Four Roses single-barrel bourbon is surprisingly affordable and delicious. Despite being one of the most affordable single barrels on the market, it’s also one of the best.
Classification: Kentucky straight bourbon
Distillery: Four Roses
Cask: New charred American white oak
Still Type: column still, pot doubler
Released: 2004; ongoing
Aged: at least 7-9 years
Awards: Gold, 2019 World Whiskies Awards; Tried & True Award (95 points), 2020 Ultimate Spirits Challenge; Gold, 2018 San Francisco World Spirits Competition
- Prices for single-barrel bourbons have skyrocketed in the last decade, but Four Roses is among the best bargains in the category.
- At a fairly brawny 100 proof (50% ABV), it’s still extremely drinkable neat and doesn’t require any water to open it up flavorwise.
- The brand’s wide availability and low price may, paradoxically, turn off collectors and connoisseurs who are always looking for the latest “superpremium” limited edition.
It’s chill-filtered, which prevents the whiskey from getting cloudy at cold temperatures, but some say it also takes away from the flavor and mouthfeel of the final product.
Color: Golden caramel—bourbons are forbidden by law to use artificial coloring, so the hue comes entirely from the barrel.
Nose: It’s heavy on the rye, and also quite fruity, with plum, apricot and bright citrus predominating.
Palate: Rich and sweet but not cloying, its big notes of caramel, with vanilla, cherry candy and hints of chocolate segue into a burst of cinnamon spice and a light oaky dryness as it hits the tonsils.
Finish: The finish is all about the oak—dry, with a black pepper spiciness. The gorgeous aftertaste lingers, with notes of candied orange peel and toffee.
Four Roses single-barrel bourbon was launched in 2004, the year the brand was reintroduced to the U.S. Four Roses was America’s top-selling bourbon post-Prohibition but had been produced for export only for decades, becoming a huge seller in Japan in the process. Single-barrel bourbon became a thing in the ’80s and ’90s, and the category was starting to gain traction in the market by the time distiller Jim Rutledge produced Four Roses’ version.
Four Roses is known for its arsenal of 10 recipes (five different yeast strains and two mash bills). Other expressions are blends of several recipes or even all 10. This single barrel, however, uses only one, a yeast-mash-bill combo that produces a rich, fruity, spicy and thoroughly delicious bourbon. A lot of single barrels go for extremes, whether in proof or in flavor profile. Not so here. This is a totally approachable bourbon that’s easy enough for everyday drinking but complex and rich enough for special-occasion quaffing.
Not that you need to save it for special occasions, because at a mere $45 a bottle, it’s one of the great bargains in the single-barrel category. It’s also pretty easy to find, a rarity in an age where it’s getting difficult to find a single-barrel bourbon that isn’t a limited edition. Single barrels are generally made for sipping, but when it’s this affordable, why not mix it into a Manhattan, an Old Fashioned or another spirit-forward cocktail? That said, it’s best on its own in a glass. A little water brightens the fruity notes a bit, but it’s certainly not necessary.
Whiskey aficionados may quibble about the fact that this is chill-filtered, which prevents clouding or “flocking” at cold temperatures but, some say, ultimately detracts from the flavor. Rest assured that this is still a very flavorful bourbon, though chill-filter snobs may go for Four Roses’ non-chill-filtered Small Batch Select instead. Picking up both bottles and having a head-to-head matchup might be a great way to spend an evening.
Four Roses has 10 different recipes (five yeast strains and two mash bills), each represented by a four-letter code. The standard single barrel uses only one recipe, OBSV, which has a high-rye mash bill and a delicately fruity yeast strain.
The bottom line: Four Roses single barrel is a terrific bourbon that’s also surprisingly affordable. Its low price and ubiquity on liquor store shelves may cause it to be overlooked or taken for granted. Don’t make that mistake.