The cask strength Four Roses Single Barrels continue to be one of the most elusive bourbons to the Colorado market. We have had two in as many years, and usually by the time you hear about one outside of your circle of liquor stores, it is gone. The good news is, Davidson’s just pulled in a barrel, which is the only cask strength Four Roses around at the moment. The bad news, they sold about 25% of the barrel in the first weekend it was on the shelf.
Late last year, Argonaut in downtown Denver bought a cask strength barrel of OBSV. It was eight years, eight months old and sold for $54. Even though it was on the younger side, that barrel lasted less than three months. The Davidson’s barrel is a more common age for these barrels at ten years exactly, and the barrel yielded less bottles with around 130 in total. It seems reasonable to expect this barrel to last about the same time as Argonaut’s, possibly less.
The OESQ recipe that was chosen by Davidson’s is the lower rye “OE” mash bill (20% rye) with the fruity, delicate “Q” yeast. These lower rye mash bills have the opportunity to taste like some of the better, more traditional bourbons out there, compared to the 35% rye “OB” mash bills which pack a very unique, identifiably “Four Roses” profile.
These selections usually fly of the shelf because at around 110 proof, they are extremely approachable cask strength bourbons. Not everyone finds enjoyment in the bruising cask strength proofs of Elijah Craig BP and George T. Stagg, but every bourbon enthusiast, from intermediate to expert, enjoys the enhanced profile of a bourbon straight from the cask, no water added. Just as the good lord intended.
Four Roses is able to consistently pull off these low proof cask strength bourbons for two reasons. First, they fill their barrels at 120 proof, rather than the legal maximum of 125 proof. All things being equal, less alcohol in the barrel should result in less alcohol in the bottle.
Second, Four Roses uses the only single story aging warehouse system in Kentucky. This means every barrel of Four Roses bourbon ages in a cool, humid environment which is crucial for dropping the barrel proof.
Cooler temperatures can slow the rate of evaporation by constricting the pores in the wood, but the humidity outside of the barrel is what determines if water or alcohol will evaporate faster. If it is humid outside the barrel, less water will be pulled from it. If it is dryer outside the barrel, more water will be pulled from it, and at either level of humidity, alcohol will continue to evaporate. Since humid air is heavy, lower levels of barrel houses are more humid, which makes a single story rickhouse like the ones used by Four Roses a perfect environment to drop proof.
Some Four Roses barrels can gain proof, like barrel BS-3-3Q of the 2013 Limited Edition run, but even that barrel only gained 1 proof point (121 proof). Most Four Roses barrels, like the Davidson’s barrels, will loose about 5-10% alcohol by volume, and that’s not a bad thing. You get all of the flavor of an uncut bourbon, and only a fraction of the burn/buzz of the popular 130+ proof heavyweights.
The Davidson’s OESQ Four Roses Single Barrel Review
Color: Very dark in the bottle, like cherry juice, or agave.
Nose: Very sweet, and for the lower rye mash bill, it has a huge spice bouquet. Honey, fresh peanut brittle or toffee, apricot and banana bread, and a slightly floral note balance out wonderfully with a full, robust spice box. The oak smells toasted, not at all bitter.
Sip: Cinnamon sugar, a traditional vanilla/caramel/toffee, and pie crust load a sugar forward profile. I can’t put my finger on the fruit; apricot, cherry, and a banana pudding all peer through depending on the sip. The back has a somewhat sharp spice box, a sweet pipe tobacco and a toasted vanilla oak.
Finish: There is a slight bitterness that shows up in the initial finish, but it quickly fades, leaving a dose of red hots, a sweet coating of cinnamon sugar, and a faint honeysuckle and mint. Extremely smooth.
Overall Grade: A-
This is about as good as a $50 bottle of bourbon can get. It has a wonderful nose that is much more traditionally sweet than most Four Roses expressions. The palate is balanced, textured perfectly, and the proof is just right to punch up the flavor without numbing your palate. A big reason why I enjoyed this expression so much, is that I am normally not a big fan of the “OE” mash bills, and the “Q” yeast has been forgettable the two times I have had it. This selection outpaces most “OE” mash bills I have had and every “Q” yeast.
The only thing missing was a bit more char in the back, but other than that, this barrel selection rivals some of the best cask strength Four Roses single barrels I have had.
Drink this, not that: If you can’t get to a bottle of this in time, you can wait for the Limited Edition Single Barrel to come out in the spring. The 2014 will be a 11 year old OESF, which is very similar to this barrel. The “F” yeast is also fruity, but has been known to show a lot of mint. It will be about $30 to $40 more, but it might be the last cask strength Four Roses single barrel we get all year.