One of the distinctive features of American bourbon producers is their use of multiple yeast strains to create different aroma and flavor profiles from their mash bills. Elsewhere around the world whisky distillers typically use a single yeast strain. In some cases, this may be a proprietary strain that was selected by the distillery and is exclusive to it. Usually it is an off the shelf strain that is available to anyone from a commercial yeast supplier.
The Four Roses distillery has the distinction of using five different yeast strains. Combined with two different mash mills, it gives the company 10 very different distillates that it can use for blending purposes.
Four Roses uses two different mash bills. The first mash bill consists of 75% corn, 20% rye and 5% malted barley. It is designated by the letter E. The second mash bill consists of 65% corn, 35% rye and 5% malted barley. It is designated by the letter B.
The five different yeast strains are designated by the letters K, O, Q, F and V
Yeast K produces a full bodied, notably spicy spirit.
Yeast O has a rose petal, floral quality. It’s medium bodied, with some spiciness, but less than that produced by yeast K.
Yeast Q is slightly fruity, with a medium body and a spicy character.
Yeast F is characterized by more dried herbal notes.
Yeast V is also fruity, with a light, creamy, spicy character.
Every barrel at Four Roses carries one of 10 (four) letter codes. These are: OESK, OESQ, OESO, OESF, OESV, OBSK, OBSQ, OBSO, OBSF and OBSV.
The first letter is always an O, and indicates that the whiskey was produced at the Four Roses distillery. The second letter is either an E or a B, and refers to the mash bill used to produce the spirit. The third letter is always an S, and indicates that the spirit is a straight whiskey. Under US rules, to be designated a straight whiskey, a spirit has to be made using a mash bill containing only grain, must be distilled at less than 160 proof (80% ABV) and must be casked at a proof strength of at least 125 proof (62.5% ABV). The last letter corresponds to one of the five yeast strains utilized by the distillery.
One additional feature unique to Four Roses is the fact that the identities of the different distillates or recipes that go into the final blend are listed on the bottle. This bit of transparency allows the consumer to know which combination of the 10-different aroma and flavor profiles were used in compiling the final blend.
The core range of Four Roses consists of three different expressions. Yellow Label has historically been the brand’s entry level offering ($20). It is made from a blend of all 10 of the distillery’s recipes.
The second expression, Four Roses Small Batch is in the middle of the range. It is slightly more expensive ($35), older (7+ YO), stronger (45% ABV) and uses only four of the 10 different yeasts.
The third, and top expression in the core range, has been the Four Roses Single Barrel. It carried a more expensive price ($40), even higher proof (50% ABV) and only used one of the 10 different yeasts at a time, although most of the time the spirit used was the one designated OBSV.
The newest addition to the Four Roses core range is Four Roses Small Batch Select. It is the first permanent addition to the core range since 2007. This expression is the most expensive ($65), strongest (52% ABV) and utilizes of six different distillates. Master Distiller Brent Elliott personally selected and blended casks of OBSV, OBSK, OBSF, OESV, OESK and OESF. It is a mix of 6 YO and 7 YO bourbons, so it is younger than the whiskies in the single barrel bottlings.
Small Batch Select was released to commemorate the completion of the expansion of the Four Seasons distillery that began in 2015. The project invested $34 million into the distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kansas and $21 million into the warehouse and bottling facility in Cox’s Creek, Kentucky. The expansion will double capacity from four million to eight million proof gallons. A proof gallon is a gallon of spirits that is 50% alcohol at 60 degrees F. The increased production will fill 130,000 additional barrels of maturing spirit.
Four Roses, Small Batch Select, 52% ABV, 750 ml
The color is a rich amber. On the nose, there are spice notes of cinnamon and a bit of clove, along with caramel and baked apple and a hint of red fruit. The spiciness becomes more pronounced as the whiskey opens up. There are oak notes in the background, along with some elements of old, polished saddle leather.
On the palate, the whiskey has a sweet note accompanied by wood spice elements and hints of licorice, candied orange zest and salted caramel. The higher proof is readily apparent, producing a noticeable burn at the back of the mouth.
The finish is long, with a persistent sweet caramel note accompanied by a pepperiness that steadily builds, along with some peach notes and some slight bitterness.
The addition of a little water brings out spice notes on the nose and adds a smooth, creamy texture on the palate. Definitely a whiskey to drink on the rocks or with a little water.
This is an excellent whiskey. It offers nuanced complexity and is reasonably priced. It would have been interesting to see an older version, say at 10 YO or 12 YO, and assess how the smoothness had improved.
Appearance 9/10, Nose 28/30, Palate 27/30, Finish 27/30, Overall score: 91/100