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When my wife and I toured the distillery, we were pleasantly surprised to find the Four Roses regular bottling (yellow label) quite nice. Surprised because the once popular and high quality bourbon entered a long period of decay after Seagram’s bought the brand and converted it into a blended whiskey. All of the good stuff continued to be made but it was shipped to Japan and Europe. In 2001, Four Roses was bought by Kirin, the big Japanese brewing company. They were wise enough to make the real Four Roses available in the States again. But wait, there’s more. In addition to the yellow label, there are now small batch and a single barrel version of Four Roses as the distillery hustles to keep up with the competition. We found the latter two significantly better than “quite nice.” I understand that Four Roses is now the top selling single barrel bourbon in Kentucky. That’s an impressive recovery considering that the Requiem Mass was approaching the final benediction. Preparing for this tasting, I poured an ounce or so of Four Roses (Barrel 431K) into a Glencairn glass. Then I left immediately to take a phone call. When I returned, it had opened up so that I could smell the Four Roses from the door ten feet away. In the glass, FRSB is a pleasant strawberry blonde color with legs that go all the way up. The nose picks up some vanilla and caramel with hints of both spice and fruit. I didn’t detect anything floral (and am avoiding quips about roses) but there may be something vegetal like freshly cut grass in early autumn. Later, on the palette, I decided the vegetal was drier--more like a wheat field or a corn field right after the harvester has passed through. In the mouth, the bourbon was full and viscous and chewy at first but after a few sips it seemed less so. At the back of the palette, I was reminded of Earl Grey tea--rather tannic and dry like black tea and the citrus spice of bergamot. The layers of flavor included something akin to crème brulee: The faintest bit of nutmeg in custard and a sugar crust melted by flame. I thought the flavors were nicely balanced with nothing that stands up and smacks you in the face. There is corn, of course, but muted and held in check. I found the finish long and satisfying. Running my tongue over the roof of my mouth unleashed succeeding waves of flavor for several minutes. There was warmth but nothing even approaching a harsh burn at 50% ABV or 100 proof. (When I checked the label, I found that I had been mistaken in thinking it was 90 proof.) But speaking of burn, April has been a cruel month here in northern Ohio. It is Easter weekend as I write and we are still using the fireplace to ward off the cold and damp. It is our custom, before dinner, to pour a nice drink and sit by the fire for an hour or so. Frankly, it is difficult to be scientifically objective. How do you separate the pleasures of the drink from those connected with the crackle of an oak and hickory fire? Is that whiff of charred oak from the bourbon or the fire? The same bourbon tastes different at sunset in January on the Gulf Coast, on our shaded yard swing in June, or on a log beside a campfire after a long day fishing in Wyoming. I find it impossible to separate the setting from the impression made by the bourbon. And I don’t want to. In any of those locations, though, I would be more than glad to waltz again with a strawberry blonde as refined and elegant as Four Roses Single Barrel.