I wrote the following last year when introducing Four Roses’ annual Limited Edition Small Batch release, and it’s just as true now as it was then:
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.
It’s a level of choice that I personally imagine would be almost paralyzing, but the company still comes up with a great LE release on a yearly basis, and 2021 is no exception. This year’s version is notable for a few reasons: First, it’s being released at a higher proof point than any previous LE Small Batch, and it also incorporates some Four Roses recipes that haven’t made it into an LE Small Batch release for the last few years.
The 2021 Four Roses LE Small Batch recipe includes the following four (out of 10) Four Roses recipes:
— 16-year-old OESV
— 12-year-old OESK
— 14-year-old OBSQ
— 16-year-old OBSV
The OBSV is of course the “standard,” most common Four Roses recipe, which makes up all the regular, 100-proof, non-store-pick bottles of Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon you see on store shelves. It tends to be included in each LE release. The OESV and OESK recipes, meanwhile, are also fairly common, and have been part of the last few LEs as well, highlighting the “V” (delicate fruit) and “K” (slight spice) yeast strains, and also the “E” (less rye heavy) mash bill.
What is notably less common here is the OBSQ, which combines the “B” mash bill (higher rye content) with the “Q” yeast strain, which is typically described as “floral essence.” No “Q” yeast strains have been included in the last couple years of the LE Small Batch, so the presence of this particular bourbon may put a signature on this bottle. It is packaged at a cask strength of 57.2% ABV (114.4 proof), which is the highest to date for this series.
The batch size on this year’s LE is approximately 14,500 hand-numbered bottles, at an MSRP of $150. They’ll be hitting store shelves in late September, and a quantity will also be sold via the Four Roses Distillery Visitor Center via a public lottery draw. Those who wish to enter will be able to register for the lottery from Aug. 31 to Sept. 12 via the Four Roses website.
So with all that said, let’s get to tasting.
On the nose, my immediate first impressions are of warm caramel and dark chocolate, but there’s also a somewhat mustier and earthier note that feels like it was contributed primarily by the oak, and possibly by the “Q” yeast strain, with which I am not terribly familiar. There’s some caramel corn here, and it’s actually a little bit nutty, which is not a note I often associate with Four Roses. Charred cinnamon and nutmeg spice round things out on the nose, but what I keep returning to is the oak—it feels on first blush like the wood may have more character in this year’s batch than in some of the other recent LE releases.
On the palate, initial notes lead off with plenty of honey, caramel and oak. The wood character here falls somewhere between savory and spicy—it gives some hints of herbal and floral complexity, while occasionally suggesting tobacco, earthiness and slight mint. One area that is less pronounced this time compared to the last few years is the rich fruitiness—I don’t get much of the berries or red fruit, but additional time in the glass does increasingly reveal orange and apricot/stone fruit. The residual sweetness is on the lower side, and it is a bit drier, but not too dry when all is said and done. One area that stands out in a wonderful way is texture—this has an extremely full and smooth mouthfeel that is silky and luxurious from start to finish. The finish likewise stretches out for ages, teasing out herbal and floral complexity.
All in all, this year’s LE Small Batch bourbon perhaps does not naturally land as close to dead center on my own personal chart of favorite flavors, but it’s still an extremely impressive offering, and another testament to the blending prowess of Brent Elliott. It’s always exciting to see the inclusion of less common recipes and yeast strains in any Four Roses LE Small Batch release, which continues to make this brand one of our most hotly anticipated on a yearly basis.
Distillery: Four Roses
City: Lawrenceburg, KY
Style: Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey
ABV: 57.2% (114.4 proof)
Availability: 750 ml bottles, $150 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.