From my early days as a bourbon drinker, there has really only been one Four Roses bottle I’ve purchased on sight – their Single Barrel Private Selection. Private Selections Single Barrels could be one of ten different recipes and they’re all bottled at barrel strength. But there has been just one issue with them: even if a store that was local to you got a barrel in, they sell out immediately.
Of course, Four Roses would like you to buy one of their four standard releases instead because they’re cheaper to produce and easier to find. One of those standard releases is what I’m reviewing today: Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon.
Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon
From a observational standpoint, Four Roses Single Barrel and Four Roses Single Barrel Private Selection bottles look almost the same. But if you look closer, the differences come into focus. For starters, all regular Single Barrels use the same recipe: OBSV. If you’re unfamiliar with the Four Roses recipe designators, the first and third letters (the O and S) always stay the same. The second and fourth letters change. E recipes use a mash bill of 75% corn, 20% rye and 5% malted barley while O recipes use a mash bill of 60% corn, 35% rye and 5% malted barley. The fourth letter identifies one of five different yeast strains: Q, V, F, O or K.
Private Selection bottles will always (with the exception of bottles sold in New York) have a sticker on the side of the bottle identifying the recipe and age. Not so with standard Single Barrels. The bottle I’m reviewing today is from before the new label changes were introduced in 2022. Now the standard Single Barrel has a paper neck tag while Private Selections have the leather collar with a hanging tag, otherwise the bottle shape has stayed the same.
One thing to look out for when you’re purchasing a Single Barrel
At this point, you may think that there isn’t much difference from one standard Single Barrel to the next. I’m here to tell you that there is one thing to look out for depending on your bourbon preferences. It has to do with the bottom label. To the uninformed enthusiast it looks like a mish mash of letters and numbers. All of those are actually code for which warehouse the barrel came from and where the barrel was positioned in the warehouse. The number to pay the most attention to is on the far right side (it has a letter next to it). It will tell you the tier level that the barrel came from.
Four Roses warehouses are famously 1 story tall with their barrels stacked 6 barrels high on ricks. While the design of the warehouse was supposed to limit temperature variances (unlike other warehouses used by most Kentucky distilleries). Just looking through my collection of Private Selection bottles, it’s common to find Tier 6 bottles ending up over 120 proof while Tier 1 bottles can be as low as 103 proof. This shows that a barrel’s location still makes a difference in their warehouses.
Why does all of this matter? Because if all Single Barrels are bottled at 100 proof, that means that a barrel that was pulled from Tier 1 has a very good chance of having less water added to it. And the less water that is added to it, the more flavor it should theoretically have. I also find them to be more mellow overall. On the flipside, barrels that were located near the top of the rickhouse might have developed stronger flavors from more heat interaction. Yes, more water might have diluted those robust flavors, but it should still retain bolder spices and more tannins.
Additional Single Barrel Specs
Once upon a time, Four Roses used to offer store picks of the 100 proof single barrels. It wasn’t common to find, but in all of my travels it seemed like stores in Florida were most likely to have them. I’ve also heard rumors that if you were granted the ability to pick a Private Selection and you picked an OBSV recipe, that you could have it bottled up as a standard single barrel. This seems really weird, but that’s the story that the people at Westport Whiskey and Wine told me a while ago (their’s was accidently bottled as a 100 proof Single Barrel by mistake).
The reason why I bring this is up is because from the few that I saw in person, they were always wearing age statements anywhere from 7 years, 1 month old to 7 years, 11 months old. Private Selection bottles are never bottled under 8 years, 1 month old. So that means that every standard Single Barrel that they sell should be in the neighborhood of 7 years old. $55 for a 7.5 year old bourbon seems like a pretty good deal considering that Heaven Hill’s Bottled-in-Bond product is also that same age and price.
The bottle I’m reviewing today is from the second tier, so it was very close to the floor. That means that it was probably lower in proof and might have had less wood interaction. Will the taste of the distillate come through more? Let’s find out.
Nose: True to it’s high-rye mash bill, the first scents I find remind me distantly of a rye whiskey. Licorice/fennel notes combine with a nice amount of fruit like cherry and citrus. Pine needles and cinnamon give it a spicy and earthy aroma. Sweet notes like molasses and vanilla are also present. There’s not really much oak on the nose, but I do find some leather that lets me know of its age.
Palate: Just like on the nose, the high-rye mash bill is the first thing I pick up on. Baking spices, citrus fruit and a small amount of herbal flavors set it off. Additional fruit flavors come forward like orchard fruits and black cherry. The tannins reveal themselves a little bit more with leather and a little bit of oak. Overall, it’s well balanced. No one flavor overpowers the others.
Finish: The high-spice nature of the liquid remains with cinnamon and herbal flavors smoldering on my tongue. Fruity notes like citrus and cherry licorice offer a nice contrast, Tannins remain relatively light. Overall, the finish embodies the qualities the whole sip had – namely spice, fruit and herbal flavors.
If you didn’t know this by now, Four Roses is extremely similar to MGP bourbon. That makes sense because the two were once a part of the giant Seagram’s empire of distilleries before 2000. So if you’re a fan of the high-rye nature of MGP bourbon, you’re going to be a fan of Four Roses (and vice versa). I’m a fan of MGP too and so this bottle really hit the spot. I was reminded the entire time I drank this just how good Four Roses makes all of their products. There’s a lot to like if you’re looking for a more robust flavor profile compared to Beam or Heaven Hill.
Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon is the perfect addition to any bar and should serve a variety of palates well. Don’t be scared off of the high-rye nature of its liquid. There is plenty of sweet and fruity notes to love. The bottom line is you don’t have to like rye whiskey to like Four Roses’ most popular mash bill.
Easy to sip and easy to find, Four Roses knows that most enthusiasts would prefer to buy a bottle of their Private Selection over most of their standard shelfers like this one. But with the Private Selection program favoring more private charity groups (it seems like), those PS bottles aren’t as easy to find anymore. So I’ll offer this advice: buy the standard Single Barrel ones when you’re in the mood for a high rye punch that has all of the flavor and richness of a barrel proof bottle without the price or allocation. No other distillery in Kentucky does it quite as well as Four Roses does.
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