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Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon

Review Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon    80/100
a review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Published June 08, 2014

Four Roses is a Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey owned by the Japanese firm, Kirin Brewery Company. The brand traces its history back to 1884 when Paul Jones Jr. opened an office in Louisville, Kentucky on a section of Main Street called, “Whiskey Row.” In 1888 Jones acquired his trademark for the name ‘Four Roses’, and in 1922 he purchased the Frankfort Distilling Company. The Four Roses brand became well established, and in 1943 it caught the eye of Seagram, who purchased the Frankfort Distilling Co., and with it, the Four Roses Kentucky Straight Bourbon trademark.

The brand underwent a few changes in the 1950s as the whiskey was converted into a blend by Seagram for the US market, but remained a Straight bourbon overseas in Asian and European Markets. As a blended whiskey the brand lost some of its importance was eventually sold to Vivendi and subsequently to Diageo. Diageo sold the Four Roses trademark to Kirin in 2002, and Kirin made a decision to discontinue the sale of blended whiskey and returned the focus of the brand back to Bourbon Whiskey.

Four Roses is now produced at the Four Roses Distillery under the guidance of Master Blender, Jim Rutledge. The Distillery uses 5 proprietary yeast strains in combination with two different mashbills to produce 10 different Bourbons recipes. To produce Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon, Jim Rutledge chooses select bourbon barrels from four of these recipe Bourbons

Four Roses Small batch SAM_1137In the Bottle 4/5

Four Roses arrives in the oval (tear drop) shaped bottle shown to the left. It is sealed with a wooden topped cork and has the words Hand Crafted printed on the neck just below a picture of four roses. The presentation is nice enough although for myself the bottle and the label seems to lack a sense of masculinity which I personally find more appealing in the whiskey category.

In the Glass 8.5/10

The Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon is a golden caramel coloured whiskey with a hue more towards the yellow and orange than to the copper and brown. When I poured a small sample into my glencairn glass and gave it the customary tilt and swirl, I witnessed a stubborn crown at the top of the oily sheen which grudgingly released medium-sized legs which ambled back into the whiskey.

The aroma from the glass reveals spicy oak sap and woody cedar aromas surrounded by additional scents of vanilla  and sweet butterscotch. There is a bit of spicy orange peel as well us some nice dollops of maple and honeycomb. I allowed the glass to breath and began to notice some spicy cinnamon and clove as well as some tobacco and hay-like grassiness. The breezes above the glass also show indications of astringency which is surely the result of the whiskey’s 45 % alcohol by volume bottling strength which gives all of  the scents and smells from the glass a bit of an alcohol push.

In the Mouth 48/60

The delivery reflects that same hint of harshness I noticed in the air above the glass. The bottling proof of the whiskey may account for some of this astringency, however, I suspect a larger part is perhaps a reflection of some young bourbon within the blend. There is also an obvious bitterness running through the whisky which carries flavours of dry grass, willow and poplar bark  as well as spicy oak sap. Sweeter flavours of maple and butterscotch try to assert themselves; but they seem to be thwarted by this pervasive grassy bitterness. After a few swallows I decide that I have had enough of trying to sip the bourbon neat, and I add some ice. Unfortunately the cold ices quells the remainder of the sweetness and the whiskey was even more bitter than before. Fortunately, I had a can of cola nearby.

Cola is the great equalizer of Bourbon Whiskey, and the Buckeroo I mixed for myself was quite tasty. Once I had decided that this particular Bourbon suited me more as a mixer than as a sipper, I began to experiment with a few more recipes. I mixed a Bourbon Smash (see recipe below), and an Old Fashioned, and found that I enjoyed all three of the cocktails I mixed, although my preference ran still ran towards mixing a Buckeroo with a cold can of cola.

In the Throat 11.5/15

The Four Roses Small batch is dry and spicy on the finish with flavours of  dry grass and oak spice dominating the exit. It is a pity that the obvious sweetness of the nose was not reflected more firmly in either the delivery or the exit. The saving grace of course was the nice cocktails.

The Afterburn 8/10

Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon Whiskey turned out to be a disappointment for me. I found the whiskey’s dry profile and grassy flavour unappealing especially when the nose promised more sweetness. I suspect the whisky is on the younger side of the Bourbon path, and perhaps a few more years in the oak barrel would bring more caramel sweetness forward bringing about a better balance of flavour.

I did find success using the spirit as a mixer though, so all was not lost.

You may read some of my other Whisky Reviews (click the link) if you wish to have some comparative reviews.


Suggested Recipe

Although the Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon works great with cola, I thought I would highlight the Bourbon Smash as my cocktail suggestion. The recipe I am sharing is loosely based upon the Smash construction found in Leo Engels’, American and Other Drinks, published in 1878. I tweaked the cocktail more than a little by adding a touch of Jamaican Rum to the mixed drink and used a garnish more typical for a Crusta than for a Smash. The final mixed drink is really quite nice.

Julep SAM_10671878 Bourbon Smash

2 oz Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon
dash of Jamaican Rum (Appleton Reserve Rum)
1 barspoon Sugar Syrup
4 Mint leaves
1 lime slice
Orange Peel Coil

Rim the outside of a cocktail glass with fine sugar
Add an orange peel spiral coil into the bottom of the glass
Muddle Mint leaves, lime slice, dash of rum and sugar syrup in the bottom of a mixing glass
Remove the mint leaves and transfer to a metal shaker
Add Four Roses Bourbon and Ice
Shake until the outside of the shaker frosts
Double strain into the cocktail glass
Add a lump of ice to the center of the orange peel coil

Enjoy Responsibly!

Note: If  you are interested in more of my original cocktail recipes, please click this link (Cocktails and Recipes) for more of my mixed drink recipes!


As always you may interpret the scores I provide as follows.

0-25     A spirit with a rating this low would actually kill you.
26-49   Depending upon your fortitude you might actually survive this.
50 -59  You are safe to drink this…but you shouldn’t.
60-69   Substandard swill which you may offer to people you do not want to see again.
70-74   Now we have a fair mixing rum or whisky.  Accept this but make sure it is mixed into a cocktail.
75-79   You may begin to serve this to friends, again probably still cocktail territory.
80-84   We begin to enjoy this spirit neat or on the rocks. (I will still primarily mix cocktails)
85-89   Excellent for sipping or for mixing!
90-94   Definitely a primary sipping spirit, in fact you may want to hoard this for yourself.
95-97.5 The Cream of the Crop
98+        I haven’t met this bottle yet…but I want to.

Very loosely we may put my scores into terms that you may be more familiar with on a Gold, Silver, and  Bronze medal  scale as follows:

70 – 79.5    Bronze Medal (Recommended only as a mixer)
80 – 89.5     Silver Medal (Recommended for sipping and or a high quality mixer)
90 – 95         Gold Medal (Highly recommended for sipping and for sublime cocktails.)
95.5+            Platinum Award (Highest Recommendation)


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