Why Four Roses is the Bourbon Geek’s Darling; Whisky Icon Barrel Picks


April 20, 2015

Not too long ago I was having drinks with a whiskey industry person, and he asked: “Why do all you writers love Four Roses so much?” It was a question I’ve pondered many times since and realized that nobody has really written a truly critical story on Four Roses since the brand reentered the U.S. market in the early 2000s.

Four Roses offers many interesting storylines for the future, including who succeeds long-time master distiller Jim Rutledge, but for now, it’s the bourbon geek’s golden child and it can seemingly do no wrong. Well, when they discontinued the Limited Edition Single Barrel for the time being, that wasn’t the most popular thing to do. But in comparison to Buffalo Trace, Four Roses was largely given a pass for making such a strategic business decision.

I’ve concluded there are three primary reasons why Four Roses is the geek’s darling: Great bourbon, transparency and the old ways.

Four Roses won best bourbon in San Francisco in 2014 and is a two-time bourbon of the year for Whisky Advocate, while I consider the 125th Anniversary Limited Edition Small Batch the best bourbon of the New Millennium.

Four Roses tells you everything about their bourbon. They don’t hide one iota about what’s inside the bottle, and they don’t dodge hard reporter questions. When I ask anybody at Four Roses a question, I’m given the straight skinny. I’ve also learned more about how to make bourbon from Rutledge than anybody else. The guy really should be a professor.

Four Roses makes bourbon the way it used to be made, following its former parent company’s methods of using 10 unique recipes in one batch to achieve consistency. In a recent Whisky Magazine story, I explained how Four Roses ended up with five yeast strains. You can read that story here, but essentially, Seagram’s R&D created a new yeast strain every time one of its Kentucky facilities closed.

So, going back to this fella’s remarks about Four Roses, Whisky Magazine named it “American Whiskey distiller of the Year” in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2015. This person said: “How do they keep winning when they haven’t done anything different?” I think that’s a fair question, but the answer is why they keep winning. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. You can add stills, warehouses, etc., but when the whiskey is perfect, or close to perfect, why change it?

The fact Four Roses has shown restraint to create new line extensions and focused on their core products, while improving the grains, improving the barrel wood, and always giving close attention to the yeast is exactly why they keep winning awards. Will it last? I don’t know, but I’ve learned to enjoy the moment and nobody can dispute Four Roses’ greatness in the here and now.

Whisky Icon Barrel Picks

To celebrate Four Roses’ latest achievement and the retailer Whisky Icon winners, Four Roses created private barrel selections for each retail winner. I was honored to be asked to taste 20 barrels and offer my vote. This is the best vertical of Four Roses’ recipes in single barrel form I’ve ever tasted. These were my top picks and how you can find them. All of these are beyond exceptional and represent Four Roses’ very best. I did not score these nor am I publishing my tasting notes. As a policy, I try not to score or publish tasting notes from tastings at the actual distillery. You just don’t know how much ambience will influence a score! Please note I did rank some barrels ahead of these eventual winners, but the only one that I absolutely loved and had in my top three was an OESK that became a Liquor Barn barrel pick.

OESQ – Liquor Barn, 10 years, 11 months

OBSQ – Hi-Times, 10 years, 11 months

OBSF – Schneider’s, 11 years, 8 months

OBSV – Julio’s, 12 yrs, two months

OESF – Liquor Barn, 10 years, 11 months

OESK – Bayway, 9 years, 4 months

OBSK – Schneider’s, 12 years, 10 months

OESO – Binny’s, 12 years, 4 months

OBSO – Binny’s, 10 years, 4 months

OESV – Wally’s, 10 years, 10 months

I hope you will find these special barrel picks and have your friends over for a Four Roses recipe vertical. I am in the process of finding all these bottles and will write a follow-up post. Let’s compare notes!