husband, father, whisky lover, blogger, freelance whisky writer, and head of the New Jersey Whiskey Society & leading the USBG NJ efforts...currently the New Jersey Whisky Ambassador for Diageo & therefore leave the recent writing duties to guest bloggers, primarily that Bourbon loving fella named Gerard

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Monday, September 23, 2013

Four Roses NJWS Tasting

I keep banging it home often in these posts…I love the romanticism that surrounds whiskey.

The story behind Four Roses fits that bill perfectly.

As legend has it, Paul Jones Jr. (who started the company in 1884) had a sweetheart.  He had proposed to her, and she playfully came up with a unique way to accept or deny his request.

If the Southern belle were to wear a corsage of roses on her gown to the upcoming Grand Ball, it meant that she accepted his proposal.  Sure enough, she accepted, and that moment proved inspirational when it came to naming his new bourbon business. 

That beautiful story is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Four Roses, as they have had past riddled with stories.  Throughout the years there have been a few company buyouts, turmoil, and a point at which they nearly left the US Market for good.

But, not to worry, Four Roses has not gone the way of the Dodo Bird.  Quite the contrary.  They do something I love…they list out their mashbills and yeast strains and how they use them on their website.   Man, I love that technical stuff.  Essentially, they have five proprietary yeast strains, and two separate mashbills.  That leads them to produce 10 different bourbons.  Another key spec is that they use single-story rick houses instead of the more traditional multi-story houses.

Quick Reference List for Four Roses Bourbons:

  • All ten recipes are used in the brand's signature Yellow label.
  • Four recipes are used to create a Small Batch.
  • One recipe is used to create a Single Barrel.
  • Limited Edition releases of any of the above are handpicked by the Master Distiller.

Special thanks to the outstanding folks at the Baddish Group for the samples.  I was able to host a special NJ Whiskey Society meeting this past week, where I presented the entire Four Roses story, complete with obnoxious details about mashbills and three outstanding whiskeys.  Including data sheets and the Four Roses website up for viewing the entire tasting, all members had a fantastic time, and ALL three options were well received.

The only challenge was selecting a favorite!
Roses?  You shouldn't have...
Here is a quick rundown of what we sampled (with my tasting notes):

Four Roses Yellow Label Bourbon

Appearance:  Amber +1

Nose:  Floral, slight citrus (oranges)

Palate:  Vanilla, Oak, Corn, has the crispness of biting into a fresh Granny Smith apple

Finish:  A little dry, but smooth & spicy

Overall:  The flagship & brand standard.  It is Johnny Walker Red to JW, it is White Label to Jim Beam, it is Yellow Label to Four Roses.  It can be found almost anywhere in the USA for under $25 and is so surprisingly tasty that, tasted blind, I bet some folks would put it in the category of $30 booze.  Certainly some of the best Bourbon you can find that is also available in a plastic jug.  This one does not deserve to be lumped into a category with the other ‘bottom shelfers’.  Score:  82

Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon

Appearance:  Copper

Nose:  That signature floral note, peppery spices, caramel

Palate:  A bit of apple, nutmeg, a little wood

Finish:  A tiny bit of spice on the back end, caramel & cinnamon

Overall:  For the Small Batch, they combine four of their recipes in an effort to create something that is unique, smooth and still complex.  Mission accomplished.  This is a very easy-drinker, and a front runner as an introductory Bourbon for newbies.  The fact that it is a bit one-note keeps me from scoring it higher, but it is tough not to like this stuff.  Score:  85

Four Roses Single Barrel

Official NJWS Tasting Notes Sheet & 4RSB

(Warehouse WE, Barrel 8-14)

Appearance:  Dark Amber

Nose:   Big Time Vanilla, Oak, Floral (break out the Zyrtec, it’s lovely!)

Palate:  Lots going on here…Syrupy molasses, Vanilla, assorted fruits (berries)

Finish:  Long and Smooth and Warming

Overall:  This is the most expensive of the three we sampled here today, and as the name implies, it is a Single Barrel.  Meaning that this whiskey came from one barrel, and was not blended or married or vatted or however you would like to phrase it.  The beauty of a Single Barrel is that there will be some variation barrel to barrel, but when you get a great one it shines well above the price paid.  (a-la the Balvenie 15YR in Scotch).  The bottle itself is a pretty cool decanter-style presentation with a leather strap, and the 50% ABV makes me a happy man!  Keeping the proof this high really lets the whiskey shine as all of the complex flavors burst on the palate and leave you gasping for more.  One of my favorites.  Score:  90


Jim Rutledge has been at the helm since 1995 and has been kicking butt ever since.  Know as 'Mr. Four Roses', he is just awesome.  I love virtually everything that he has had his name behind, and all three of these expression follow suit.  I'd love to try their Black label and Super Premium expressions, but they are only released in Japan.  Four Roses is surely one of my favorite 'major' distilleries going right now as I simply have not had a bad one in years.  (I had a slightly off 4RSB about 4 years ago, but that is the beauty of Single Barrels, no-harm no-foul.  Even off it was better than most!)  I have had quite a few of these Single Barrels over the years, so even despite that one bottle, I can say with confidence that for the price it is still one of the most consistently outstanding bourbons you can find easily.  Overall, Four Roses makes a fine product and I usually have one of them on my shelf as a go-to grabber in a pinch as they tend to embody classic execution.  Like I stated earlier, their website is loaded with precious wonderful details, including their recipe strategy here.

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