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Lost in the explosive rise of bourbon in America is a decades-long whiskey comeback story, a comeback that, until recently, would’ve been easy to miss. Four Roses was introduced in 1888 and, by the 1930s, had become America’s top-selling bourbon. But after the distillery was purchased by Seagram in 1943, the brand began moving the sale of its Kentucky straight bourbon to European and Japanese markets, leaving America with the lesser Four Roses whiskey. For Americans, Four Roses went into hibernation.
Then in 2002, Kirin Brewery took over the brand and jettisoned Seagram’s blended mistake for Four Roses Yellow (now simply “Four Roses”). Two years later, under newly-appointed Master Distiller Jim Rutledge, Four Roses Single Barrel hit shelves; then came Four Roses Small Batch and, for the next decade, the three expressions amassed a cult following. They were the bourbons that any serious drinker would inevitably stumble upon, and then immediately fall in love with.
The recent lull was interrupted this spring when the distillery announced the first update to its mainline bourbon collection in 13 years: Four Roses Small Batch Select.
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While other distilleries were buying national ad spots and importing massive sherry casks from Spain, Brent Elliot, the current Master Distiller, spent over a year blending Four Roses recipes, seeking out the perfect ratio for the new Four Roses bottle. “Fortunately,” said Elliot, “we use ten different recipes.”
These 10 recipes are what makes Four Roses unlike any other bourbon distillery. Distillers at their Lawrenceburg, Kentucky location pitch five unique yeasts into batches made using two separate mashbills. Once barreled, these 10 distinct recipes are mixed and matched: all 10 are blended to make Four Roses; four are blended to make Four Roses Small Batch; and, obviously, one recipe is bottled for Four Roses Single Barrel.
The new Four Roses Small Batch Select is a blend of six recipes, each aged for at least six years, including the four recipes that showed up in Elliot’s one-off, the 130th Anniversary Small Batch, which took home the title of “World’s Best Bourbon” in the 2019 World Whiskies Awards. Small Batch Select is Elliot through and through; since taking up his role, he’s been releasing blends with some of the lesser-known recipes, like those made with their more herbal yeast.
Also of note: Small Batch Select is the most premium Four Roses to ever see wide release. It’s the highest-priced booze of the permanent collection and, in a nod to current trends, it weighs in at the highest proof. And the company elected to skip the chill-filtration process, giving the whiskey a thicker, more oily mouthfeel. Previously, you could only find non-chill-filtered Four Roses at this proof if you were able to get your hands on the annually released Four Roses Limited Editions.
“Limited Editions are great, but the problem is their availability,” said Elliot, referring to the fact that these bottles are released in very short supply and are universally lauded by critics and drinkers, making them nearly impossible to find and impossibly expensive to purchase on second-hand markets. “We wanted to offer something exciting and new that consumers will be able to find anytime.”
And so beginning this spring, drinkers in Kentucky, New York, California, Texas and Georgia now have a new Four Roses in town, with more states on the docket for the future. It’s the next logical step for the distillery, and with new recipes to show what they can do and a nod to the trends that have pushed proofs up and pushed chill-filtration aside, it’s a great service to fans who want more than the yearly limited-edition releases.
All Natural: Non-chill-filtered
Serve: Neat, with a few drops of water
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