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Four Roses - Small Batch

Average score from 14 reviews and 49 ratings 84

Four Roses - Small Batch

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@JasonHambrey
Four Roses - Small Batch

One of the problems with many reviews, and mine in particular, is that they are based on 1-2 tastings, only. I used to enforce a strict policy on my reviews that I needed five tastings before I'd finalize my review, but my desire for breadth outstripped my desire for depth after some time. I've always appreciated many reviewers on Connosr who do "whole bottle" reviews which are based on an entire bottle, not just a single dram. This is one of those reviews, and it's too rare of an event for me.

The subject of my review, here, is Four Roses Small Batch. It's one of my favourite "everyday" bourbons. It is based on a combination of four different bourbon distillates at four roses, and it's split equally between the "OE" and "OB" recipes which have a rye content of 20% and 35%, respectively, each with 5% malted barley and the rest corn. As much as I love rye, I actually prefer the lower rye recipes ("OE") at Four Roses to the higher rye ("OB") recipes. It follows, then, that I like the profile of Small Batch more than the other standard "premium" bottle of Four Roses Single Barrel. I find it's a very complex offering in the grand world of bourbon, with a brilliant breadth and depth of flavor - and at a very accessible price point.

I've only owned and consumed three bottles of Four Roses Small Batch. I wanted to write this review because each bottle of mine has had the same experience: it is a story of three movements.

1) As I open the bottle, I am overwhelmed by fruitiness - a broad and complex nose, with everything from potpourri to fresh peach to dried apricot and a good dose of grain and oak. Usually, I open the bottle and think - "Not quite what I wanted. This is a bourbon - I want earthy, oaky depth and a rich corn body. This has the corn body but it's a fruit bomb. It isn't the oak bomb that I currently desire".

2) The second third presents a different experience. What gets me here is the finish. I find the fruit on the nose is somewhat diminished, and better balanced by oak and grain. However, I really start to notice an extremely soft, sweet, oaky finish with really nice edges which are defined by the corn notes, rye notes, and bright fruit. Kind of a "custardy" finish. I drink this third of the bottle, largely, for the finish.

3) But it's the final third that really gets me, and the bottle - for whatever reason - seems to come together really well at this stage. The nose has that bright fruitiness, but there is a richness of dried fruit, baking spice, coconut, and oak which results in incredible balance and intrigue - for me. It seems altogether different from the earlier noses in the bottle - it seems to have so much more depth and harmony compared to the first two thirds of the bottle. The palate also comes together, and, although the top and middle notes are similar, I find the "base notes" of spice, oak, and grain play a huge role. Then the finish: a brilliant balance of oak, grain, spice and fruit - but the dried fruit ties everything together, brilliantly.

With this progression, each bottle has presented a similar, rather comical progression. I'm generally slightly disappointed when I open a bottle of Four Roses Small Batch. Then, interest picks up as I get through more of the bottle. At the end of the bottle, I am loving it. And I buy another one, to think "this isn't what I should have bought" at the beginning, and "I need to buy another one, right away" at the end.

Timewise, an analogous cycle occurs. Let's assume I take 10 weeks to finish a bottle. The first 6 weeks are on the moderately impressive first third. The next three weeks are spent on the intriguing second third, with the pace accelerating as I am liking it more. It only takes me a week to finish my favourite, the last third.

I think I need to just start by dividing a new bottle of Four Roses Small Batch into three old Small Batch bottles...

@JasonHambrey bravo, and thank you, for a magnificent review! Kudos for accepting the challenge of reviewing in depth. It is a far more demanding task and requires long deep experience and careful thought to formulate. Compared to the one or two sample quickie, the in-depth time-study review is like a motion picture compared to a still photograph. I've done a few of these depth studies myself, and know well that one can't "churn them out". The experience is not there to do so.

About Four Roses Small Batch: I've always liked it and always considered it to be one of only 2 or 3 ideal first bourbons for most people. The others? Eagle Rare 10, which is unfortunately sometimes requiring a great deal of time to open up, and Van Winkle 12 yo, which unfortunately has become scarce and expensive. So Four Roses Small Batch holds a very special place in the world of bourbon to me, and its only shortcoming is that it is not for those moods which demand the intense Big Flavours.

Looking forward to seeing you again, one of these days, Jason! Cheers.

