I’m not gonna lie, I never was a fan of Four Roses (FR) when I first started drinking bourbon. Coming from a Speyside/Highland Scotch background, I took to wheated bourbons from the start of my American whiskey pilgrimage – the softer, sweeter, less spice driven side of bourbon was the “gateway profile” that got me hooked, and served as the perfect junction for me from Scotch to American whiskey. However the days of my preferred daily sipper being a Weller are long behind me. My palate’s preference, along with my general outlook on bourbon, has changed and now I prefer bourbons with a healthy dose of rye in them. When I think of high rye bourbons, the first distillery I think of is FR, and fundamentally they’re about as opposite as you get from a wheated bourbon. You could even argue that the rye content in FR is what defines them, setting them apart from other bourbon producers, being that FR’s two mash bills, E & B, are 20% & 35% rye respectively, making the rye content in their lowest mash bill higher than most other bourbon producers highest.
One example in particular of FR’s “low rye” 20% mash bill, is Royal Liquor’s Four Roses OESK Single Barrel pick. Royal Liquor’s owner Sammy and a few friends traveled to Kentucky last April (2016), visiting several distilleries, one of which was Four Roses. While there, they sampled 10 barrels, one from each of FR’s 10 recipes, and chose a young 8 year & 9 month old OESK barrel from warehouse Q5.
Four Roses, Royal Liquors OESK Single Barrel
ABV: 58.6% // 117.2 proof
Recipe: OESK (20% rye)
Age: 8 years and 9 months
Location: Warehouse Q5
Bottled: August 19, 2016
Nose: Cut red cedar wood, pine and forthright rye spice, crystal clear in typical FR fashion. Some dry spices too including cinnamon nutmeg and cardamom. Lots of smoked sweet hickory, intertwined with caramel, and big umami notes which I absolutely love – almost meat marinade like in nature and the hickory is phenomenal. Along with the umami is sweet cooked corn that is very pleasant. That sweetness then evolves into sweet & sour – sour hard candies, like Warheads. Lemon, lemon juice, grilled pineapple mixed with almond and cashew butter, nutty raisin bread dusted with more crushed nuts and spent peanut shells, including the red skins. Firm layers of oak and sweet wood lay down a balanced foundation with sea salt, Christmas spices and buttered french toast – breakfast and dessert in a glass.
Youthful and possessive in it’s 8 year & 9 month swagger. I’m being drawn more and more to younger whiskeys as my palate has progressed over the years, to the extent that I almost prefer bourbon under 10 years old. This expression of FR is the perfect testament to why this is, exerting layers and layers that you could nose for easily 30 minutes.
Palate: Sticky sweet. Oily, rich, dense and meaty with a lot of weight. Rye, cedar & oak spices with this wet mentholic note start on the tip of your tongue, then proceed to cover your entire mouth. The meat marinade note from the nose is hear but it’s sweeter – more savory and sugary sweet. Charcoal, barrel char, black licorice, treacle, green rye grains, corn and tons of smoke. This could be the smokiest bourbon I’ve had to date, perhaps from the hickory that is so assertive starting on the nose, but is ever present here as well. Warm and inviting. The overall balance of rich sweetness to smokey dryness is phenomenal. The palate rounds out before the finish with just beautiful smoke, and a pleasantly sour and savory finish.
Finish: Sweet and smokey with a long finish. Mesquite, chocolate covered peanuts with a pinch of salt sprinkled on top. Spice and smoke fight for dominance in waves as you exhale. Bitter black coffee, oak and thick caramel.
Bourbon and House Rating: 94.5
To me, this is what bourbon should be. This bourbon deserves every point (and half point) of 94.5 because of not only how well everything is executed, but it goes above and beyond the average profile of caramel, fruit and vanilla that are so commonplace in the average “bourbon profile”, not to mention this single barrel offers a remarkably distinct experience. The smoke, campfire, hickory and mesquite & umami flavors are absolutely phenomenal and stand out the most. I’m glad Sammy picked a young barrel, as I feel that is a huge factor as to why this barrel is so sumptuous and rich. On the neck tag of all FR single barrel pics you’ll find a very brief, small description of what FR’s 10 recipes have to offer. They describe OESK as ‘Spicy, Full Body’, and thats exactly what you get here. To be fair though, I’ve had OESK’s that I didn’t feel fit the ‘Spicy, Fully Body’ description, the most recent being Elliot’s Select. Of course every barrel is different, but between natural variation and perhaps the age gap of 6 years (Elliot’s Select is 14yrs), I thought Royal Liquors barrel blew Elliot’s out of the water (further proof that older age is never an indicator of better whiskey).
The experience when drinking Royal Liquors OESK is nothing short of spectacular, and as I stated before, I think an important factor is the age and I can see exactly why Sammy picked this 8.9 year old barrel. I would take a youthful barrel proofer from FR over any of the new “limited” and aged releases coming from Orphan Barrel or young overpriced experimental whiskeys from craft distillers. The only other single barrel that i’ve had in the past year that is comparable to this, would be BevMo!’s Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel from last year, which was also well under 10 years, but even then I got lucky with that, being that BevMo! doesn’t hand select barrels.
Four Roses continues to impress me and this expression from FR’s OESK recipe is the perfect example of how a distillery can push boundaries. It’s almost not fair to even compare what FR is capable of, relative to other distilleries, being that most others have maybe 2-3 recipes/mash bills, if not one. FR having 10 possible combinations through mash bill & yeast strains, can achieve truly unique taste profiles, which few other distilleries ever will. I highly recommend this bottle to any bourbon lover, of course to those die hard FR single barrel collectors, but also to those looking for something unique and different in a bourbon but that will also hit all the notes that you’ll expect and have come to love in bourbon.
For those of you who are fortunate enough to make it in for a bottle, Sammy has the barrel where the above bourbon once slept, displayed right inside the store. If you choose to purchase a bottle of his OESK Single Barrel you can even sign the barrel!