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.