I have been through exactly two bottles of this bourbon and my experiences were quite similar. The last half (for me) was much better. Very similar to what you describe; coconut caramel chewy candy with a bit of oak and spice. Thanks for the thorough review.

m

I picked up a bottle of this just recently, along with the Knob Creek Small Batch. I'm a big fan of Four Roses, from the Yellow Label to all other expressions.

The color is a nice deep amber, with red and orange throughout. On the initial nose, you pick up some nice apple and wood scents, along with a background of caramel. A lot of spice comes through in the scent. I had this neat, and the first sip is quite complex. Very creamy, with a full mouthfeel. This is not a "thin" bourbon, and really needs to be savored to experience all the flavors. It's like taking a bite of candy, but nothing is overly sweet. You pick up all the flavors at the start - vanilla, caramel, some creme brulee/caramelized sugar and an overall rich taste. There is also some heat and pepper spice in there. The mid-palate is where the leather and wood flavors come in, and that in combination with the candy/spice flavors, leaves you with an aftertaste that is surprisingly shorter than I would have expected. As an aside, I had this with a Romeo y Julieta Reserve cigar, and the pairing was perfect. The cigar is a medium bodied, creamy one, with a not too complex flavor profile. A puff of this, and a sip of the Four Roses immediately after was a great combination.

@mhock66, thank you for your nice review.

I have for many years considered Four Roses Small Batch to be one of the easiest and best introductions to bourbon for non-bourbon-drinkers.

Thanks for the review. I would like to hear more from cigar smokers on how they pair their bourbon/Scotch with a good cigar.

@markjedi1

Four Roses, currently owned by the Japanese Kirin, was actually a blend until 2002. It was the Japanese owners that decided to produce and promote it again as a Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. This Four Roses Small Batch was bottled in 2014. It is composed of four different bourbons produced in-house.

The nose is round and sweet, but very rich. This smells a lot like citrus peel and brown sugar. Sniffing tobacco, maraschino cherries and toffee apple. Nicely spicy on nutmeg and vanilla. Candied oranges. Hint of coconut and chocolate. Surprisingly complex.

The arrival is (too) soft, not enough body. Honeysweet. The spices speak first. Think nutmeg, but also ginger, cinnamon and a pinch of black pepper. Coriander! Quite feisty. The rye did its best. The sweetness reminds me of chewing tobacco, oranges, cherries and honey. Quite nice!

The finish is bittersweet and medium long. It leaves the mouth quite dry.

A very pleasant surprise, to be honest. And just under 30 EUR. Recommended.

@Hull

Picked this bottle up because I heard all good things about Four Roses Yellow Label and heard even better for the small batch. So I decided to give it a go.

Nose: Right away you get a sweet Caramel or butterscotch which comes from the corn, also vanilla, oak, and I also get cherries and could even be maraschino cherries. Very nice nose on this bourbon, makes my mouth water even smelling it.

Palate: As soon as you sip this you get a sweetness like candy and caramel, but it's soon followed by a peppery spiceness which is from the roughly 30% rye content. You also get cherries, oak, vanilla, apples, could even be a bit of pear. Definitely some tree fruit. Water really helps this whisky out, dims down the 45% alcohol and brings out the flavours.

Finish: The finish is long, pepper and spice. Very nice, and makes your mouth water and want more.

Overall: For the price this is a very good bourbon, the nose on it is quite amazing, this is a great everyday drink.

@Pete1969

Deep gold colour with long legs in glass.

Nose: vanilla, brown sugar/caramel, cherry, sultana and warm spice

Palate: sweet entry, warming spice peppery with cloves as held on tongue builds to the edge of hot without ever getting too hot to handle sweet cherry essence with dried fruit and cherry balancing the heat.

Finish long sweet and warm with vanilla

The best balanced bourbon I have tried to date, the rye spice was a bit of a surprise compared to the FR1B as with the four recipe batching I was expecting less not more, gorgeous level of heat without any alcohol kick.

This is probably my favourite out of the 3 daily sippers I have too hand the others being WT101 and Buffalo Trace 40%ABV wish they did the 45 in UK. On any given day the Small batch or 101 are interchangeable both the Jim's are true master distillers. Rutledge edges it for me in this price bracket but at the next level I would go for the Rare Breed from Russell, although I am sure there will be honey barrels in the FR1B that would beat the consistency of the WT batching.

@Pete1969, thanks for your nice review.

