We had another great local tasting at Sportsman’s Fine Wine and Spirits in Scottsdale, AZ on April 14. This time, it was Four Roses bourbon, and Jim Rutledge was there to pour our drams. He’s been the Master Distiller at Four Roses distillery since 1995. Like Tom Bulleit, he was a very engaging, down-to-earth guy who enjoyed talking about whiskey, and seemed to get a kick out of seeing others enjoy it. He brought four expressions with him, and didn’t have a problem with folks coming back for seconds of their favorites.
It was an informal, open-house type of tasting, and only cost $10 to attend. We also got special pricing for the night. I ended up spending a grand total of $40, including the entry fee, which got me the samples, plus an autographed bottle of Four Roses Single Batch bourbon. Once again, I strongly recommed getting out there and finding tasting events at your local specialty stores. What a great way to taste new whiskies, learn about the distilleries, and meet interesting people in the industry!
The four bourbons served at this tasting were the standard Four Roses Yellow Label ($20), Small Batch ($38), Single Barrel ($40), and the 2009 Mariage limited release ($85). I don’t like to attempt any kind of rating based on public tasting events. I’ve found that my opinions can change quite a bit between these types of events and my more controlled tasting sessions at home. I’ll certainly share my thoughts on these, though, along with the the consensus opinions of others in attendance.
Of the three standard releases, my least favorite on the night was the Small Batch, bottled at 45% ABV. Not because it was bad, it just seemed uninteresting relative to the others. Perhaps my opinion will change in a more controlled drinking environment, but in doing this comparison, the Small Batch came off as being the Four Roses version of Gentleman Jack. Good taste and very smooth, but forgettable. It seemed to be intended more for the occasional drinker than the whiskey aficionado.
The entry-level Yellow Label was of surprisingly high quality, and really caught me by surprise. It’s only 40% ABV, but it’s got a stronger flavor than the Small Batch, with a good mouth presence and a longer than expected finish. It’s sweet, but not sickly sweet, and there’s just enough rye spice to keep things interesting. Despite the price, this seems like a genuine sipping whiskey, not fodder for mixers. This one is easy to recommend.
The Single Barrel expression has the highest rye content of the bunch, and you could tell. It also weighs in at a respectable 50% ABV. I’ve found that in premium bourbons, I tend to prefer wheated over rye. However, the great mouth feel and spicy, yet smooth finish of the Single Barrel really seemed to hit the spot on this night. Granted, this might have something to do with 100 proof being a real sweet spot for me when it comes to whisk(e)y. If you’re a big rye bourbon, or straight rye fan, then you really need to try this. If you’re ANY kind of bourbon fan, you should still check it out. Very nice.
Finally, we have the 2009 Mariage (yes, a single “r”, as this is the French spelling) release, bottled around 57% ABV. The 2009 release has a combination of 10 and 19 year old bourbons vatted together. You can definitely taste the extra wood coming from the older barrels. I happen to like this, and enjoyed this expression as much, and maybe more than the Single Barrel. Most others, including Mr. Rutledge, seemed to disagree. Interestingly, Mr. Rutledge did acknowledge that scotch drinkers seem to enjoy Mariage more than bourbon drinkers. They’re more used to a stronger wood influence, he figured. While I really enjoyed this one, and I understand the “limited release” pricing, I couldn’t bring myself to pull the trigger on a bottle of this at twice the price of the Single Barrel.
The majority of the people attending the event seemed to prefer the Single Barrel. This also seemed to be the favorite for Jim Rutledge, although he was very high on the Yellow Label as well. I seemed to like the 2009 Mariage more than just about everybody else there. One guy even apologized and said he couldn’t finish the Mariage, but asked for another sample of the Single Barrel. Each to their own, I suppose.
Interesting info from Jim Rutledge
Four Roses distillery has an interesting setup when it comes to creating different expressions. They use two mashbills and five yeast cultures to create ten different recipes that are aged separately. This gives them a lot of options when creating new expressions. Rather than repeat all of the details that Mr. Rutledge shared with us, I’ll point you to a guest blog post he did for Malt Advocate.
I got some one-on-one time with Mr. Rutledge, and wanted to share some things I found particularly interesting:
- I’ve read it elsewhere, but he confirmed that Bulleit Bourbon is created at the Four Roses distillery and uses two of their recipes, with both the 35% and the 20% rye mashbills.
- The 2009 Mariage vatting that was bottled is NOT the one he originally approved. It was supposed to contain somewhere around 9-10% of the 19 year barrels, but the finished product ended up with about 20% of the 19 year. Mr. Rutledge was actually disappointed with the final result, but glad to see some scotch aficionados enjoying it.
- He had just picked out the 2010 Mariage recipe the week before our tasting. He said he thinks it will be the best bourbon they’ve ever bottled. Of course, he’s a bit biased, but considering how candid he was regarding the 2009 release, I’m excited to see what people say about the 2010 bottling.
Stay tuned for more detailed Four Roses tasting notes
While I don’t like to do ratings or in-depth tasting notes based on these public tastings, I’ve been fortunate enough to acquire samples of the three standard releases. I’m looking forward to spending a number of evenings with these whiskies and sharing my thoughts on them.Cheers, Jeff