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Bourbon “Release Season” starts every year around September and lasts until Christmas. Producers are bottling bourbon all the time, but it’s during this specific time that distilleries generally release their best and most desirable bottles.
Old Forester and Four Roses are two such distilleries that sync their limited edition releases at the start of the season while brands like Buffalo Trace, High West, Angel’s Envy and Barrell Craft Spirits are closer to winter.
Let’s be honest, for most of us, the only way we’re going to get our own bottle is if we buy it on the secondary market. With that in mind, the thing I appreciate the most about Four Roses SmBLE is that it’s cheaper and easier to find on the secondary market than almost all other LE’s.
This bottle you see today did not come from the secondary market – instead it was through the very reputable overseas retailer Must Have Malts (which means it’s a 700ml bottle). They’re still a great company to deal with, regardless of what Sazerac has tried to make us think. Read my article here to see how they operate.
The 2022 Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch Bourbon
Early in 2022, Four Roses opened a new gift shop experience at their Lawrenceburg Campus. As is tradition, they decided to do a special release to celebrate this milestone. Nobody was expecting that they’d be 20-year-old OBSV recipe barrels, but there they were… fancy box and all.
These were a hit with the enthusiasts and a lot of people kicked themselves for missing out. Little did we know that we’d see them a few months later in the 2022 Limited Edition Small Batch.
Accompanying those 20 year old barrels were also 15-year-old barrels of OESK bourbon (spicy!), 14-year-old barrels of OESV (fruity!) and for the first time in a long time, 14-year-old barrels of OESF. OESF is a recipe that doesn’t get used a lot.
In fact, the last time we saw it was the 2016 Limited Edition Small Batch release. It should bring some mint and fruit flavors to the party that the other 3 recipes lack.
Four Roses isn’t known for being an “oaky” bourbon. This is true even with the barrels they let mature into their teens. I’m not sure why that is but it might have something to do with the single story warehouses or their use of lower char levels for their barrels.
This begged the question “would the 20 year old barrels finally show us some oak?” I know I will probably find plenty of fruit and spice, but oak is always the missing piece. There’s only one way to find out. Let’s dive into the 2022 version and see how well they did! I sampled this neat in a glencairn.
Nose: The initial scents present a ton of oxidized fruit and oak notes. To put it less eloquently, this smells super old. Old oak meets leather and both of them are fighting for your attention.
There are lots of noticeable fruit scents too. Peach, mango, fig, strawberry and cherry – only they’re mashed up and made into fruit leathers. The sweetness comes from melted Rolos candies and vanilla scented candles.
Palate: The rye flavors are really apparent on the tongue. Licorice, mint, fennel seed and allspice. I can’t recall the last Limited Edition Small Batch that was so rye-forward. The 2018 130th Anniversary release maybe?
Fruit flavors like oxidized dates, plums, black cherries and plenty of citrus flavors for contrast. The OESF stands out among the other three recipes by offering a sort of herbal and minty tone to everything while the age shines through with more leather and wood varnish (gotta be because of the 20yr OBSV).
Notes of caramelized sugar and creamy vanilla – Crème Brulé! For such an old bourbon, I’m surprised to find honey among my list of flavors that add sweetness. Typically that’s reserved for younger bourbons in my case. 109 proof seems unbelievable when this drinks so competently that it could be mistaken for much lower. There is very little heat overall.
Finish: Dry oak, shoe polish and leather. Spice is the surprise standout of the finish. I find Allspice, cinnamon, crushed fennel seed, ground pepper. None are particularly aggressive though, only complimentary. I also find a chocolate and mint medley similar to Andes after-dinner mints.
The fruits are quick to disappear, so enjoy them while the sip is on your tongue. Otherwise you’ll probably only find the faint remnants of citrus peel and a little bit of coconut meat at the end.
Quick! Name the most annoying descriptor in whiskey. If you said “Elite,” you win. But unfortunately that is the only word that came in my mind to describe the nose. It truly is elite. If all whiskies smelled like this one did, there’d be no more left on the shelves.
But for all the more I loved the nose and palate, it was the finish that didn’t feel quite up to the task. It was still very good, but it didn’t match the excitement of the other two.
It felt as if the 20 year old barrels just overpowered the brighter notes on the finish. That’s not a terribly big deal as lots of people will love the oak, but people who don’t care for older bourbons may not appreciate this aspect as much.
2022’s release wow’ed the friends I shared it with – even ones who don’t care for modern-day Four Roses (I’m talking post-Jim Rutledge). This shows me that Four Roses really did a good job after all. There’s really no reason to not buy one if the price is right.
Of course, the one topic I didn’t hit on is how this compares to past releases. So I’ll say this much: the 2019 SmBLE is still tops in terms of releases over the past 5 years. This one won’t change that. I find it comparable to the 2020 release which used slightly less aged bourbon overall but had 19 year old OBSK barrels in the mix.
That year’s batch provided an oaky punch I found similar to this. I also found the rye notes comparable to the 2018 SmBLE. If either of those are your style, then the 2022 release is for you.
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