20 Nov 2014
This isn’t a normal Spirits write-up. Four Roses Barrel Strength Private Selection isn’t just one bourbon, but a barrel selection program. More details in a minute. But instead of burying the lead, it’ll come right out with it: If you want some really good bourbon you can actually find at a reasonable price, seek out Four Roses Private Barrel Selections.
The more you get into bourbon, the more you find hype. There are lots of good bourbons (and ryes) out there, but many of the limited offerings are increasingly hard to find. Pappy, Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (Stagg, William Larue Weller, Sazerac 18, Eagle Rare 17, even Handy), rare Willett offerings, A.H. Hirsch… they are all outstanding. They’re also hard to find, and usually wildly expensive (hundreds of dollars or more).
Even American whiskey bottles that weren’t all that hard to find a year or two ago (Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, Weller 12, Weller Antique 107, even Elmer T. Lee) are now becoming difficult to find. That makes a limited and tasty, yet readily available, bourbon a real gem.
Four Roses makes bourbon differently from most other distilleries. While most bourbons use one single recipe (mashbill and yeast combination), Four Roses mixes 10 recipes into its standard Yellow Label bourbon. (The small batch has four of those bourbons in an undisclosed ratio.) This unique approach gives Four Roses a far wider library of aging bourbon barrels than most places.
And thankfully, Four Roses makes those barrels available for its Private Barrel program. Here’s how it works: A retailer, distributor, or even a bar can select a single barrel from ten or so samples they recieve from Four Roses. They might specify the recipe they want, but ultimately they choose the bourbon that is bottled (usually between 9 and 12 years) as their private selection through tasting. That means every Private Barrel Selection was at least selected as the best of a handful of barrels. So if you find a retailer who really knows their stuff, you’ll likely end up with a pretty tasty selection.
I’ve had a half-dozen of these in recent years, selected by stores in Kentucky, Texas, California, and D.C. and each has been excellent. Each recipe has different characteristics, and each barrel is unique. I’ve yet to find a dud. At $50-70 per bottle, it’s a solid value, especially given the ever-increasing prices of rare bourbon.
Each is bottled at barrel-proof without being diluted, which usually means 110-proof or often higher. Each unique barrel has its own character, so suggesting a cigar pairing is difficult, but you’ll definitely want a flavorful, full-bodied cigar.
As for which bottles to pick up, I have two suggestions. First, take a look at the description of each of the ten recipes Four Roses makes and decide which ones sound the best. Second, find a retailer who knows their bourbon and can pick a good barrel. Do that and you’ll end up with some of the best bourbon you can find.
photo credit: Stogie Guys