Bulleit 10 y/o

Distiller: Four Roses, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, USA (For now. Brand owned by Diageo)wpid-2015-07-10-19.53.00.jpg.jpeg

Style: High rye bourbon.

Age: 10 y/o

Proof: 91.2 (45.6% ABV)

Michigan State Minimum: $47

Appearance: Burnt orange

Nose: Alcohol, red pepper flakes, charred oak.

Palate: Caramel, toffee, oak, serrano chiles, lavender, grape bubblegum.

Finish: Oak, alcohol, circus peanut.

Parting words: This is the latest installment in the “cleaning out my liquor cabinet” series. I bought this bottle at the distillery. Well, not at the distillery it was distilled at, but at the one that serves as home to the “Bulleit Experience”, Stizel-Weller.

This this bourbon is fine. No flaws, drinks well, etc. But Four Roses Single Barrel is $42, 100 proof and almost always more interesting than this. There’s no good reason to buy this bourbon instead of that one. Bulleit 10 y/o is mildly recommended.

Four Roses triple header: OESO vs. OESO vs. OESO single barrel selections

Maker: Four Roses, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, USAwpid-2014-11-12-17.24.33.jpg.jpeg

BBD= Binny’s

TPS= The Party Source

GBS= Georgia Bourbon Society

Warehouse: BN

Barrel

BBD: 31-1D

TPS: 30-3E

GBS: 30-3G

Age

BBD: 10 yrs, 11 mos.

TPS: 10 yrs, 3 mos.

GBS: 11 yrs, 5 mos.

Proof

BBD: 103.8 (51.9% ABV)

TPS: 115 (57.5% ABV)

GBS: 114 (57% ABV)

BBD: $55

TPS: $50 (current price for private selections)

GBS: Not disclosed (<$50)

Appearance

BBD: Medium dark copper.

TPS: A little lighter with more orange.

GBS: Somewhere between the two (which are pretty similar anyway).

Nose

BBD: Leather, peanut brittle, cumin.

TPS: Big oak, touch of caramel.

GBS: Oak is just as big, but with more spice. Chili powder, Tabasco sauce.

Palate

BBD: Sweet and creamy on the palate, like vanilla toffee chews.

TPS: Sweet and creamy too, but not quite as rich.

GBS: Similar mouthfeel to BBD and just as sweet but more complex with Mexican chocolate flavors.

Finish

BBD: Sweet but drying. Toasted marshmallows. Lingers for a long time,

TPS: The oak carries through in the finish but with enough caramel to round it off.

GBS: Best of the bunch. Smoky chocolate and toffee.

Parting words: OESO is one of the most popular of Four Roses’ ten recipes for retailer and private selections, as this tasting illustrates. The E indicates the lower rye mashbill and the final O indicates the O yeast was used in fermentation. The O yeast is known for contributing a “robust fruitiness” to its offspring. These bourbons are all quite robust but not much was there in the way of fruitiness.

They are all very similar, as one might expect, but some of the subtle differences surprised me. I arranged the tasting the way I did, because I assumed that the TPS and the GBS would be closest in flavor but they weren’t. They were rick neighbors and came out at similar proofs but they ended up being the least alike of the three. The closest in profile were the BBD and GBS barrels. There were subtle differences between them but I highly doubt I could win a Pepsi Challenge scenario with the two of them.  The TPS barrel was the outlier. It is the youngest, but it was the woodiest of the three.

All three were very good, but the edge here goes to the product of the GBS barrel (which I and some friends of the blog helped select). The GBS selection was not for sale to the general public, but any GBS member would be happy to pour you some if you ask nicely. All are highly recommended.

American Prairie Reserve

Maker: High West, Park City, Utah, USAwpid-2014-09-12-19.18.58.jpg.jpeg

Distillers: MGPI, Lawrenceburg, Indiana/Four Roses, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, USA

Style: Blend of straight bourbons (cannot be called straight because bourbons are from different states)

Age: 6 y/o (blend of 6 y/o MGPI with 10 y/o Four Roses)

Proof: 92 (46% ABV)

Michigan State Minimum: $42

Appearance: Medium copper with evenly spaced legs.

Nose: Alcohol, bubble gum, leather, salted caramel, whiff of steamed asparagus.