Strangely I have never owned a bottle of Four Roses Small Batch, though I have been a big fan of it for several years now. I have never tasted a bad sample of it. It is flavourful, but also very mellow. I think that you are absolutely right in suggesting that Four Roses Small Batch makes one of the best choices for a bourbon "daily sipper".

To the best of my knowledge, Four Roses Small Batch blends four of the ten Four Roses bourbons together. The standard Yellow Label blends all ten of their bourbons together. In addition to the Single Barrels of individual bourbons, there are also various other Four Roses Limited Releases blending two ("Mariage") or more of their bourbons together.

@victor I am surprised you have yet to have a bottle of this Victor but looking at your cabinet there must be a tipping point were the choices become tougher with the space left. The batching of 2 OE and OB recipes produces a fantastic batch are you aware of any consistency issues between batches or is it generally a safe bet.

@jack09

My first Four Roses bourbon. It has 25-35% rye in the mash bill.

Nose: alcohol, sweet butterscotch, rich dried apricot, cooked apple note, spice notes, vanilla, oak and honey in the background. Cherries.

Taste: quick arrival, velvety mouth feel, black liquorice, sweet malty fruit, smooth rye spices kick in, wet tobacco.

Finish: medium to long, caramel and spicy finish, lightly bitter and dry with black liquorice notes and some mint, nice finish.

Conclusion: nice, i like it from the 1st tasting. An enjoyable bourbon, better than Knob Creek Small batch IMHO. At 45% ABV, it numbs my toungue. Would I buy it again? Yes

I am a big fan of Four Roses the small batch can hold its own against bourbon in a higher price bracket as does the single barrel. If the mark up in your are is not too big I would suggest the 50% single barrel is well worth a few extra notes, the alcohol is well integrated and personally I prefer without water. Another distillery worth a try would be Wild Turkey try to get the 101 NAS the modern 8 year is not as good IMHO, the Rare Breed batch WT-03RB is excellent, I find it opens up after a week or so, the reviews of the new bottling are also looking encouraging. Happy bourbon hunting.

@vrudy6

Pleas bare with me. This is only the second bottle of bourbon I've ever purchased. I've had my share of bourbons, but only at local bars and get togethers, etc, etc... I always heard of Four Roses being a wonderful bourbon, so I sacrificed my liquor money to go for a bottle of their Small Batch bottling instead of my usual single malt.

Nose: Buttered popcorn. vanilla, spices, oak, lemon peel, pineapple, floral.

Palate: light bodied, the popcorn notes mixed with vanilla arrive first.then the spices develop with sweet light caramel. very elegant!

Finish: spices remain, there is a little bit of butter coming back to the tongue along with a trace of honey.

This is elegant, not the usual bourbon, I guess. At least not like the ones I've tried. If there are some as delicate as this, please drop a line below. I would love to hear some suggestions.

@vrudy6, all experience is good experience. The more you experience the more you know. I really hadn't had much bourbon experience myself until about 8 years ago. Now I've gotten to know maybe 100+ of them.

Sounds like you are getting a pretty good variety of bourbon experiences. There is a lot out there. I've summarised what I like most on my standard and wheated bourbon lists. (Jefferson's Reserve is wonderful bourbon!)

It saddens me to see what has become of Van Winkle bourbon. I love their bourbons, and I would love everyone to have the experience of getting to know them. Would I pay the current wine-searcher.com world prices of $ 1,500 for a bottle of Pappy 20 or $ 1,000 for a bottle of Pappy 15? Certainly not!!! Four years ago I was buying Pappy 20 for $ 110 and Pappy 15 for $ 65. I own bottles of Van Winkle because I put them away when they were still obtainable, and also because I developed personal friendships with dealers before the madness came. Even in 2010, though, you really had to hussle to get yourself some Van Winkle bourbon.

Delicate? Well, @vrudy6, that is in the eye of the beholder, I would say. I understand why you find Four Roses Small Batch to be elegant and delicate. Other 'delicate' bourbons?

You sound just like a Pappy Van Winkle 20 yo man, @vrudy6,...but, that one costs a fortune now. Van Winkle 12 yo Special Reserve 'Lot B' is also usually delicate, but remember that all Van Winkle is wheated bourbon, with flavours different from any Four Roses products, which are standard bourbons made with rye included in the mash.

