Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Four Roses Bourbon Variety Show

I got a four letter word for you…….OBSV! If you don't know what that is then you're not a true bourbon dork, if you do, welcome to the club. Four Roses bourbon is truly a unique operation and I believe as time progresses, we'll continue to see some really great offerings from them. I say as time progresses because for nearly 40 years, their bourbon was only sold in the foreign markets. So, for about the last 2 years or so, we've seen Four Roses begin expanding market share within the continental U.S.

To take a step back, Four Roses was established sometime around 1860 and over the years became a top selling brand within the U.S. Then something bizarre happened. Seagram's entered the picture, purchased Four Roses and removed the Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (KSBW) offering and only sold a blended whiskey in the U.S. The KSBW was then sold overseas. While I'm not certain of the timing, somewhere toward the end of the 90's Four Roses was available in the U.S. but in Kentucky only. Fast forward to 2007 and Four Roses announces expansion into New York and since then they've expanded to numerous markets. To many, Four Roses is a "new" brand because of the hiatus in America but is fast becoming a favorite among bourbon aficionados.

What makes Four Roses a distinctive distillery is its use of two mashbills and 5 yeast strains. This variety gives Master Distiller Jim Rutledge freedom to create bourbons that are so varied you may taste a Four Roses Single Barrel offering using recipe OESV and not recognize that it's from Four Roses. Ok, so before you get too annoyed with the four letter designations I've been throwing around let me explain the mashbill and recipe process from Four Roses.

First, Four Roses uses two mashbills. The "B" mashbill is high rye containing 60% corn, 35% rye and 5% barley. The "E" mashbill contains 75% corn, 20% rye and 5% barley. Now, add to that the fact that they use 5 different yeast strains as follows:

V - Light Fruit
K - Spicy
F - Herbal
O - Rich / Full Bodied Fruit
Q – Floral

By mixing the combination of mashbill and yeast strain, Four Roses has 10 different recipes they can use for their product line. Here are the recipes and the respective details:

OBSV 60% Corn - Delicate Fruity, Spicy, Creamy

OBSK 60% Corn - Spicy Full bodied

OBSO 60% Corn - Slightly Fruity, Spicy, Medium Body

OBSQ 60% Corn - Floral (Rose Petal), Spicy, Medium Body

OBSF 60% Corn - Mint, Fruity, Spicy, Full Body

OESV 75% Corn - Delicate Fruity, Fresh, Creamy

OESK 75% Corn - Spicy, Full Body

OESO 75% Corn - Fruity (Red Berries), Medium Body

OESQ 75% Corn - Floral, Banana, Fresh, Medium Body

OESF 75% Corn - Mint, Fruity, Full Body

Putting all of this together here is what Four Roses has delivered to us, the bourbon community. Their standard Four Roses, 100 proof single barrel bottling is recipe OBSV. The Four Roses 40th Anniversary release was OESO; and the just released Four Roses Limited Edition 2009 is OESQ. To me as an enthusiast, this is a great capability to have as it provides an opportunity to experience numerous variants from this distillery.

I'm conducting an informal tasting later this week where we will be sampling four different Four Roses Single Barrel offerings using three different recipes. I'm excited for the results and will post here after the event. One final note, Four Roses also offers a Small Batch bourbon that is a marriage of four different recipes (OBSO, OBSK, OESK & OESO). No other distillery can do this. If you haven't experienced Four Roses bourbon, do something about it and pick up a bottle (assuming it's carried in your state).

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