Not that it has ever stopped me in the past, but to use a tired yet accurate phrase, “success story” seems to be a nice tight fit for the Four Roses brand. Its history, however, is a rather strange one when you start at the beginning. The distillery was founded in 1888, and eventually the Four Roses brand was a best selling bourbon from the 30’s to 50’s. Its dark age began when Seagrams bought them out and sentenced Four Roses to the graveyard of blended whiskey for a good 40 years. This long, slow burn of a decline found its resurgence in 2002, when Four Roses was re launched as a Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey under Master Distiller Jim Rutledge, a title he has held for 20 years. Day in and day out, the whiskey distilled and sold under his charge has climbed to the very top of the very best in Kentucky bourbon. Accolades and awards aside, the Four Roses limited editions in particular have not just reached the status of “highly anticipated,” and they are, but they are indeed considered beloved by bourbon enthusiasts, a status not easily earned.
2015’s Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch will be the last special release under Jim Rutledge’s tenure of Master Distiller for Four Roses, as he is retiring at the end of this year. This release is in his honor, and is perhaps the best note to go out on. This year’s edition is a blend of 3 distinct whiskies with four age statements from the distilleries unique stock comprised of 2 mash bills and 5 yeast strains: OBSK aged 16 years, OESK aged 15 and 14 years, and an OBSV aged 11 years.* Bottled at 54.25% ABV, my bottle is one of 12,600 released to celebrate Rutledge’s career, a career spanning 49 years in the industry. On to it…
Nose– And old soul of a bourbon. Deep oak with polished leather. Toffee. Layered under that is honeyed vanilla and orange peel. Red apples. Familiar Four Roses spice cabinet of nutmeg, cinnamon and herbal meadow. Benefits from some water.
Taste- Big, as you might imagine. Largely a repeat of the nose but now with toasted grain, cherries, and sweet toffee. A drying feel, but overall chewy and thick. Again, water helps.
Finish- Long. Oak char, nutty with minty spices. Drying, again, but very satisfying.
Comments- A fitting final gift from Rutledge to the whiskey world. Complex, developed and a fine picture of what a fully realized Kentucky straight bourbon can do. Bravo.
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Editor’s Note: This bottle was not sent to me from a marketing firm. I bought it with my own money at a liquor store, like a complete jerk.