Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon

45% ABV/90 Proof
Available in the United States and Europe – $30

What the distillery says:
Marrying, or mingling, multiple Bourbon flavors is an art in itself. Four original and limited Bourbons have been expertly selected by our Master Distiller at the peak of maturation to create a perfectly balanced small batch Bourbon that rewards you with a mellow symphony of rich, spicy flavors along with sweet, fruity aromas and hints of sweet oak and caramel. Finishes soft, smooth and pleasantly long. Best enjoyed straight up, on the rocks, or with a splash.

What Richard says:
Nose: I found this whiskey to have a light and delicate nose that only hinted at the sugar and spice within.
Palate: The first thing you taste is sweetness at the center of the tongue. A subtle pepper blanket surrounds the sweetness and the tongue from the outside in. However the pepper is never too much and really plays a supporting roll in the flavor profile. There is a candy note in there that I cannot place.
Finish: The finish is smooth but slightly astringent and medicinal. There isn’t an overwhelming burn on the finish.
Rating: Stands Out.

What Matt says:
Nose: Light, not overly alcoholic. Hints of brown sugar and white pepper.
Palate: I feel like writers often say a whiskey is spicy, when they mean that it has an alcoholic burn. This whiskey is are great example of actual spice, but is perfectly balanced. It makes me think of Christmas with notes of vanilla, cloves, caramel, and kettle corn(?).
Finish: The whiskey’s astringent qualities mean that the finish does not linger. This, and the minimal burn, mean that the experience is over all too soon. Overall, the Small Batch is not as complex or interesting as some of its brothers, but well worth a taste.
Rating: Stands Out.

Overall Rating: This is a good bourbon, suitable for everyday imbibing. It’s balanced character and unobtrusive alcohol make it a great entry into the world of whiskey. It also makes a fantastic Highball. Stands Out

How We Review

Whisk(e)y Apostle is getting ready to post our first whiskey review. Our format is pretty easy to follow, but may be different from what you are accustomed.

Whisk(e)y Name
Info (ABV/Price/Availability)
What the distillery says (tasting notes)
What Richard says (tasting notes/rating)
What Matt says (tasting notes/rating)
Overall Rating

Whiskeys will receive a rating of ‘Must Buy’ (highest rating), ‘Must Try’ (high rating but may be rare or expensive), ‘Stands Out’ (above average), ‘Average’, ‘Probably Pass’. If something is a particular bargain (a great Scotch/Irish for under $50 or a great bourbon for under $25), it will also receive a ‘Great Value’ rating.

As much as possible, we will both review each whiskey and attempt to sample in similar circumstances. We pay for our samples 99% of the time. Any samples we receive from distilleries or distributors will be clearly noted.

Our reviews will appear periodically in our blog. To access all of our reviews, click the ‘Taste of the…’ link. We hope to post reviews weekly and, as we gather more reviews, you will be able to view by distillery. Additionally, we will occasionally review non-whiskey spirits and beer. We hope you enjoy our reviews. Let us know if they are helpful.

The Wind That Shakes The Barley

A short time ago, I was introducing my friend Chris to the ways of whiskey when he asked me a question I never heard. Chris, an avid beer drinker, asked if the barley used in whiskey making was the same as that used to brew beer. I told him that to my knowledge, the strains of barley used for whiskey were very different, but I would do some research.

Chris did not know it, but he was ahead of the curve. Recently, several distilleries have introduced beer malts into the traditional whiskey mix while others have taken to making whiskey directly from commercially available beer (or from commercial breweries). There are several things driving this decision. There is currently a boom in the whiskey market and boom leads to innovation. Distillers all over the world are trying to find ways to distinguish their product from everything else out there. A few years ago, wine finishes were all the rage. This led to some wonderful experiments that paid off (Glenfiddich 21 aged in rum casks) and some that did not (Glenmorangie Burgundy Finish). This also opened up the market for all the French Oak varieties (Glenlivet, The Macallan, etc.) that I so love.

For a handful of micro (or craft) distilleries this innovation is completely economical. The distilleries are so small that they lack the capability to produce the beer necessary to make whiskey.

So, you may ask, what do these whiskeys taste like? Well, like anything, there are some hits and some misses. Bushmills 1608 (made with crystal malt) gets good reviews and I can personally attest to the quality of Glenmorangie’s The Signet. The Signet is partially made from chocolate malt and offers a very complex and wonderful experience that goes very well with dark chocolate or a good cigar. Charbay makes an American whiskey with pilsner beer. Unfortunately, at $325 a bottle, I doubt that I will get to try the results and further doubt that it would be worth the absurd cost (it’s three years old and aged in stainless steel!). Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey has a local brewery make their beer, but I’m not sure what kind of malt is used. The results, I can say, are uninspiring. This is one of the blandest whiskeys I’ve tasted. Since I tasted Stranahan’s at a large tasting event, in between some bourbon heavy hitters, I would be willing to give it another shot (so to speak).