Palate: Spicy and a little hot. Cotton candy, jalapeno, oak, country ham.

Finish: Semi-dry. Oak, raw pecans, alcohol.

Parting words: High West has gone from a start up to one of America’s premier blenders and rectifiers in just a few short years. This bourbon (their first & only to my knowledge) is actually a reunion of sorts. The distilleries now called MGPI and Four Roses were both once owned by Seagram’s, which I imagine led to a lot of farcical missed meetings. “OK, I’m in Lawrenceburg, where are you?” “I’m in Lawrenceburg, where are YOU?” “Lawrenceburg, Kentucky!” “UHOH!”

Anyway, American Prairie Reserve is not cheap, but it’s well done and worth the price, especially considering that 10% of after tax profits go toward efforts to establish a federal American Prairie Reserve in northeastern Montana. That’s also why there’s a grouse on the label.

American Prairie Reserve is recommended.

Four Roses 125th Anniversary Limited Edition Small Batch (2013)

Maker: Four Roses, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, USA (Kirin)4R Ltd Ed Small Batch 2013

Age: 13 y/o

Recipes: OBSV (18 y/o), OBSK & OESK (both 13 y/o)

Proof: 103.2 (51.6% ABV)

Appearance: Medium Copper with thick persistent legs.

Nose: Alcohol, leather, pomegranate juice, habanero chili. After a while in the glass it settles into a more conventional high-rye bourbon profile. Caramel, jalapeno, and leather continues.

On the palate: Surprisingly easy to drink at barrel/bottle proof, but then again it’s a surprisingly low proof out of a barrel. Cherry juice, oak, sweet corn, blackberry, white mulberry, burn. Water brings out sweetness and fruity notes.

Finish: Alcohol, caramel, leather. As on the palate, water brings out the fruity sweetness in the finish and tones down the alcohol.

Parting words: For the second year in a row, the Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch has won Whisky Advocate’s American Whiskey of the Year, and with very good reason. Last year’s was very very good, the best since 2009, but this one is even better. It’s a very similar mix of recipes, but with a higher (probably) proportion of bourbon made with the K yeast. It’s older too, which makes its balance of barrel and fruit even more remarkable. As bourbons get into the double digits, they usually get dry and oaky. This one has all the fruit of a young bourbon like Very Old Barton at close to three times the age. It’s a neat trick. It’s balanced, complex, sophisticated and bold all at the same time and it’s one of the best bourbons I’ve ever tasted.

These limited edition Four Roses releases are the 21st Century’s answer to Very Very Old Fitzgerald. Four Roses is the Stitzel-Weller of now. Unfortunately for those of us who have loved them for a long time, they are starting to be snatched up like S-W. I was able to get several bottles of last year’s release fairly easily, but this year the prices are much higher and the bottles are harder to find, even though they are more widely distributed. If you see one, buy one. If you can get more, get more. If you break your budget buying them, I’d be happy to take a few off your hands. I paid around $90 for mine which is a lot, but worth every penny. Four Roses 125th Anniversary Limited Edition Small Batch is highly recommended.

Four Roses Limited Edition Single Barrel, 2013

Maker: Four Roses, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, USA. (Kirin)4R SB 2013

Style: High rye bourbon

Recipe: OBSK

Age: 13 y/o

Warehouse/Barrel No.: BS/3-3Q

Proof: 121 (60.5% ABV)

Appearance: Dark copper with some necklacing.

Nose: Alcohol, bubble gum, leather, rose petals, lavender. Not too different with water, a bit clearer. On the palate: Medium bodied. Burn, candy, caramel, roses. With water it becomes big and sweet. Cotton candy, rose hips, oak, grape soda.

Finish: Evaporates quickly off the tongue leaving a soft leathery flavor, some fruit punch and a lot of burn. Fruitier and more delicate with water.

Parting Words: About twelve hours after writing up these notes (right after I opened the bottle) I did a comparison tasting against the 2012, of which I have several bottles. The 2012 was a different mashbill but the same yeast strain and a year or so younger. There are clear similarities, but big differences as well. The 2012 I tasted (52.6% ABV, SN/81-3i) was much more balanced and desserty (if that’s a word) with loads of caramel and similar flavors. The comparison also brought out a capsaicin note in the 2013, similar to ghost peppers or habaneros. I didn’t think the 2013 fares well in comparison to the 2012, but I do like it better than the 2011 I had and the 2010 100th anniversary bottling (cue Whiskey Wonka). The 120th Anniversary Single Barrel (2008) is also OBSK but it’s been so long since I’ve had it that I don’t feel comfortable comparing the two.

