Four Roses Single Barrel
Today we’re reviewing Four Roses Single Barrel, produced by the Four Roses Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. Four Roses has three primary offerings: The regular (usually called the Yellow Label), the Single Barrel, and the Small Batch. Four Roses uses two different mash bills in its offerings, both of which are a combination of corn, rye, and malted barley. For you newbies, the mash bill is simply the ratio of grains used to make the product. Ratios? What? Cue Chevy Chase playing President Ford: “It was my understanding that there would be no math . . .” (you young bucks can click here for the reference).
In order to legally constitute bourbon, the mash bill must be at least 51% corn. The interesting thing about the Four Roses process is that the company has five yeast strains that are proprietary. In other words, it has created unique strains of yeast that it owns in order to create its bourbon. When you’re creating proprietary yeast strains, you know you’re serious about your product. It uses those two mash bills and five proprietary yeast strains to create 10 different bourbon recipes.
All 10 of the recipes are (typically) used to create the Yellow Label and four of them are used to create the Small Batch. But only one of them is used to create the Single Barrel. The Single Barrel gets its name from the fact that the bourbon is aged in a single barrel. Regular bourbon is typically a blend of many different barrels in order to maintain a more uniform taste. Because each Single Barrel is aged separately, each barrel may produce a taste that is distinct from the others, which means that you may have two bottles of the Single Barrel offering that taste quite different.
The Four Roses Single Barrel is made from a mash bill that is 60% corn, 35% rye, and 5% malted barley. It uses a yeast strain that is thought to have a flavor of “delicate fruit” (whatever that means). At 100 proof, it has the highest proof of the three main Four Roses offerings.
The product website gives the official tasting description:
Smell: Fruity, spicy, floral, caramel, vanilla, cocoa, maple syrup, moderately woody
Palate: Hints of ripe plum and cherries, robust, full body, and mellow.
Finish: Smooth and delicately long
Proof: 100; 50% alcohol by volume (ABV)
Retail price: Around $40.00
That’s what they say, here’s what we say:
Rating Scale and Criteria
As you’ll recall from our initial review, found here, we’re going to review on a scale of one to five “fingers” and give our impressions about the taste, finish, burn, and quality at the price point.
As I told you in our last review, I’ve tried a lot of bourbons. I can honestly say the Single Barrel is the first bourbon that I’ve sampled that didn’t have an identity based on flavor. The taste is hard to explain, as I didn’t notice any distinct flavors, but it’s definitely a smooth, easy drinker. Not Malik Monk jumpshot level smooth, but smooth nonetheless. Here’s how I break it down:
- Taste – 3 fingers – not bad, but not distinct
- Value – 3 fingers – It’s a decent buy for less than $50.00
- Availability – 5 fingers – You should be able to walk into any liquor store and find a bottle
Overall Rating: 3 fingers – the taste, while solid, just isn’t worth a higher score. Since I weight availability less than the others in most cases, the high availability didn’t help the overall score. It’s just a solid but unspectacular bourbon.
First of all, this tastes nothing like roses, let alone four of them. I got more of a chocolate, sweet taste. I mean, as much as one can say bourbon is chocolatey, this was chocolatey. I noticed a little late heat. My burp after was very welcome as well. To be clear, I’m a fan of bourbon burps anyway, but this one was good. Not as good as a bacon burp, but still good.
I’d put the Single Barrel firmly in the “don’t mix” category. It’s also not my “house”; it’s too good. But, it’s not so good that it’s a “don’t let my company have it” bourbon. So, ultimately, I recommend you buy a bottle. Put it out for company, and they will think you’re fancy and got it from your “bourbon guy”. In fact, I’d appreciate it if you’d henceforth refer to me as your “bourbon guy”. I’ve always wanted to be someone’s “bourbon guy”. Oh well, I’m out of “quotation mark” phrases. Enjoy!
Here’s how I break it down:
- Taste – 3 fingers – unless you’re a communist who doesn’t like chocolate.
- Value – 4 fingers – Marsh says it costs nearly $40.00; don’t tell him I got mine for $21.00.
- Availability – 5 fingers – you can find it in most stores where bourbons are sold.
