Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Bitter Pill: Four Roses 2011 Single Barrel

Every year, aside from their standard single barrel offering, Four Roses releases a limited edition single barrel using one of their ten recipes. This year's is OBSQ, which is the high rye mashbill (60% corn, 35% rye, 5% barley) with the Q yeast strain. It's 12 years old and cask strength. The abv varies depending on the barrel but mine was 55.4%. It retails for around $80.

The nose is pleasant, floral and perfumy with some earthy and vegetal notes. The palate is harshly vegetal and medicinal with a strong bitterness which lasts into the finish. It is so bitter and chemically that I was initially convinced it might be tainted and got another sample.

With some time to oxidize in the glass, the bitterness on the palate subsides a bit, but it still leaves you with an overwhelmingly bitter finish with a mouthfeel like you've just taken an oral anaesthetic. Adding water brings out a soapiness.

I like some medicinal qualities in my whiskey, but this one overdoes it, and from late palate to finish, it's downright objectionable. This is a seriously flawed whiskey that I wouldn't drink again. I'm generally a fan of Four Roses and I've even had some decent bottlings from this recipe; this one is different.

Now, I should note that it seems I'm in the distinct minority in my negative opinion of this one, so I urge you to check out the always excellent (though in this case, totally wrong) Sour Mash Manifesto and Sipology for a different perspective.


Jason Pyle said...

Ha ha! "Totally wrong!"

I certainly get what you mean - it's perfumed with florals that come across as cocktail bitters to me on the palate, less so on the nose. But still in a good way for me all the way around.

That said, while a fun and unique experience it's one I'd walk by for the standard OBSV Single Barrel release at more than half the price.

Joshie said...

I'm used to being totally wrong. I've learned to embrace it. Thinking about this entry and the thread from that DreamTheater guy, I wonder if there's one barrel of this that is especially weird. What barrel was your from?

sku said...

Thanks to you both for your responses. Of course I jest when I say you were totally wrong. If anything, I'm the outlier here. My barrel was the same one Jason reviewed and liked (Warehouse QN. Barrel No. 17-2T), so it's not just that. My guess is that there was just something in there that ticked off my palate. I'm pretty sensitive to bitterness but this was beyond the usual bitterness that can show up in some bourbons.

My recollection is that Chuck Cowdery didn't like this bottle very much either, though I don't think he reacted as strongly to it as I did.

AaronWF said...

I just emptied my bottle of this a week or two ago. I definitely struggled with it for the first half; the densely perfumed alcohol vapors were at times over-bearing and water diminished what pleasure I gleaned from the palate when I was able to get beyond its astringent burn. It grew on me though. The second half of the bottle was a real treat, and by the time I got to the final 1/4 of it (after being open for maybe 3 months), the soft, flowery notes were in full effect and infused from the nose onto the palate and through the finish.

I was amazed by how it developed in the bottle and quickly moved to secure more for future enjoyment!

I also found that it had seemingly very little in common with a Binny's OBSQ SB. Dramatic things must have happened over those 3-4 extra years in the barrel.

Florin said...

Sku, I'm with you on this one! I only went through about 10% of the bottle, all along thinking of the many better ways to spend $80. This one hurt! I passed the rest to a friend. He later reported that he really liked it - I was happy for him and me both. It may be indeed that the bottom half is better in this bottle.

Incidentally, I had a similar experience with Whistle Pig -- harsh stuff, alcohol on the nose and not much else. These two bottles taught me a) to take others' reviews with a few grains of salt, and b) to allow for the fact that the samples sent to reviewers may be very different from the bottles on the shelf.

Chuck Cowdery said...

I'm not sure why I reviewed this in April but at the time, I said it had "a strong bitter herb note that a grappa drinker might recognize. The balance comes from sweetness and an enveloping, scone-like body. When you've acclimated it presents more as caraway seed and horehound candy. There is nothing subtle about any of it." So, I don't hate it as much as you do, but it sure is challenging. But that's good, no?

sku said...

I'm not sure "challenging" is good. I think whiskey needs to taste good. Obviously some people think this one does, but I don't. I think challenging can be good in terms of presenting something that questions your assumptions or presents something novel, but the way you're using it makes it sound a bit like a euphemism for "bad."

Chuck Cowdery said...

Intellectual stimulation often is a painful pleasure. That's how I meant 'challenging.'

Anonymous said...

Your assessment is completely fair, Sku. The nose promises an experience which the palate does not deliver. This one finished dead LAST in our little whiskey enthusiast group's recent blind tasting of it and, 2009-2010 Old Forester Birthday Bourbons, Four Roses standard single barrel and small batch, Wild Turkey American Spirit, Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit, Eagle Rare 10 (private retail bottling), BTAC Eagle Rare 17, Van Winkle Special Reserve 12, Old Fitzgerald Very Special 12, Sazerac, Rittenhouse BIB, George Dickel Barrel Select, George Dickel No 12, Old Weller Antique 107, and Parker's Heritage Collection Wheated.