Four Roses has a pretty solid following. Often on forums and in discussions with whiskey fans, I hear offhand statements like “this is a little like Four Roses, which is my favorite bourbon.” That’s a pretty strong recommendation for a bourbon that’s readily available and doesn’t have the trappings of mystique like Pappy Van Winkle or the respectability of craft producers like High West and Tuthilltown. My review of the “plastic jug” Yellow Label was actually pretty positive.
Four Roses Small Batch comes from the distiller’s 75%-20% (corn-to-rye) recipe and is bottled at 45% ABV after approximately 8 years of maturation. The “small batch” refers to a limited selection of barrels that are “batched” or vatted together to achieve a specific flavor profile. This one comes in at around $30 a bottle, which makes it comparable to (and somewhat cheaper than) other “small batch” bourbon releases. Don’t confuse this with the “Limited Edition” small batch, which is far more expensive.
Four Roses proudly uses only non-GMO corn, which is surprisingly (and expensive!) in this age of mass commodity production of corn. Good on you, Four Roses.
Nose: Spice. Lots and lots of black pepper. Black licorice. Mulling spices, but mostly black pepper.
Palate: Full-bodied and corn heavy, with lots of molasses. Suddenly it’s all sweetness and wood. Where are the spices?
Finish: Caramel Apple! Some milk chocolate. Much better finish than palate. Finally trails off with some cinnamon.
With Water: BIG Spice comes through on the nose, and the water wakes up some cayenne. Thins the body somewhat, and kills the finish. Try it once with water, but in general this bourbon doesn’t need it.
Overall: A respectable rye-recipe bourbon with some big, bold flavors. It’s not often that I’m able to identify bourbon notes other than cinnamon and spice (from the rye), corn syrup (from the corn), and charcoal (from the toasted barrels). Here I find black pepper on the nose, and delights like caramel apple and milk chocolate on the finish. The only downside is the relatively one-note palate, which is all corn syrup and barrel char. For that reason, I’d order this at a bar, but I wouldn’t make it my staple home bourbon. Still, for under $40, this stands up well to the competition.