Four Roses is one of the most popular bourbon whiskeys on store shelves. It’s also pretty damn easy to find and pretty well-priced too. On average, you’re looking at paying between $25 and $75 for a bottle, which is great if you’re looking for quality bourbon that doesn’t break the bank.
Even in all of Kentucky’s vast bourbon scene, Four Roses is a unique brand — the distillery is renowned for having ten different bourbons it makes and then blends into its varying expressions. There’s a mid-high-rye mash bill (75 percent corn, 20 percent rye, and five percent malted barley) and a high-rye mash bill (60 percent corn, 35 percent rye, and five percent malted barley), each of those bills is fermented with five different yeasts — creating the ten bourbons that makeup Four Roses’ whiskeys. Diving deeper, each yeast highlights a different flavor profile: “Delicate Fruit,” “Slight Spice,” “Rich Fruit,” “Floral Essence,” and “Herbal Notes.” This, in turn, helps to create barrels of whiskey that highlight specific flavors so that the blenders at Four Roses can build a final product that feels unique and distinct.
Okay, that’s a lot of info and doesn’t mean much until you actually taste what’s in the bottle. Let’s dive in, re-taste, and rank some seriously good Kentucky bourbon. Hopefully, find you the perfect bottle to add to your bar cart!
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5. Four Roses Bourbon
Average Price: $27
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 definite steel note to this whiskey that leans toward minerality when water is added. The nose also brings along dried flowers, plenty of honey, and orchard fruits, with a hint of dark spice. The palate adds vanilla to the honey and apple foundations. The end is short but full of fruit, sweetness, spice, and green oak.
This is very clearly a mixing whiskey. It’s great in a highball with either Coke, ginger ale, or fizzy water. It works in a cocktail but that minerality up top can be a little distracting in a more nuanced cocktail. Overall, this is a well whiskey that’s best shot with a beer back.
4. Four Roses Small Batch
Average Price: $47
Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon is a blend of four whiskeys. The blend is split evenly between the high and mid-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 apple and cherry woods greet with a good dose of sour red berries dusted with brown winter spices, especially clove and nutmeg. The palate leans into soft and salted caramel with a hint of those berries underneath while the spices get woodier and a thin line of green sweetgrass sneaks in. The finish is silky and boils down to blackberry jam with a good dose of winter spice, old wood, and a hint of vanilla tobacco.
We’re already into the good stuff with this one. This is a killer cocktail base that shines with tart berries and woody spice. It’s also a super easy sipper, especially on the rocks. A little water helps this bloom with a twinge of dark potting soil and wet cedar bark next to darker berries and spice.
3. Four Roses Single Barrel
Average Price: $62
Four Rose’s standard single barrel expression is an interesting one. This is their “number one” recipe, meaning it’s the high-rye 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.
(Note: Most local retailers will have their own “barrel pick” of this expression which may be a different mash bill, yeast, or ABV.)
Woody maple syrup and cinnamon sticks lead to a hint of pear candy with a vanilla underbelly on the nose. The palate lets the pear shine as the spices lean into woody barks and tart berries next to leathery dates and plums with a butteriness tying everything together. A spicy tobacco chewiness leads the mid-palate toward a soft fruitiness and a hint of plum pudding at the end with a slight nuttiness and green herbal vibe.
This is always good on a rock or two. I also really like this in a Manhattan as that leathery dark fruit and nuttiness play well with good sweet vermouth of some aromatic bitters.
2. Four Roses Small Batch Select
Average Price: $72
This expression uses six of Four Rose’s ten whiskeys in their small-batching process. The idea is to blend both high and mid-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.
This nose is enticing with a mix of dark berries and cloves with a yeasty doughnut filled with dark fruit and covered in powdered sugar next to a thin line of berry brambles — stems, thorns, dirt, leaves, everything. The palate is lush with a balance of dark berry pie filling next to winter spices, mincemeat pies, nutshells, and brandy butter vanilla sauce. The finish arrives with a rush of fresh mint next to wet cedar, blackberry Hostess Pies, and nutmeg-heavy eggnog all leading to a final note of that dark berry bramble black dirt.
If you’re talking about the main line of Four Roses, this is the mountaintop. This is just an excellent whiskey all around. It’s funky and fresh with a deeply rooted flavor profile that really highlights the beauty of Four Roses’ blending program.
This is great neat, on the rocks, or in your favorite whiskey cocktail.
1. Four Roses Small Batch Barrel Strength Limited Edition 2021
Average Price: $769
2021’s LE Small Batch is a blend of four bourbons. This whiskey marries their two mash bills with yeasts of “delicate fruit,” “spice essence,” and “floral essence.” The barrels ranged from 12 to 16 years old, making this a fairly old bourbon. The juice was then bottled as-is without any fussing.
The nose has a mix of honey next to buttery biscuits, rich vanilla, a touch of tart red berries, dry cedar, and a very faint hint of dry mint. The palate dives into a dark plum jam with a spicy edge of allspice and nutmeg. That fruit gives way to a spritz of orange oils next to a light touch of dark chocolate on the mid-palate that leads to a rich and buttery finish. That finish leaves you with warming spice, more of that orange/choco vibe, and another mild hint of green, dry mint.
This is a delicious whiskey. It’s also fleeting. Every year these are released via lottery only from the distillery and then you’ll see them pop up in retail on the aftermarket … for a price. All of that aside, this whiskey truly is great and shines a bright light on the craft behind this iconic brand. It’s great in a neat pour but really needs a few drops of water or a rock to let it find its full potential in the glass.