Overall Rating: 4 fingers
I like it. Ness had a brand new bottle of the Single Barrel that he graciously offered to share (what a great guy, that Ness). I have had it before, but not with the intention of sharing any thoughts about its quality. It strikes me as the bourbon most non-drinkers think of when they think of drinking bourbon straight. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The first impression I get with the Single Barrel is the fairly strong burn it gives. While that is typically not what I’m looking for in a bourbon, the Single Barrel redeems itself nicely after that first burn. The after taste is very good, and the official FRSB description helps me realize there are distinctive notes of spice and vanilla that I would describe as extremely smooth and enjoyable. Getting to that part of the taste is the hurdle for me, again due to the strong burn that the Single Barrel delivers. I feel a need to re-emphasize that I am a total amateur, and complaining about the burn of a bourbon is quite an amateur move. Regardless, I like this bourbon and think it is a perfect addition to the cabinet for those guests who like a full flavored bourbon. The rating I’m giving also takes into account the price and availability, which are both positives (usually available at your local Costco for a great price). For me, it’s not a staple of my liquor cabinet, and there are better tasting bourbons in my opinion, but I think this is a good bourbon you should definitely try.
Here’s my breakdown:
- Taste – 3 fingers
- Value – 4 fingers
- Availability – 4 fingers
Overall Rating: 3.5 fingers
My first experience with the Four Roses Single Barrel was last fall. I was planning to tailgate with some friends at a UK football game and picked up a bottle for the occasion. I had wanted to try it for a while and thought it would be a good choice for that setting because I knew Four Roses made a quality product (I’d had their Small Batch a fair amount) and wanted a good bourbon to share with my friends, but also didn’t want to break the bank for a football game tailgate bourbon. We drank that bottle and had a fantastic time – and I didn’t remember a single noteworthy thing about the Single Barrel except that “it was pretty good”. I do remember that a UK wide receiver (who shall not be named, but has since transferred) dropped a sure touchdown. Not only did he drop it, he basically flipped it back to the defender for an interception that changed the game and led to a last-second UK loss. Thank God for bourbon.
In any event, this time around, I decided I was going to pay more attention to the Single Barrel. So, I sat down with TJ and his nephew a couple of weekends ago and broke open a new bottle of the Single Barrel. Between catching up, talking baseball, and solving the world’s problems, I still just didn’t notice much about the Single Barrel. It was good, but there was just nothing noteworthy. I chalked it up, again, to being distracted. The next night, I decided that I was going to figure this bourbon out. I sat down around my new fire pit and gave it another shot. I’m not gonna lie, I was still having a hard time finding anything noteworthy about it until something TJ said the night before hit me: “it’s just a good, solid bourbon”.
The more I think about it and more I have the Single Barrel, I think that’s right; it’s just a solid, middle-of-the-road bourbon. It’s good, but I don’t love it. It’s certainly not bad, but nothing jumps out at me that is going to make me order it when I step up to the bar. It retails for $35.00-$40.00 for a fifth and around $10.00 a pour at your favorite watering hole, so even its price point reflects a middle-of-the-road status. In retrospect, it’s a great bourbon to take to a football game tailgate with a few friends. You’ll enjoy it, but you won’t be missing too much when your conversation distracts you from your drink.
- Taste – 3 fingers – It’s fine, but no flavors or smoothness jumps out at you.
- Value – 4 fingers – It’s priced pretty well. You’re going to a decent price for a decent bourbon – one that you’ll like but not love.
- Availability – 5 – Finding the Single Barrel shouldn’t be a problem, although my favorite restaurant in Lexington (shout out to Tony’s) doesn’t carry it.
Overall Rating: 3.5 fingers. I’d drink the Single Barrel again without a doubt and, depending on your consumption level, it would make a good house bourbon. However, I don’t think I’ll ever be disappointed to find out that an establishment doesn’t have it. At the same time, I don’t think I’ll ever be disappointed to find that someone got me a pour of it, either.
Overall Rating: 3.5 fingers. At this rating and price point, the Single Barrel is worth a try; just don’t be shocked when you don’t love it.
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