For practical everyday purposes try:

1) Evan Williams Single Barrel

2) Eagle Rare 10 yo Single Barrel

3) Ancient Ancient Age 10 Star (very light)

4) Rebel RESERVE

5) Elijah Craig 18 yo (unfortunately EC 18 is probably no longer around except for bar samples; NOT the 12 yo)

Four Roses Yellow Label is also light, but I think you will prefer the Small Batch which you already have.

@GotOak91

Bought on a whim just like the bottle of Herbsaint that looked a little lost this far out of New Orleans. 4 Roses is made with a blend of four recipes of bourbon on average of 7 years old. Color: An amber-copper.

Nose: Sweet scents of caramel and butterscotch start this off. Cut sweet flowers and hay join the mix. Further notes of sweet creamy caramel/toffee coated apple slices. Bourbony vanilla. Very sweet and pleasing.

Body: Medium-heavy. Coats tongue well. No tingle.

Taste: Soft honey sweetness. Vanilla cream. Gentle winter/fall baking spices in the form of cinnamon and clove. Rye influence with a tinge of black pepper. Overall a softer bourbon, not very bold, more sophisticated. Not too complex but definitely not boring. A soft nightcap if you will.

Finish: Short/oily but that's ok as it slides down with extreme ease. Very dangerous drop as there isn't any discernible burn, tingle, or anything you can associate with a leaving whisk(e)y. Sweet ending with more honey, white fruits in a light syrup with a dusting of cinnamon.

Overall: An outstanding bourbon that is gentle and pleasing to the senses.

With Water

Nose: Still sweet, muted with more spice in the way of clove and pepper.

Taste: Water again added spicier notes bringing the fall baking spices to the fore.

Finish: Again spicier and drying. A bolder "this is bourbon" compared to no water. Oak and pepper here.

Overall: A kind of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde scenario. I prefer no water with this one in contrast to my enjoyment of bold flavors. Tasty stuff though and for $27 USD its easily recommended.

@ElCocos

Nose: Main thing I get is minty eucalyptus, cardamom and something glue like. Is this the rye? I get this sort of smell in every American whisky ive tried. Beneath it I find molasses and vanilla.

Palate: Initial sweet with vanilla, caramel, mild ginger. Than it kicks up the intensity with eucalyptus bonbon with some cinnamon sprinkled over it.

Finish: Becomes abit dry, but not overly. Big wave off eucalyptus and cinnamon which slowly fades out and reveal vanilla and butterscotch. A long finish.

The spice is quite intense and warming, might be to much for some. For me it’s a pleasant, and very good whisky for the price.

@ClanVidela

I'm new to whisky but I'm a total novice in bourbons. This is my first tasting and review of this spirit. Four roses is a blended whisky built on four different whiskies. As an avid fan of everything Scotch this is a bit of a flavor enigma. You can forget all those clean crisp tastes that made you fall in love with scottish whisky. This is bursting with flavours though a bit dense and heavy.

On the nose you instantly pick up on the sweet fresh oak. Bourbon is by law aged a minimum of 2 years in newly made american oak casks. Heavy floral notes and minty camphor brings you out and about in a botanical garden of scents. Tastewise it's still very confusing for an average scotch drinker. Heavy notes of roses, lilies and jasmine, very heavy sweetness with a touch of pistachio nut. The finish is sweet and rounded with vanilla and maple syrup most prominent.

Another strange thing about this spirit is that with added water you only get added bitterness and maybe some sour notes of oak, so it basically doesn't improve the spirit in any significant way which I find strange since usually added water brings forth more depth to the flavours, in any case with scotch that is.

Four Roses Small Batch is a good spirit witout a doubt, and a nice change from scotch from time to time but it leaves a lot more to be desired in terms of harmony and texture of the different flavours.

@GBrough

This bourbon has a very balanced one level palate. Nose: Spice, some dark fruits,a trace of apple, tiny hints of licorice and at times some black pepper. (Now my nose is untrained so i most likely missed some things that i will notice later on.) Palate: I got burned sugar/molasses, honey, some fruit, with some nice flavours of wood, spice, and dare i say some pepper to really keep it from feeling cloying on the tongue. Finish: I noticed the finish for about 5-10 minutes, through that time i had black pepper, honey, a trace of vanilla and a trace of caramel all rounded off by a nice pleasant sweet spice that i found delectable.

