Usually, the release of a limited edition bottle of bourbon with a price tag over the $100 mark carries with it an obvious, unspoken question: Is the liquid in that bottle really worth dropping that kind of coin? Sure, the whiskey geeks will have no problem plunking down a few hundred on something rare they can gloat to their friends about having in their liquor cabinet, but what of the rank and file drinkers? Is a bourbon like that ever a “good investment,” purely from a taste standpoint?
The answer to that question is “yes,” but rarely do we get an undeniable illustration of why that is true.
Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch (2019) is one of those bourbons. It’s a glorious new release, and we are here for it, $140 price tag or not.
Every year, the folks at Four Roses release one of these coveted LE versions of the classic Small Batch Bourbon, but in 2019 they’ve outdone themselves. Bottled at 112.6 proof, with approximately 13,440 hand-numbered bottles available, the 2019 LE is the first in the series to feature a 21-year-old portion of bourbon from the distillery’s OBSV recipe—whiskey geeks know that Four Roses bourbons are made from a blend of 10 different recipes, which are coded into four-letter acronyms. In addition to the 21-year-old OBSV, this LE release also contains 15-year-old OESK, 15-year-old OESV and 11-year-old OESV. You can read more about the specific Four Roses recipes here.
In the meantime, let’s get to the tasting!
On the nose, this LE Small Batch sings with inviting notes of vanilla custard, old oak and plenty or orange essential oil—very orange grove-like, if I do say so myself. It’s a butterscotchy richness and sugar character, complemented by twists of citrus and a variety of baking spices.
On the palate, this bourbon is plenty flavorful, but shocking in its approachability. This is without a doubt the easiest drinking 113 proof whiskey I’ve ever encountered, at least in terms of how the alcohol expresses itself on the palate—it drinks like many 90 proof or less whiskeys, if we’re talking purely about alcohol burn. At the same time, however, it enters the chest with a long-lasting warmth (the “Kentucky hug”) that lasts ages, giving it the impression of being the sturdy bourbon it is. Never have I experienced such a disparity between how hot something presents on the palate, and how big one feels it in their chest. Suffice to say, I am impressed.
As for flavors, this bourbon is likewise rich and delightful. It’s very thick and oily feeling on the tongue, a viscous whiskey that carries immediate impressions of caramel sauce, old oak, butterscotch and lively orange citrus. There’s a hint of oak tannin running throughout, but not so much that it contributes anything in the way of bitterness, merely a little structure. This is a “rich” bourbon overall, but still isn’t overtly over-sweetened, despite expressive notes of vanilla bean, brown sugar, cinnamon and candied ginger. It feels very warm, comforting and “autumnal” in profile—bourbon for watching the leaves change color, if you will. It’s a beautiful palate overall, and combined with the remarkable way it integrates the alcohol into the whole, it makes for an outstanding dram.
Overall, this is clearly very impressive. In pretty much any case with a bourbon sporting this kind of price tag, I will typically waffle about whether a bottle is truly “worth” the splurge, compared with great bourbons that cost a third the price, but the 2019 Four Roses Small Batch LE makes that decision easy: It’s absolutely worth the investment.
If you have the chance, pick one of these up. Save it for fall. Guard it with your life.
Distillery: Four Roses
City: Lawrenceburg, KY
Style: American bourbon
ABV: 56.3% (112.6 proof)
Availability: Limited, $140 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident brown liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.