Every year I’m bombarded with an increasing number of Valentine’s Day promotions. Sometimes it’s quite staggering what companies suggest for romantic gestures for one’s other half. So far, I’ve failed to bite at a special price superglue bundle (toxic vapours in the air rather than love), a selection of ‘romantic rums’ (what?!) and a slightly discounted bottle of Bowmore 15 – which my wife would see as an early warning of impending divorce. However, The Dramble is far from adverse from a loose calendar tie in, so seeing as we’ve not got any Ballantines to hand, today it’s roses for Valentine’s.
Four Roses Single Barrel is made from the distillery’s OBSV recipe – which requires a little bit of explaining for those new to the Four Roses coding system:
O (Old Prentice) represents the distillery location in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. Way back when, then owners Seagram utilised a wide array of distilleries across the country, so this designation would change. Nowadays, it’s always just O.
B indicates which of the two Four Roses mashbills have been utilised. In this case, 60% corn, 35% rye and 5% malted barley. The other option is the ‘E’ mashbill, which drops the rye down to 20% and ups the corn to 70%.
S is somewhat of a pointless letter - it just indicates ‘straight whiskey’ and is present across all the codes.
V describes the yeast strain. And this is where things get more interesting - Four Roses uses five proprietary strains each identified by a different letter:
V= Light Fruitiness, Light Vanilla, Caramel and Creamy
K= Light Slight Spice, Light Caramel and Full Bodied
O= Rich Fruitiness, Light Vanilla, Caramel and Full Bodied
Q= Essences of Floral
F= Essences of Herbal Aromas
The net result is ten different bourbon recipes – in essence five different yeasts for each of the two mashills. These variants are utilised throughout the Four Roses range of expressions – for instance, the entry point Four Roses Yellow is composed of a combination of all ten recipes. Four Roses Small Batch is produced by combining OBSK, OBSO, OESK and OESO. The standard 100 proof Single Barrel releases are always simple OBSV, but, it’s interesting to note that the distillery has produced barrel proof versions of all ten of their different recipes over time – completists rejoice.
Each bottle of Single Barrel indicates its warehouse and barrel number, in the case of our bottle – warehouse NN, barrel 15-2K. Seemingly superfluous, but remember - similarly to single cask Scotch - there’s going to be noticeably variance between different barrels given temperature and humidity differences within rickhouses. Probably even more so than Scotch – they stack barrels higher and the ambient temperatures in Kentucky fluctuate more widely and seasonally than in Scotland.
You can pick up a bottle of Four Roses Single Barrel quite easily - £40 from Master of Malt – considerably cheaper and easier to obtain than many other single barrel bourbons. But, if you’re looking to explore the coded range of other single barrel releases more extensively to find out which mashbill and yeast combination suits your tastes, you’re going to have to hunt around….and pay more than £40 for the privilege. But, in its simplest form, Four Roses Single Barrel to my mind represents great value for money – particularly here in the UK where it’s commonly available.
Nose: Delicate and intricate – surprisingly so for the ABV. Coconut macaroons, split vanilla pods and toasted cereals are supported by golden tobacco, cut garden stems and gentle cinnamon spice. Toffee and chocolate sauce adds some sweeter aromas. Reduction brings out more fruits with oranges and clementines alongside some overripe but undefined tropicals. It also adds a bready note with toast and oatcakes.
Taste: The arrival delivers much more impact than the nose suggested – an eruption of syrupy rye spiced cherries along with honey sweetness, burnt toffee and reduced pan sugars. Vanilla, toasted corn, coconut and oak planks reinforce the cask influence – highly perceptible, but far from overwrought for this style of whiskey. The addition of water is to my mind ill advised, it thins the mouthfeel incredibly quickly, over emphasising the wood character at the expense of the fruit and spices.
Finish: Medium to long in length with dusty oakiness and a gradual building spiciness (cinnamon) which transposes into bitterness.
Four Roses Single Barrel is a solid choice for expanding your bourbon horizons. Indeed, to my mind, it’s pretty much the perfect step-up from the Small Batch – the additional cost over the entry-level bottling delivering more impact, character and most of all spiciness. As noted above, there’s undoubtedly going to be batch variance here, however to date I’ve yet to sample a botte that’s had any objectionable aspects to it – merely slight nuances between sweetness, fruit, spice and wood. Roses for Valentine’s? La vie est une fleur dont l'amour est le miel