I’ve heard more than a few prominent master distillers say they don’t like bourbon aged much past 9 years. They say it gets too bitter, oaky, tannic, etc., that the bloom of youth—those terrific fruit notes our noses and palates crave—disappear; that at that age, the barrel becomes a sarcophagus for the whiskey, no longer a benefactor.
Well, folks, if that’s the case, then my palate is screwed up. Royally. And Exhibit A for this sarcastically sad state is the 2019 Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch. This is a mingling of four bourbons drawing on four of its 10 mashbills. The youngest (an OESV) is 11 years old, the oldest (OBSV) is 21, and in the middle are two 15-year selections, an OESK and an OESV.
That’s geezer whiskey by many people’s standards, a bottle that should have an ornamental cane hanging from its neck. Yes, it’s aged all right, but trust me, it’s a whiskey for the ages.
A whopping total of three press folk journeyed to Four Roses’ aging and bottling site in Cox’s Creek, between Clermont (Jim Beam) and Bardstown last week. There, we tasted barrel strength expressions of each age and recipe chosen by master distiller Brent Elliott for this year’s release. For those who assuming, “Oh, surely the 21-year-old was an oak bomb,” you’re wrong. And I was among you, initially, until I tasted it.
It was robust to be sure, but its complexity wasn’t overwhelming or off-putting. In fact, if you can imagine it, the 21-year-old deserves the lion’s share of credit for surprisingly soft and expansive finish.
Here’s how the whole mingling broke down in terms of share:
- 21-year was 8 percent
- 15-year OESK was 25 percent
- 15-year OESV was 40 percent
- 11-year was 27 percent
“We wanted balance and something vibrant,” Elliott said. “We didn’t want any astringent oak, which you’d think you’d get from a 21-year-old bourbon, but that wasn’t the case at all.”
Vibrant is right, along with notes of green apple, hard-candy fruit, and almost-cherry syrup mid-palate notes. Oak takes a sturdy stand at the rear, but it’s barely drying, highly complex and slips in a hint of bitter chocolate. The whole brings a solid dose of allspice and caramel. Even at 112.6 proof, you want to roll it around to access every nook and cranny of your mouth and explore new flavors and textures. It’s spicy, but not prickly, merely tingly.
When Four Roses began this special bottling in 2009, only 2,800 were released. It didn’t take long before release numbers doubled, then tripled, and lines outside its two gift shops began forming at 4 a.m.
“For the 2019 release, we’ll have 13,440 bottles for U.S. markets,” Elliott said. “Three-thousand bottles will go overseas.”
If I’ve made you interested in this bottle, here’s hoping you get one. But even with that record release number, they’ll be hard to find. If you find one, I hope you get it at the suggested retail price of $140. There’ll be no shortage of retailers willing to double that price and no shortage of people willing to splurge on it.
If you can get one, get it, and keep it. This one is a dandy.