I got the colour wrong under balanced lighting it is a dark amber, with light it is a light honey colour.

once i let it air for 10 minutes i got a spiced peach feel on the finish, very nice and delectable since i loved peach cobbler and spiced fruit.

m

Nose: A complex nose. Varnish, flowers, caramel, butterscotch, and sharpie.

Palate: Mellow but lasting spice that maintains a consistent intensity and suddenly disappears. I can taste tobacco, cloves, sugar cane, molasses. Very big body, rich, full, heavy, syrup like viscosity.

Finish: Oily, citrus leaves, wood, vanilla, glue.

@talexander

Though not a fan of the standard Four Roses, I thought I would give the Small Batch a try. It looks good, a reddish golden colour, with a good body and solid legs in the glass. A sniff demonstrates that bourbon-y vanilla, oak and spice, but this one is more citrusy - some strong lemon notes that I don't often find in bourbons. Zing on the palate - much more spice in the mouth, nutmeg, maybe a little too much. Much more lemon as well. Not particularly complex, it is like a bunch of flavours fighting each other. Creamy mouthfeel. A little water brings out more oakiness in the nose, and softens the hot spice in the mouth, so that is welcome. Finish is long and a little ashen. Definitely a step up from the standard Four Roses bourbon (which I don't like) but this doesn't go all the way for me, it doesn't taste very balanced and the spice is left to flail around in the mouth a little too much. Though not a huge fan, I've heard good things about the Single Barrel, which I'm eager to try.

Four Roses products have frequently not gotten there for me, either. Their Single Barrel products vary enormously one from another. Tasting one of them won't give you a read on how (or not) you will like the others. Not counting Bulleit Bourbon, which is a Four Roses product, I have bought precisely one bottle of a Four Roses product, the 2009 Mariage, and that one because I had tasted it first. (Thank you @dbk!)If I were buying a Four Roses Single Barrel bourbon right now, it would be the 2011 Barrel Strength Limited Edition Single Barrel. That one I like a lot, most of the time, anyway.

To me there is something a little weird in most products made by Four Roses and by Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana, who make Bulleit 95 Rye. I guess I would describe Bulleit 95 Rye as having a sort of sweetness which I find cloying. Bulleit Rye has become quite popular, but it is way down my list of rye whiskeys. The occasional spearmint note also seems quite odd and out of place to me, as well. To each his or her own.

With Four Roses Bourbons I think that what tastes odd to me is that the flavours of their rye grain usually taste to me strangely muffled, scrambled up, and incoherent. Their mashbills are about the highest anywhere for rye content in a bourbon, but that beautiful rye grain in most Four Roses Bourbons tastes to me muddied and vague.

@dbk

Four Roses has a long and storied reputation, albeit one that was sullied for a time when, under the ownership of Seagrams, Four Roses only sold blended whiskey—straight whiskey blended with young whiskey or grain neutral spirits—to the American market. After Kirin acquired Four Roses from Seagrams, Master Distiller Jim Rutledge managed to convince the distillery’s new parents to begin producing straight bourbon for the US market once again. Four Roses has since regained its place as one of the great American whiskey producers.

There are several peculiar features of the Four Roses production method, such as their one-story rickhouses (known, illustratively, as “flathouses”), but in one aspect they are truly unique: Four Roses has ten distinct recipes. This is achieved with the use of two mash bills (one using 35% rye grain, the other using 20%) in conjunction with five distinct yeast strains. The Small Batch expression is a co-mingling of four such recipes: both mash bills crossed with the “K” and “O” yeast strains. These yeasts, respectively, bring spice and robust fruitiness to the spirit.

Though the nose is gentle and round, it does not hide the rye. Cherries (similar to the 2009 Mariage Collection release), honey, apricots, baking spices, butterscotch, furniture polish, lemon custard, and menthol all make appearances.

The palate is smooth and sweet, but with a fair amount of depth. Spice carries through, and again we see rye and cherries. Four Roses is known for releasing strikingly balanced bourbons, and this is no exception.

@dbk, thank you for another very nice review. In my acquaintance with various samples of Four Roses products I have frequently enjoyed the Small Batch expressions more than the Single Barrel expressions. The most enjoyable sample of Four Roses Bourbon which I have had, though, was of the 2009 Mariage Collection which you provided me in your home.

Cant remember exactly which one it was, but he gave the whiskey a very low score and he was clearly negative about that note. While I think I mentioned it once also in the Dimple review, but then also quite positive. I like the smell of it :)

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