Monday, April 17, 2017

Four Roses, 2016 Limited Edition Single Barrel

stats: Kentucky Straight Bourbon, 14 years old, 59.7%, $125

Yesterday was my birthday and I got into some good whiskey, as one would expect. While I still have one more post left to complete the tale of my adventures in Kentucky last year, I’m going to take a brief diversion and talk about what I drank last night. Rather than fretting over what to open from my collection I decided to step out to the local pub, where I knew there was something special on the shelf. This way I wouldn’t have to cook dinner either.

That something special was a bottle of Four Roses 2016 Limited Edition Single Barrel, also known as Elliott’s Select. In a previous post I detailed information about the Four Roses Limited Edition bottlings (both Single Barrel and Small Batch) from their inception through the 2013 vintage. Initially these were releases of about 2000 bottles. They grew as the years rolled on, with the LE Small Batch getting up over 12,000 bottles in 2013 and the LE Single Barrel reaching 4000 bottles that year, before creeping up to 5000 bottles in 2014.

Then came the news that no one wanted to hear in 2015; the annual Limited Edition Single Barrel releases were being suspended. Four Roses had grown in popularity to the point that there just wasn’t enough extra aged stock on hand to support the Limited Edition bottlings in the volume that had become necessary. The company decided to sacrifice the LE Single Barrel offering to ensure the future of the of the LE Small Batch releases. They did, however, announce that going forward there was the possibility of the Limited Edition Single Barrel product occasionally returning for special commemorative bottlings.

And that was exactly what happened in 2016. After Jim Rutledge retired from his position as the Four Roses Master Distiller (which he had held for more than 20 years) in 2015, he was succeeded by the distillery’s Operations Director, Brent Elliot. The company wanted to introduce their new Master Distiller with a special bottling, and chose to revive the Limited Edition Single Barrel for 2016 in his honor.

Many consumers mistakenly assumed that the LE Single Barrel was back for annual releases after a one year hiatus, but Elliot has reaffirmed that it will not be offered every year going forward. There definitely won’t be a 2017 LE Single Barrel; if there was we certainly would have heard about it by now. Also, the duty of commemorative bottling will fall to the LE Small Batch this year; it will honor Al Young’s 50th anniversary with the company. He has served in many roles during his career at Four Roses, but has been the Brand Ambassador for the last 10 years.

The inaugural Limited Edition Single Barrel was actually introduced in 2007 as a tribute to Jim Rutledge, having reached 40 years of service in the Bourbon industry. That release was of just 1442 bottles, while the 2016 version dedicated to Brent Elliot consisted of 10,224 bottles. Coming from roughly 51 individual barrels, it’s no surprise that the proof ranged from about 100 to 120. All of the bottles carry a 14 year age statement and come from the OESK recipe, which uses the 20% rye mashbill and the spicy yeast. This yeast produces a whiskey which is full bodied, slow aging and with a particular spicy quality distinct from that of rye grain. The particular bottle that I’m sampling is on the high end of the proof range, at 119.4 (59.7%).

The nose is full of dense aromas, but without being sharp or volatile. Notes of vanilla, leather, old books and subtle berry fruit are all layered beautifully together.
On the palate there’s a fruitiness up front that’s quickly overshadowed by a wave of complex spice notes. Traditional rye-based spice character combines with spice that is more floral and minty in nature, while balancing oak notes linger in the background.
The spice notes evolve to become more warming and fiery on the lengthy finish.
It’s big and bold, but surprisingly well-composed and approachable for the given proof.

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