Although it doesn’t feel like it here in the Bay Area, summer has come to an end and the slightest signs of fall are barely starting to show – but none more obvious than the already constant online stream of “Bourbon Season” craze. Old Forester’s Birthday Bourbon and the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection has slowly made its way out and is now hitting store shelves throughout the South but out here in California it will be weeks, if not a month or so, until we see the first signs of what this year’s Bourbon Season has to offer.
In light of this, I decided to do a review for a bourbon that was, up until last year, one of the most highly anticipated releases in the bourbon world – The 2014 Four Roses Limited Edition Single Barrel (LESB). Although released outside of Bourbon Season, the Four Roses LESB was released every spring starting in 2008. I say “was” because unfortunately last year marked the end of this release by FR. This “Pappy” like release, alongside the Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch (which is still being released each fall) was their most sought after expression and released in very limited allocations. FR released this statement last year explaining their decision to cut their LESB:
“Due to inventory concerns over aged stock, and to continue to provide the highest quality products, beginning in 2015, Four Roses Distillery will be selecting and bottling their Limited Edition Single Barrel product for special commemorative bottling occasions only. We will, however, continue to produce and bottle our Limited Edition Small Batch Bourbon each year in the fall”
It was sad news to many to see one of the most consistently amazing releases of the year evaporate into non existence, but even big boys like FR have had to succumb to the (somewhat) unprecedented fallout of the bourbon boom and have been faced with literal shortages of bourbon stock. Same thing happened with Wild Turkey and their 101 Rye being virtually discontinued from 2012 up until around mid – late 2014. Shortages in the 101 rye stock forced WT to release a younger lower proof replacement (Wild Turkey 81 Rye) allowing WT to have some breathing space and age more rye stock to in order to bring back their 101 rye. Other smaller but noticeable signs of such changes with other distilleries have been the subtraction of numbered age statements on the front labels of Eagle Rare and Elijah Craig; both whiskeys still sport an age statement, but they are found in small font on the back of the bottles and their presence there is most likely short lived as well. Wild Turkey back in the early 90’s even removed their “8 year” age statement from their bottles of 101 bourbon completely. I digress, but my point is, these shortages are seen on many levels, throughout the industry but it’s always sad to see such a highly acclaimed and quality release pushed out of existence completely.
FR’s Single Barrel as a whole is one of the most respected in the industry, and without question, the most diverse. Considering FR’s two different mash bills and five different yeast strains, they have a possibility of 10 different variations and FR releases their Single Barrel bourbon in three different ways: Standard, Private Barrel Program barrels the Limited Edition Single Barrel. Long story short, the Standard is a 100 proof version of various FR recipes with limited label information that you can find anywhere from your local grocer, liquor store or bar. Private Barrel Program barrels are available to what their website describes as “Four Rose’s customers only – specifically retailers, restaurants and bars.” In other words if you are an establishment account holder (or even now a private customer) you can purchase an entire barrel of your choosing based on a selections of samples sent to you or if you visit the distillery. Four Roses then bottles the bourbon and ships it to you and each bottle has a breakdown of its mash bill recipe (based on the exact one you picked), proof, and can bear a custom logo on it if you so choose. The Private Barrel bottles are bottled at cask strength and are highly desired. Then of course, the Four Roses LESB which is what this review is about: a very limited number of single barrels hand selected and deemed worthy of the LESB title, by Master Distiller Jim Rutledge & co that are bottled, hand numbered, lettered and released in allocation to the public. I could write a whole post on just FR’s different yeast strains, recipes and mash bills so ill save that for another day but until then check out Bourbonr’s post for more on this: Four Roses by Mash Bill.
The 2014 Four Roses Limited Edition Single Barrel consists of FR’s OESF mash bill which is considered a “lower rye” mash bill (for FR) at 20%. The selected barrels are 11 years old and depending on which barrel you got, ranged from 108.3 to 127.6 proof. Only 7,122 bottles were produced. My specific bottle # was 2890/7122, clocked in at 54.8% – 109.6 proof and came from barrel number 47-1I out of warehouse HW.
2014 Four Roses Limited Edition Single Barrel
ABV: 54.8% // 109.6 proof
Recipe: OESF (20% rye)
Age: 11 years
Location: Warehouse HW
Nose: Thick rich vanilla fudge & caramel nougat are dueling it out right from the moment your nose hits the glass. Green apples and thick red woody spices with some black peppers immediately trail. Spices are intense, just shy of abrasive. Redwood lumber, dry fall leaves, sugar cookie dough and juicy lemon resonate. Old wet barrel and some nut shells, unsalted. Some peanut butter and apricot notes. Redwood tree bark is dominant and creates a sort of foundation for the nose. Cinnamon sticks and kindling round things out deep in the nose with a savory hickory-esque creaminess. Quite lovely.
Palate: The spice on this palate, like the nose, truly defines this barrel. Arrival of the spice slightly muted upon entry by vanilla but then takes off with menthol intensity like a 90 degree angle from the beginning of the palate to the finish. The Northern California Mendocino Redwood Forest in a barrel. Light piney, earthy woodiness, no doubt from the rye. Menthol, black pepper and oak on the mid palate and the spice level continues rise as a chalky dryness forms. Their is a green earthiness that isn’t vegetal that i can’t put my finger on. Almost resiny. Paper, brown sugar and hickory from nose. Thick and heavy. Smoke on the back end with an interesting corn reduction element.
Finish: Long and very ubiquitous of this barrels nose and palate profile. I really like that in a single barrel when the heart and soul of the whiskey shines through from nose to finish. Bold, long, beautifully assertive and creamy finish. Spices dance and dance. Im talking Michael Flately in Lord of the Dance. Black and red crushed peppers with vanilla and mint. Spice lingers, lingers and lingers…caramel and menthol.
Bourbon and House Rating: 92.5
Although I felt this barrel was great, I also felt it was a little two dimensional. With some more fruit or a little more caramel/vanilla to balance out the spice, this would have been much more well rounded. However that is the beauty of a single barrel bourbon. Each barrel is different and you get what you get just as nature intended, particularly at cask strength. This is why I love cask strength, single barrels so much; you get the purest form of bourbon, in that the whiskey is essentially untouched by human hands, no blending and little to no filtering at cask strength.
Few distilleries do single barrel bourbon better than FR, especially at this level. As two dimensional as I thought this barrel was, I thoroughly did enjoy it being that I love the element of spice. The finish of a whiskey is arguably my favorite aspect so this bourbon nailed it on both those accounts: tons of spice that lingered on and on for up to 15 minutes on the finish with just enough sweetness. Considering the low rye content of OESF (compared to some of FR’s other recipes) I was surprised at how much spice I picked up – this bourbon drank more like a 120 as opposed to 110 proof. Now that this is a discontinued release, any bottle of the FRLESB you find will be going for well above what the MSRP was back in 2014 which was somewhere in the vicinity of $100 (US), so be prepared to be shelling out absurd amounts of money. To those of you that have a bottle, or two or three or a dozen bunkered away…cherish them. You’re now drinking the remains of a bygone era.
Lastly I would like to dedicate this review to Jim Rutledge who stepped down this month as FR’s Master Distiller. With just under 50 years in the bourbon industry and more than 20 years as FR Master Distiller under his belt, his profound presence will surely be missed but his impact on the world of whiskey will endure.