I can’t really imagine what it must be like, to be in the shoes of someone like Four Roses Master Distiller Brent Elliott, especially when it comes time to design the blend for each year’s Limited Edition Small Batch Bourbon. With Four Roses’ classic 10-recipe foundation, there’s an endless permutation of avenues one can explore in making a final choice—no shortage of very different, eclectic routes to be taken. You can craft a product in any given year that is true to a “classic” Four Roses profile, or focus more heavily on rarer Four Roses recipes that veer off the beaten path. All I can say is, I don’t know how I’d choose which direction to explore on a yearly basis.
For 2020, you might say that Four Roses has gone in a comfortably familiar sort of direction. The newly unveiled Limited Edition Small Batch Bourbon for 2020 is a classic expression of Four Roses, with much in common with the very well-regarded 2019 release, which was one of our favorite whiskeys of 2019. That’s certainly not a bad thing. This particular year’s release is non-chill filtered and weighs in at 111.4 proof, having the following composition from 4 of the 10 Four Roses recipes. You can read more about all the recipes here.
— 12-year-old OBSV — 30%
— 12-year-old OESV — 25%
— 16-year-old OESK — 25%
— 19-year-old OBSK — 20%
A few things of note here. OBSV is the most common and versatile Four Roses recipe, being found in basically every Four Roses product. It’s the sole bourbon found in regularly packaged, 100-proof bottles of Four Roses Single Barrel, whereas the other 9 recipes are only found in cask strength, store pick bottles of Single Barrel. It’s common for OBSV to show up in most of these blends, as it is the heart and soul of Four Roses.
The two “K” recipes are also fairly common, and are said to contribute a heavier spice profile. Notable here is a surprisingly high percentage of the 19-year-old OBSK, as it’s not common for that much bourbon with that high of an age statement to make it into the LE Small Batch blend—Elliott said via a media tasting that they were happy to find some 19-year-old barrels that were less oak dominated than most that age would be, and could use more of it as a result. Nevertheless, the master distiller refers to this 20% portion of 19-year-old bourbon as contributing a particularly “elegant oaky background.”
With all that said, let’s get to tasting.
On the nose, I’m getting a combo of caramel and butterscotch, buffeted by waves of oak and spice. This seems a bit more oak and spice-driven than I recall from the 2019 LE Small Batch, which gives it a bit more prickly nose. Teasing out more impressions, more fruit begins to emerge, with orange and apricot meeting butterscotch, pecan and vanilla—like butter pecan ice cream.
The bourbon is softer on the palate than the nose might suggest, with strong fruit impressions of orange and peaches with cream and vanilla bean, into rye. The spice is strong as well, however, with big pops of ginger, burnt cinnamon and allspice. The oak, likewise, is considerable and is definitely a star player, although it contributes more of a flavor dimension than it does a tannic one. Overall, this presentation is moderately sweet, with a warming heat in the chest but not too much on the palate, with a long, fairly mellow finish that touches on old oak and rye spice/pepper.
All in all, there are certainly elements here that remind me of the 2019 LE Small Batch that I loved so much, although I’m likely to give a slight edge to last year’s batch, which I believe was slightly less aggressive on the nose. Still, this is extremely tasty stuff, and one of the rare bottles over $100 that I’d happily pay MSRP for. The distillery has produced 14,040 hand-numbered bottles for this particular release, at an SRP of $150. It will be hitting select retailers in “late September,” although the distillery will also be hosting a public lottery draw for additional bottles, with registration for the lottery available on the Four Roses website starting today.
Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch remains one of the highlights of the bourbon year, without a doubt.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident brown liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.