The Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch (LESmB) will be one of the most sought after releases of the 2013 fall season, and for good reason. After winning Malt Advocate’s “American Whiskey of the Year” in 2012, the expectations are sky high for the 2013 release. The recipes got a little bit older and the first handful of reviews have been very high, but the most exciting thing about the 2013 LESmB is that the 12,468 bottles being released this year is nearly three times the 4,062 bottles released in 2012. That means a wider set of stores will have a chance to get the LESmB, so I would ask your local liquor store to ask for a few before the LESmB reaches Colorado liquor stores.
Both the Four Roses LESmB and the Limited Edition Single Barrel (LESiB) are bottled at cask strength, but since Four Roses uses a single story, six barrel high rick house, this cask strength offering lands at a manageable 103.2 proof. This style rick house helps create a consistent aging process for a distillery that focuses on diversity in their mashbills. Their five yeast strains in combination with their two rye mashbill bourbons has turned Four Roses into one of the premier barrel selection distilleries in the world, but it also allows Master Distiller Jim Rutledge to construct the Limited Edition releases from one of the most diverse stocks of bourbon in Kentucky.
Every year, George T. Stagg pulls barrels of the same mashbill, of roughly the same age, in an attempt to create the “George T. Stagg” profile. Most limited releases go this route which makes Four Roses one of the most exciting annual releases. You never really know what to expect year to year, and every release can stretch the boundaries of that line. The 2013 LESiB was a 13 year OBSK, the 2012 was a 12 year OESK while the earthshaking 2010 LESiB release was a 17 year OBSV. The 2011 LESmB had three OE recipes and one OB recipe, while the 2012 and 2013 are heavy on OB recipes.
The 2013 is a blend of an 18 year OBSV (60% corn, fruit, spicy, creamy), a 13 year OBSK (60% corn, rich spiciness, full body), and a 13 year OESK (75% corn, spicy, full body). While that is three of the four recipes used in the award winning 2012, that doesn’t ensure an encore of the 2012 profile. The average age of the recipes in the 2013 increased 1.6 years when they dropped the youngest recipe from the 2012, and the ratio of each mashbill has changed as well. While that doesn’t ensure an encore, the fact that the 2013 is so similar to the 2012 leads me to believe Jim Rutledge is simply improving upon the stellar 2012.
Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch, 125th Anniversary
Color: Golden honey, orange rind.
Nose: Much smoother than the 2012. Lots of honey and buttery vanilla cream to compliment the sharp cinnamon, clove and coriander spice. The combination of red berries, apples and a faint floral note mark a very traditional Four Roses nose, but there is also some toasted oak and caramel candy that I thought was missing from the 2012. The pinnacle of the nose is a distinct “baseball card bubblegum” scent that rules a well aerated glass.
Sip: The LESmB is loud and full bodied with a nice oily texture. Honey, cinnamon, and caramel syrup mix with candy apples, red berries, maraschino cherries, citrus peel and all of the rye spice you would want from a Four Roses bourbon. A light tobacco, vanilla bean and toasted oak even out the back, giving this LESmB no shortage of flavors to pick through.
The lower barrel strength proof allows the flavors and texture to shine through in a big way. This Four Roses LESmB is an extraordinarily easy sipper and one that fits any occasion.
Finish: The finish is long and full of spice. If anyone was initially weary of the lower proof for a cask strength, the finish delivers one of those lengthy, rich finishes more commonly delivered by a 120 to 130 proof bruiser. Cinnamon, tobacco and honeyed apples last long after each sip as well as some citrus and vanilla bean.
Overall Grade: A
Peer Reviews: Drinkhacker: A-
In the $100 category, the 2013 Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch sets the bar before the BTAC and Van Winkle releases come out later this season. The iconic fruit, sharp spice and sweet honey mix perfectly with plenty of subtle secondary flavors to create one of the most balanced and complex profiles to be released in the LESmB line. I could use a little more caramel and barrel influence, but the 2013 does have more than the 2012 so we are on the right track. Aside from that the LESmB is near perfect, especially if you enjoy the fruit forward and spicy Four Roses yeast strains.
To me, the 2013 LESmB is very reminiscent of the 2010 LESiB, which was my all time favorite Four Roses release.
Again, Colorado distribution is getting murky with these allocated releases. The LESmB has been in the hands of the Colorado distributor for over a week but ins’t expected at my store until mid October. I hate sending my money out of the state, but I am not going to turn down an opportunity to get a bottle like this because my state’s distributor is waiting for a theoretical “right time” to place the bottle in stores or is busy testing the water for a pre distribution mark-up.
Drink this, not that: I am still not convinced that this LESmB beats the LESiB barrels that came to Colorado. The LESiB was one of the best in years, so if you are looking to get a nice gift for a Four Roses fan, you might still be able to find a LESiB on the shelf.
If you are just looking for a nice bourbon from this year’s fall season, this year’s Parker’s Heritage Collection will be just as easy to find in the wild with a 9,000 bottle release. The PHC is a ten year single barrel bottled at 96 proof, and $20 from every bottle goes to Parker Beam’s ALS research foundation, Promise of Hope. I had my first sip this weekend and wasn’t blow away, but enjoyed it plenty. Without really sitting down to analyze it, I would give it a B/B+.