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This is a sample that came into my possession quite by chance. I was at a tasting in January and @paddockjudge had prepared a number of samples that he did not wish to take back home. The intended recipient ended up not being there, so someone had to take it home... This was fortunate, as it gives me a chance to try this bourbon without opening my own bottle.
This is a sample from bottle 8163 of a “limited” run of 12468 bottles, and is apparently packaged at a barrel strength of 51.6%, which seems low in comparison to the other cask strength bourbons I’ve had. This is my first Four Roses product, but looking back at my notes from Spirit of Toronto 2014, it looks like I did try it there.
I have never yet found a bourbon to improve with the addition of water, so the following is are my notes of this bourbon taken neat:
On first rolling about the glass, or “strolling the glass” in Ralfy-speak, I notice it seems to quite thickly coat the glass.
Fresh in the glass my first scent is a fruity aroma, a little butterscotch. After 10 minutes in the glass, I get more caramel and vanilla, a hint of espresso coffee and maybe some almond. As time goes on, the espresso is more prominent. The smell reminds me of the taste of the centres of the Trader Joe’s Espresso “pillows” which have a hard coffee candy interior covered by dark chocolate. There’s something else there I can’t quite put a name to, syrupy in quality, and maybe the slightest hint of dust.
My first impression is YUM. It is sweet on the arrival, with a dry caramel aftertaste. A second sip reveals almost a cola element. There’s a little bit of an alcohol burn, which does detract a bit from the experience, though it did improve with time (after anesthetizing my tongue?). Athough the arrival is sweet, the development and the finish are very dry. This makes for a very interesting contrast. The mouthfeel is syrupy. Definitely caramel and vanilla predominate.
I note that Trader Joe’s Milk chocolate does nothing to improve or detract from the experience. Their dark chocolate covered chocolate nibs seem to compliment the bourbon but not by much. I currently do not have any of the dark 85% chocolate open to compare it to. But this is s whisky review, not a commercial for Trader Joe’s.
About a half hour into this review, after all the above tasting notes were done, I added the rest of the sample to my glass and added a few drops of water just to see what would happen. I gave it about 15 minutes:
The nose has a little more of those fruity elements that disappeared quickly when I first poured it. I still get a hint of cocoa or coffee. The taste is just a little thinner with a slightly less syrupy mouth feel. It is a little less dry, but the finish remains quite unsweet. With time it becomes very similar to the way it was without water.
My only note from Spirit of Toronto was that it was less sweet than the Booker’s. Having recently had a dram from a killer batch of Booker’s, I can say that I still agree with that assessment.
You will note, if you go back through my reviews, that I gave Booker’s the same mark as this one. That probably reflects a lack of experience and appreciation for bourbon at the time (and maybe a little scotch snobbery, though being a Canadian with no Scottish roots, what’s the point of that?). I have tried a number of bourbons since and I think I appreciate them more.
It’s like having more than one child. You love them differently, but you love them equally. Just like my son has learned over the past three years that he can love me more and more without loving his mother any less, I can enjoy good bourbon, rye and Canadian whisky without liking single malts less. Of course, whiskies don’t compete for my attention like my kids do (though because I have expanded my range of spirits I do drink a lot less Scotch than I used to).
So I won’t change my Booker’s score just yet, though I think I like it better than this bourbon. I think were I to do a review of my current open batch of Booker’s it would score higher than this Four Roses.
This was a pleasant exercise in tasting bourbon, but I don’t think I’ll be opening my bottle for a long long time, and when I do it will probably be with a group of bourbon-lovers so I can enjoy their appreciation of a long unobtainable expression even more than my own.
Nose: 22 Taste: 22 Finish: 21 balance: 22