When we asked bourbon nut Neil Hennessy-Vass to cover a tasting of the new Four Roses Small Batch, Cask Strength Bourbon with master distiller Brent Elliot, we didn’t expect him to swallow. Neil did. And he left tasting venue Hedonism with a hedonistic smile. A big one. Beauties like this only come along once in a year. Take it away Neil….
German and Danish rye, the best barrels in the warehouse, Kentucky water, a tight rein on temperature – these are the things, Neil learned, that are key to making the Small Batch Bourbon so extraordinary.
Bourbon has been the new Rock ‘n’ Roll for some time now but once a year something special comes along. With stocks in the industry at a 44 year high and visitor numbers to Kentucky up one million in the last year alone the ‘fuel’ of the bluegrass economy is very much here to stay.
This year’s seasonal small batch offering from the esteemed distillery Four Roses is a limited edition of just 3,000 hand numbered bottles available across Europe. The UK distributor Spirit Cartel, expect it to fly off the shelves.
Five different yeast strains with two distinct mash bills is the starting point for Four Roses producing ten distinct bourbons. This year’s offering has three of those bourbons a 12, 13 and 15-year old and a low rye mash bill of 20%, a first for the company.
Single storage is one of the key consistency factors in production says master distiller Brent Elliot. Other manufacturers have their stock in vast, tall buildings where the top of the stack can be in a different weather zone. At Four Roses it’s all single storey, keeping a tight reign on temperature. Other operations can vary as much as 30°C in the same building whereas with Four Roses it’s no more than 8-9°C.
Kentucky water plays its part in assuring high quality. It’s known to contain less iron and other metals, minerals that are the enemy of bourbon. Try putting a nail in a glass of bourbon and you’ll see what I mean.
Bottled at barrel strength of 53.9% ABV Elliott said, “The magic happened early on with this bourbon. After only a third test blend, I knew we had hit the target and then some. In subsequent blind samplings this one always stood out – there’s a remarkable synergy among the three batches. Once combined, it resulted in more depth, richness and warmth than any one of the individual recipes.” A clear case or should that be barrel of the sum greater than its individual parts.
So what does it taste like? Well, apart from the German and Danish rye this is an American dream through and through. The indigenous oak (with 50” scorch) gives it a head start of spice and vanilla.
It’s rounded with a length closer to a marathon than sprint – this has an Olympic pedigree for sure.
Warm aromas of allspice envelope you as the vanilla bean changes lanes mid-race with apricot and stewed fruits pushing forward. Towards the tape there’s a bright raspberry giving way to decadent slice of sweet maraschino cherry in light oak. As you pass the line and slow down the brown sugar and hints of cinnamon are the ticker tape parade finish.
If you want to get on board with this kind of winner from Four Roses then your starting line is north of £100 but this particular little beauty is retailing at £130 for 70cl. Be quick though like Usain Bolt these bottles move fast.
All photos are by Neil-Hennessy Vass. To see more of his work click here