When Four Roses master distiller Jim Rutledge told me his anticipated 2013 Limited Edition Small Batch tasted better in the barrel than his 2012, I honestly thought the usually humble distiller was blowing smoke. Marketers tend to influence distillers to say things to push more bottles. Has Rutledge given in to bean counters?
(Note: The Four Roses LE was a media sample.)
“I keep going back to it,” Rutledge said at an April event, “and it keeps getting better.”
Whisky Advocate named the 2012 Limited Edition Small Batch the “American Whiskey of the Year.” Was he just trying to capitalize on this?
Thus, the buzz has been so strong for this particular Four Roses Limited Edition that when I Tweeted I tasted, people started asking me not to review it to keep the whiskey under the radar. This whiskey has been hyped up like LeBron James in a dunk contest if he ever entered one.
The three barrels used to make this 125th Anniversary 2013 Limited Edition Small Batch include: 18-year-old OBSV, 13-year-old OBSK, and a 13-year-old OESK. (To learn about Four Roses 10 recipes, click here.)
Roughly 8,000 bottles of uncut, non-chill filtered, barrel strength bourbon will be made available throughout the U.S. in September.
“The anticipation of this bottling has been like carrying a Precious diamond around in my pocket and trying to hide it – not to let the cat out of the bag – and have something dreadful happen,” Rutledge told me. “I can’t wait for it to hit the market.”
So, does it live up to the hype?
My 110-proof sample’s color resembles a medium dark wood with slight shades of straw. The nose instantly screams fruity and spicy with resounding notes of peach, caramel, vanilla and slightly smokiness that offers a quick hickory ash. The taste, oh my, the taste just really warms my palate with a creamy texture that’s sensational. The tannins smoothly drip down the jaw, much like the sliding legs in my tasting glass. I pick up so much: vanilla, a pad of honey spread on toasted rye bread, cinnamon, leather, tobacco, nutmeg and hints of herbs, allspice and adobo. The finish actually lingered on my tongue for more than three minutes, never burning or exhausting a single part of my tongue.
I can see why Jim Rutledge was so excited. This whiskey tells a story, one of resilience. Although Four Roses is gaining steam now, it’s parent company, Seagrams, took it off the American market in the 1950s to make Crown Royal the lead U.S. act. Prior to this move, Four Roses was top-selling brand, regularly appeared in the pictures and literature. Heck, even my wife’s grandma kept a bottle around the house. After Seagrams pulled them from the U.S., Four Roses built strong international markets that still remain strong. But, for Rutledge, he couldn’t even find the whiskey he made in his local liquor store.
Then, in February 2002, the Kirin Brewery Company purchased the Four Roses brand and brought it back to the U.S. Up until last year, Four Roses lacked a truly signature moment that said it was back. It’s had trickles: Whisky Magazine‘s “Icons of America: Distiller of the Year” from 2011-2013 and last year’s Whisky Advocate award. Could this Limited Edition Small Batch be Four Roses’ greatest splash?
This 125th Anniversary Limited Edition bourbon is the best bourbon he’s ever bottled, Rutledge says. And that’s not the marketers talking. Is it the greatest Four Roses bourbon ever made?
I will say that this Limited Edition sings a very clear tune: Welcome Home, Four Roses. We can officially say you’re back.