In November 1994, Four Roses underwent one of the most seismic changes to their distillery operations up to that point. It made Jim Rutledge it’s Master Distiller. From that point on, Jim instituted measures designed to increase quality across the board. After a series of ownership changes in the early 2000’s, a new core lineup of Four Roses products emerged that would steady the ship. But as with most companies that perfect their craft, releasing a premium version of their product is the next logical step.
In 2007, Four Roses released just such a product: an annual release of single barrels that were deemed to be some of the best they had to offer. Using the same bottle from their recently released “Single Barrel” line, these new “Limited Edition” bottles would be released annually and in small amounts. The front label would always indicate the year of the release while the bottom of the label would have hand-written details about the particular barrel that was used. The left side of the bottle contained profile notes and the recipe that was used. It also listed the bottle number out of how many bottles that were produced that year. The right side of the bottle would contain a fun, quippy quote that would change yearly. For 2014, the quote was “If I could age like bourbon, I wouldn’t mind getting old.”
I was graciously given the opportunity by a friend to taste this particular bottle that you see before you. It is a 2014 release, which only used the OESF recipe. According to the label, 7,122 bottles were produced (of which 5,000 were released in the US). The rough math would mean that Four Roses emptied probably 2 or 3 ricks within Warehouse H (since each rick contains 22 to 23 barrels). This particular bottle comes from the 14th barrel on tier 2 of rick 47.
I sampled this bottle over 3 separate sessions, always neat and in a Glencairn.
Nose: A deep, rich scent of Christmas Fruitcake starts everything off with cherry being the most prominent. There are also some high-rye characteristics like fresh mint and cinnamon. Toasted brown sugar aromas keep the nose sweeter while coming close to covering up the oaky wood scents.
Palate: The flavors start off on the spicier side with notes of black peppercorns, cinnamon red hots and chili powder. I am surprised with the huge punch of bitter oak and tobacco juice. Where did all the sweetness go? This tastes over-oaked and dry. Spearmint is somewhat hidden behind the tannins, but not as much as the fruit is. In fact, although I am detecting some fruit flavors like black cherries, currants and papaya, they’re practically cancelled out by an extremely bitter taste that reminds me of the quinine taste of tonic water. The entire palate seems off because of this.
Finish: The finish can’t salvage the flawed palate. Although I can detect some lingering cherry pie filling flavors, the dry oak and cinnamon wipe out any hopes of the palate finishing on a sweeter note. That makes the remaining rye spices seem harsh and astringent.
Fans of Four Roses will be floored at my tasting notes and score, so let me explain. After my first session, I couldn’t believe how much bitterness and dry oak I was experiencing, so I figured my palate may have been off. But after 3 sessions, I continued to run into the same thing every time. I mentally ran through every issue that I could think of. Was there container contamination? Probably not since it was still in its original bottle instead of a two-ounce sample bottle. Had this bottle sat close to a sunny window or laid on its side for an extended period of time? Not at all. I know the owner of it and he takes great care and caution with storing his bottles. The cork was also original and in terrific condition.
So after ruling out all of the typical factors I could think of as to why I didn’t like this bottle, I have concluded that I am the issue. It’s not that I don’t know how to search for and identify tastes in whiskey, but my theory is that some bottles will never taste or smell good to certain people. Share a bottle with a group of 10 people and I guarantee that one person will probably have a totally different experience from the rest. This is just how our brain perceives the certain tastes and scents it is exposed to.
For a master distiller as renowned as Jim Rutledge, I’m sure he doesn’t set out to pick terrible barrels. In fact, I’m sure that a majority of people who would drink this would find nothing wrong about it at all. But every now and then a whiskey just disagrees with the drinker. Nothing can change that but the drinker can at least acknowledge it. And that is how I will end this review…acknowledging that this is just one of those whiskies that my taste buds were not programmed to enjoy.
1 | Disgusting | Drain pour (Example: Jeffers Creek)
2 | Poor | Forced myself to drink it
3 | Bad | Flawed (AD Laws 4 Grain BiB, Clyde Mays anything)
4 | Sub-par | Many things I’d rather have (Tincup 10 year)
5 | Good | Good, solid, ordinary (Larceny, Sazerac Rye)
6 | Very Good | Better than average (Buffalo Trace, OGD BiB)
7 | Great | Well above average (Old Ezra Barrel Proof, Old Weller Antique)
8 | Excellent | Exceptional (Michter’s Barrel Proof Rye, Four Roses Barrel Strength)
9 | Incredible | Extraordinary (GTS, 13 Year MGP or Canadian Rye)
10 | Insurpassable | Nothing Else Comes Close (William Larue Weller)
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