In summary, the 2013 Four Roses Limited Edition Single Barrel is a very good bourbon but not as good as some of its predecessors. Not counting the 40th (2007) and 120th anniversary for reasons of memory (see above), I would rank 2013 squarely in the middle of the pack of Four Roses limited edition single barrel releases. Being in the middle of that pack is better than being at the top of any other pack, though. The Michigan state minimum of $80 is high for a bourbon of its age but given the high proof, unchillfiltering and the unmatched quality of Four Roses across the board, it’s worth it. Four Roses Limited Edition Single Barrel, 2013 is recommended.

Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch 2012

Maker: Four Roses, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, USA (Kirin)

Age: 11 y/o

Composition: OBSV- 17 y/o & 11 y/o, OBSK 12 y/o, OESK 12 y/o

Proof: 111.4 (55.7% ABV)

Appearance: Dark copper.

Nose: Oak, caramel, toffee, tarragon clove, jalapeno. With a splash of water, bubblegum, leather, fennel, nutmeg.

On the palate: Dark caramel, taffy, aniseed candy. With water, soft and fluffy mouth feel. Caramel, oak, toffee again, allspice, table grapes.

Finish: Heat, then fruit, then oak, then a long tingle.

Parting words: If you’re expecting me to rave about how great this is, like I do with all the Four Roses annual releases, then you obviously read this blog and know me very well. Continuing the symphonic metaphor from the review of the 2011 release, this is Beethoven’s seventh symphony. If you’re not familiar with Beethoven’s 7th, it may be his best after the 9th. It has the power of the fifth symphony and the richness and texture of the sixth. The 2012 Ltd Ed Small Batch has the power of the 2010 release and the complexity and elegance of the 2011 release. The result is a flawless whiskey, like the seventh is a flawless symphony. Mariage 2009 is still the ninth, though. It transcended the genre and broke new ground that still hasn’t been completely mined.

At any rate, this is one of the best bourbons I have ever had. It’s as good as the 2012 single barrel, and is an improvement on the 2010 and 2011 Ltd Ed Small Batches. Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch, 2012 is highly recommended.

Head to Head: Bourye vs. Son of Bourye

Maker: High West, Park City, Utah, USA

Distilleries: Four Roses, Barton-1792, LDI

Style: Blended whiskeys (bourbon +rye, no GNS)

1. Bouryre

2. Son of Bouryre

Batch

1. 1 (thanks Amy!)

2. 3

Age (youngest whiskey in the mix)

1. 10 y/o

2. 3 y/o

Proof

1. 92

2. 92

Appearance

1. Dark copper, long, thick legs.

2. Burt orange, long, fairly thin legs.

Nose

1. Alcohol, oak, caramel, cumin, crushed red pepper.

2. Peppermint, lemongrass, tomatoes, ginger.

On the palate

1. Thick, soft mouthfeel. Creamy soft caramels, nougat, a bit of fennel, alcohol

2. A little thin. Mild, some mint and orange.

Finish

1. Hot, but fading to sweet caramel with a hint of oak.

2. Warm, but not too hot. Some light vegetal notes as it fades slowly.

Parting words

The Bourye is from a bottle I split with a friend, but  I failed to record the batch information. At any rate, the differences between these two whiskeys are pretty stark. The Bourye is well-balanced and an enjoyable sipper. It has plenty of spice, but balanced out by caramel (presumably from the bourbon) and oak (presumably from the 16 y/o rye in the mix). I have seen it on shelves recently, but in most places it has long since sold out. It was pricey, and the remaining bottles will be even pricier now, but it is very well done and there’s nothing not to like. Bourye is recommended.

Son of Bourye was really awful when I first opened it. It was like drinking tomato ketchup. It has settled down in the bottle since then, but it is still mediocre. Some apparently enjoy sour, citric notes in their bourbon. I don’t. The whiskeys in the mix are very young and it shows. The young high rye rye, overwhelms everything else. If this whiskey were $20 cheaper, it might earn a mild recommendation as a change of pace and a decent mixer. Its price, around $40, puts it into the sipper category. As a casual sipping whiskey, it fails. I find it hard to recommend Son of Bourye compared to its competition in that range such as Elijah Craig, Knob Creek, or Wild Turkey Rare Breed. Not recommended.

Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch 2011

Maker: Four Roses, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, USA

Age: 11 y/o (mean age 12.25 y/o)

Recipes: OBSK, OESK, OESV, OESQ

Proof: 110.2 (55.1% ABV)

Appearance: Coppery auburn

Nose: Oak, alcohol, caramel, butterscotch, raw almonds, antique roses.

On the palate: Full-bodied and hot. With water, cassia, caramel, vanilla toffees, oak, amaretto.

Finish: Hot, rosewater, roasted almonds, oak and christmas spice at the end. Tingles all over for an obscenely long time.

Parting words: As always, Four Roses delivered a remarkable bourbon for its Ltd Ed Small Batch in 2011. The 2010 was an agressive, brash, punk rock sort of whiskey. 2011 is much more Classical, as in Haydn, Mozart and early Beethoven. It’s a leather armchair, sipping bourbon.

2011 is beautiful and has its complexity, but it’s not the breathtaking masterpiece that Mariage (the predecessor to Ltd Ed Small Batch) 2009 was. It’s Hayn’s 100th Symphony, not Beethoven’s ninth. But that doesn’t mean it’s not great in its own right. It is. It is one of the best bourbons I’ve had. It is probably the second best bourbon in this Ltd Ed Small Batch/Mariage series. Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch 2011 is highly recommended.

Four Roses Limited Edition Single Barrel 2009

Maker: Four Roses, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, USA (Kirin)

Age: 11 y/o

Recipe: OESQ

Warehouse/Barrel: 55/43-3Q

Proof: 116.2 (58.1% ABV)

Appearance: Light auburn with thin, elegant legs

Nose: Rich. Crème brûlée, chocolate mousse, mint, alcohol, clove, orange blossom, mace, oak.

On the palate: Full bodied and sweet. Chocolate orange, vanilla. With water it turns silky. Key lime pie, roasted candy almonds, cocoa almonds.

Finish: Long, sweet and sensuous. Oak, char, circus peanuts, mango.

Parting words: This is sex in a glass, but without the stickiness (ideally). Unlike its (arguably better) predecessors, the 40th and 120th anniversary single barrels, it has a sensual quality unusual in a bourbon. Or to put it another way, this bourbon is the dessert you box up and take back to your hotel room after Valentine’s day dinner at the steak house, and eat right before you fall asleep and right after you, well, you know.

The Four Roses annual releases stay on the shelves for a shockingly long time after they are released compared other high-end annual releases, so there are quite possibly some still out there, but your best bet for trying one is to find a generous friend with a bottle or two squirreled away. Four Roses Limited Edition Single Barrel 2009 is highly recommended.

Four Roses Single Barrel

Maker: Four Roses, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, USA (Kirin)

Style: High-rye bourbon

Age: NAS (about 8-9 y/o)

Warehouse/Barrel: DS/43-IV

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Appearance: Bright Copper

Nose: Boiled peanuts, rye, oak, jalapeno. With a splash of water, I get heirloom roses, leather, and hard candy. A fun night for somebody!

On the palate: Full-bodied. Cassia, cotton candy. A little water loosens it up a bit. A perfumed sweetness, rosewater, sweet cinnamon, a bit of caramel & jalapeno jelly.

Finish: Hot, but complex. Spicy cassia, rye, cotton candy then a light sweetness lingers like a stolen kiss from an old lover. Not that I’ve been kissing any old lovers recently (have I used that line before?).

Parting words: I reviewed this early on in the blog when I was still doing “Now drinking” posts. This is a very different barrel from that one. To use a baffling booze reviewer term, this is a very tight whiskey. At 100 proof it is very assertive and has loads of rye character. It even reminded me of Templeton Rye, which is produced at LDI, Four Roses’ former sister distillery in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. Cut down from 100 proof to somewhere in the 90s, it becomes a relaxed, genteel bourbon suitable for sipping on finer front porches. Aside from special releases, Four Roses Single Barrel is the best bourbon on the market, or at least my favorite. Highly recommended.