Thursday, February 6, 2014
Dusty Thursday: Four Roses - The Bad Old Days
Given the love heaped on Four Roses these days, it's easy to forget that it's only been a big name in quality bourbon for about a decade, at least in the U.S. Prior to 2002, it was owned by the now defunct Seagram's Company. It had been popular in the post-prohibition years, but around the 1960s, Seagram's decided that it would concentrate on the export market. The only thing Four Roses made for the US was crappy blends. All of that changed in 2002, when Kirin, the Japanese beer company, purchased the distillery and let the roses bloom.
Today, I'm going back to the bad old days and tasting a circa 1978 Four Roses Light Whiskey. Light whiskey is a whiskey distilled to more than 160 proof, a higher distillation proof than is permitted for most American whiskey, such as bourbon or rye, for which 160 proof is the maximum. Light whiskey can only be stored in used or new uncharred oak. This is a blended light whiskey, which means it is mixed with straight whiskey, but the straight whiskey must be less than 20% of the total composition. Light whiskey lies somewhere between bourbon and vodka on the spirits spectrum, though unlike regular "blended whiskey," it does not contain any neutral spirits (which are spirits that must be distilled at above 190 proof).
Four Roses Light Whiskey, A Blend, 43% abv
The nose has an ever so slight vanilla note. The palate is...awful. It tastes mostly of alcohol. It's like a lightly sweetened vodka, with honey and maybe a touch of wood. There is not much whiskey character at all. This stuff really has no redeeming value.
Whenever you hear someone (like, say, me) mourning the old days when bourbon had a special taste that you can't find anymore and things were cheap and plentiful, remind them (or me) that not everything was better back then. Exhibit A is Four Roses, a whiskey that went from terrible to amazing in a few short years.
Thanks to Matt P. for the picture and sample.