In a whiskey world where change sometimes comes slowly, few brands have made the kinds of strides that Four Roses has in recent years. Ten years ago, there was no Four Roses Bourbon available in the US; even five years ago, you couldn't by it outside of a few shops in Kentucky. Now, Four Roses has taken its place among the most innovative distilleries.
Four Roses was a very popular Bourbon around fifty years ago, but when Seagram's bought the company, they marketed the Bourbon for export only. For decades, the only Four Roses product available in the US was a cheap, blended whiskey (you can still find dusty bottles of this stuff on the shelves at certain liquor stores).
Those of us who love Four Roses have Japanese beer to thank for its resurgence. In 2002, the Kirin company purchased the distillery, and things began to change. They quickly released a trio of Bourbons to the US market: regular yellow label, small batch and single barrel, and followed those up with a specialty bottling called Mariage and a new limited edition small batch bottling coming soon, but it didn't stop there.
The thing that differentiates Four Roses from every other Bourbon distillery is the recipes. Most distilleries have, at most, three different Bourbon recipes. Four Roses has ten. Using two different mashbills and five different yeasts, Four Roses has an extremely diverse set of flavor profiles to work with. The impressively transparent distillery sets out these recipes right on its website.
Traditionally, the distillery has blended together these recipes for its various Bourbons. But now, individual retailers are selecting barrels so that they can market specific recipes of Four Roses Single Barrel. You will recognize these expressions from the use of the four letter recipe designation in the title of the Bourbon (e.g. Four Roses Single Barrel OBSQ).
Two of the retailers who have made these Bourbons most available are Binny's in Chicago ($55 each) and The Party Source in Kentucky ($50 each). Both retailers bottle the Bourbons at cask strength, and thankfully, both take on-line orders.
Given the differences in flavor between these Bourbons, I am excited to try all ten recipes. From those I've tasted, I know that they offer an enormous diversity of flavor, even within the same mashbill. The problem is that tasting all ten, at $50-$55 a pop, is expensive. I suggested to The Party Source's Jay Erisman that they bottle a series of ten mini bottles representing each of the recipes. Jay seemed to think that would be too difficult and the cost would be prohibitive, but I open the suggestion to all retailers as well as the distillery. There are many whiskey fans out there who I know would treasure a ten bottle set of every Four Roses recipe. Think about it.