six years in the barrel before blending and proofing with just a touch of Kentucky’s soft limestone water.
Raspberry and cloves mix with old oak on the nose and boy, does it draw you in. The palate amps up the dark berry sweetness with a bit of tartness, as a stone fruit vibe comes into play. The spice heightens and leans more Christmas spice with a focus on nutmeg. Finally, a wisp of fresh mint arrives to counterpoint the whole sip as the oak, vanilla, fruit, and spice all slowly fade out.
This was the toughest one to place. It’s a very easy sipper all around (with a nice bit of water or ice to let it open up). But we’d argue it works better as a cocktail base and at $60 a bottle that seems a steep for a mixer.
3. Four Roses Small Batch Barrel Strength Limited Edition 2020
Average Price: $150
Last year’s Limited Edition was a solid release. The juice was a blend of four whiskeys leaning into both high and low-rye mash bills and the “delicate fruit” and “slight spice” yeast strains. The whiskey was then aged around 12 years before the different barrels were married and put into the bottle unfussed with.
Cherries cut with cinnamon and vanilla cream greet you with a touch of toasted oak. That vanilla carries on as the spices lean into full-on Christmas spices and a good dose of caramel corn next to blasts of orange zest, vanilla, peach, and pear. The end holds onto the spice, orange, and creaminess as it slowly fades out, leaving you buzzing with warmth.
We really wanted to rank this higher — it’s probably the best sipper on the list. But it’s hard to source and likely marked up well beyond MSRP if you can find it.
That said, you might just have some, so simply add a drop or two of water and take your time enjoying this fine dram.
2. Four Roses Single Barrel
Average Price: $49
Four Rose’s standard single barrel expression is an interesting one. This is their “number one” recipe, meaning it’s high-rye (35 percent) mash bill that’s fermented with a yeast that highlights “delicate fruit.” The juice is then bottled at 100 proof, meaning you’re getting a good sense of that single barrel in every bottle.
There’s a nice maple syrup sweetness up top that leads to cinnamon bark, pear orchards, and plenty of vanilla. The taste holds onto the pear and spice while mellowing with meaty plums and a fatty nut underbelly leading to a slight tobacco buzz around the mouth. The end is velvety and full of that fruit, leaning into a stewed plum pudding feel with plenty of spice, vanilla, and nuts on the slow fade.
This is really nice to sip, especially with a rock. Also, at around $50 per bottle for a single barrel, it’s a solid cocktail base for Manhattans, Sazeracs, and boulevardiers. Plus, you should be able to find this pretty easily on your local liquor store shelves, giving it a solid edge.
1. Four Roses Small Batch
Average Price: $38
Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon is a blend of four whiskeys. The blend is split evenly between the high and low ryes with a focus on “slight spice” and “rich fruit” yeasts. The whiskey is then blended, cut with soft Kentucky water, and bottled.
Soft and sweet orchard woods (think apple and cherry) greet you alongside hints of dusty brown spices and ripe red berries. Hints of caramel lead back to the berries and an almost vine-y earthiness next to a bit more of those spices. The end is velvety and lasting. The fruit really is what you’re left with, sort of like a blackberry jam that’s been steeped with cinnamon sticks at the very end.
For under $40, this is the best deal both taste-wise and for use. You can sip this easily with a little water or on the rocks. It’s a really solid cocktail base all around. And it’s a great highball mixer.
Taste-per-dollar, it’s tough to beat this expression from Four Roses.