Before me are three alike bourbon glasses (short stem modified tulip glasses costing about one dollar each from IKEA) with about 50 ml of Four Roses bourbon, two of which I have never tried, and the other, a Single Barrel, is more or less untried since it is from a different barrel than my previous tastings.
The Single Barrel (100 proof) is slightly darker in color than the other two and the Small Batch (90 proof) is slightly darker than the Standard (80 proof).
Over a period of 20 minutes the noses of all have softened and the character has changed a bit.
The Single Barrel has more alcohol vapor of course, and has evolved from quite fruity (citrus and pears) to leathery and spicy (rye, cinnamon, and nutmeg). My experience with yeast in beer making leads me to believe I am detecting yeast too, but Lipman's Law of Suggestibility may be at work here. A very rich, forceful nose, captivating and unbalanced beautifully toward the rye and fruity side of the spectrum. Time, patience, and persistence yield some toffee and chocolate aromas contained in a leather wrapper. A complex nose with shape-shifting powers.
The Small Batch nose has a much more pronounced woody and earthy aroma to go with the diminished fruity rye when compared to the Single Barrel. The leather is there, but again is more restrained. This nose bends toward the earthy while acknowledging its rye heritage. Not exuberant, but robust and compelling. It too changes with time, but not in the same degree as the Single Barrle.
The Standard bottle strikes me, surprisingly, as even more fruity than the Single Barrel. It is sweeter and has a wonderful orangy aroma that does, however, seem to have difficulty sustaining itself. The nose must go well into the glass to capture the essense of it. Time in the glass does not offer up much new in the way of aromas with the Standard bottle. Still, it is more than worthy.
The taste of the Single Barrel is quite consistent with the nose. There is a sweet orange flavor that melds wonderfully with the cinnamon and nutmeg infused rye, whose bite is not aggressive. The taste is deep and complex, rich and flavorful, and maintains a great balance within its own unique strong taste parameters. A marvelous bourbon!
The taste of the Small Batch Four Roses outdelivers what the nose promised. It is richer, more robust, and deeper than the nose would have you expect. While it might be somewhat less assertive in strength than the Single Barrel, it has a thick, rich, and creamy sweetness with an orange tang that is almost perfect in its balance with the dryness of the wood. The rye spiciness is held in abeyance, but is not forgotten and rips gently across the mouth as a colorful 'tingle'. Another fantastic bourbon, brother and sisters.
The taste of the Standard Four Roses is a very gentle version of the Small Batch and the Single Barrel. Compared to many 'standard' 80 proof products from major distillers it is a raving lunatic.........but like the other Four Roses offering in this 'Throwdown', it has great balance and finess.
I am wont to say that it is the best 80 proof bourbon I have ever had. It does not seem 'watered' down so as to please the least common denominator of drinkers. It achieves a softer, gentler taste without giving away the farm. I would consider it 'approachable' for those who want a lot of flavor while not having their taste buds 'overwhelmed'.
The finish with every one of these bourbons is of a piece with their nose and taste. It is excellent, satisfying, and does not give up the balance that was achieved earlier. Neither is it too short, nor too long.
Four Roses has a wonderful reputation among bourbon lovers. These offerings serve to reinforce that. They are, one and all, first rate bourbons that have a unique flavor. They seem to strive for, and reach, a beautiful balance within their own taste profile. They are assertive, and aggressive in a restrained way. They are deeply satisfying, and offer complex flavors. Mr Jim Rutledge is a National Treasure and to all appearances, a gentleman.
Were I to choose my favorite among these, it would be the Small Batch. While the Single Barrel is singular and a truly great bourbon, it is surpassed by the Small Batch in richness of flavor.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. - Dylan Thomas