So, there you have it, the results of my malt research. The beer malt trend is so big that it made Malt Advocate‘s ‘What’s in Store For 2009’ list. So far, the results are somewhat expensive (except for Stranahan’s) so your best bet is to find them at a tasting event, but I hope you get to try them. Experiments can be pretty tastey. Thanks for the inspiration Chris.

-Matt

Doh!

Okay, so I screwed up this weekend. I decided to head out on a whiskey search. Let me tell you that this is no small endeavor. Atlanta is not known as a hotbed of whiskey activity. Finding a quality dram is not as easy as you’d think. Finding a tasty bottle of some rare or hard to find tipple is almost impossible. It’s the nature of the beast. We’re the Grandpoobah of all Blue Law states so what do you expect. But I digress. So I started searching a few of my regular haunts.

First, I went to Total Wine in Dunwoody. This place just opened and it is a new liquor superstore. Think Binny’s in Chicago but with more wine and less liquor. No luck. There was a lot of “been there, done that“.

Next, I trotted on down to Pearson’s Wine Merchants in Buckhead. Pearson’s is actually listed as a “Malt 100” liquor store by The Malt Advocate but going in there now you’d never know it. Pearson’s selection must have declined since grabbing the “Malt 100” notation. There was one high point, Ardbeg 10 Year Old. Since Glenmorangie PLC’s purchase by LVMH and the relaunch of their brands the price of Ardbeg has sky rocketed. In Atlanta the 10 Year Old normally sells for around $65. (It’s 10 freakin’ years old!) But Pearson’s happened to carry it for about $42. Sold! But the initial search continued.

Finally, I rolled into Mac’s on 10th & W. Peachtree in Midtown. I thought I’d seen something here a few weeks ago and prayed that it was still there. As I walked down the bourbon isle I saw it…Parker’s Heritage Collection First Edition 1996! Ooh I was excited. They had two bottles. I snaked one, paid, and walked out happily on my way.

Then I got home. The recent issue of The Malt Advocate noted the second edition of Parker’s with a 96/100 and a pretty phenomenal review by John Hansell. I looked at some back issues and found the first edition in the Q1 2008 issue. Uh oh. There were three listed. All titled the same but one was 61.3% ABV (95/100), the second was 63.7% ABV (94/100) and the third was 64.8% ABV (80/100). Which one did I have? Yep, 64.8% ABV.

I realize this is just an arbitrary rating. But that said, I respect Mr. Hansell’s opinion. I found through trial and error that he and I share a more similar palate than a lot of other whiskey writers. But still, it’s the taste right? Well I was so flummoxed that I couldn’t open it. I’ll dive in later this week and post a review. For now I’m a little annoyed, both with myself and a little bit with Heaven Hill. I understand that it’s 95% my fault for not doing my research. However, I do feel Heaven Hill should have distinguished their bottlings a little better. The idea of three separate whiskies as a first edition seems counterintuitive to me. But I’m just me and what do I know? Anyway, I’ll do some tasting and maybe it will all work out in the end.

Cheers!

-Richard

Whisk(e)y And The Weaker(?) Sex

*NOTE: The title is only for alliteration not misogyny. Please, do not flood me with hate mail.

I have noticed a wonderful trend of late. Women who like whiskey. I personally have several female friends who can appreciate a good dram as much as anyone. Unfortunately, my wife is not one of them. Traditionally, whiskey is a harder sell than other hard liquor for women (if you have a significant other who likes beer, brats, and single malt Scotch you can quit reading). Once they try it, women are just as likely as men to enjoy whiskey. They are just less likely to give it a chance. So, how do you share your love of whiskey with your lady friend(s) if they are hesitant or uninitiated? It may sound sexist, but it is simple… cocktails (a topic that seems more than appropriate given Richard’s last blog).

Currently, the only way I can get my wife to drink whiskey is in a high ball (bourbon & ginger ale). I’ve tried making it with cheap stuff, but she prefers Four Roses Small Batch. What can I say? The lady knows good whiskey.

Unfortunately, it seems the art of whiskey cocktails has been lost to most bartenders (see the Jameson Whiskey Martini). Whiskey cocktails should compliment not disguise the whiskey. Instead of ordering a Jack and Coke, try an Old Fashioned (bourbon, sugar, bitters, an orange slice, and a cherry), a Whiskey Sour (the hard way or with a mix), or a Mint Julep (bourbon, sugar, and mint). If you have a savvy bar keep, you may be able to get a New Yorker (bourbon muddled w/ lime & a dash of grenadine) or Rusty Nail (Scotch, Drambuie & a lemon twist). If you find a cocktail you like, try it with different whiskeys.

The other way to introduce whiskey to any neophyte (regardless of sex) is to demonstrate the ritual of tasting (see FAQs for details). If they know that it is acceptable to add a little bit of water to temper the burn, they may be more willing to take the plunge.

Introducing whiskey to someone can be a challenge, but is usually very rewarding. Why else would we be whiskey apostles?

-Matt