Four Roses Barrel Strength Single Barrel OBSK

FOUR ROSES BARREL STRENGTH SiB OBSK
Selected by Bounty Hunter, Napa Valley, CA, 2016

MASH BILL – 60% corn, 35% rye, 5% barley

PROOF – 120

AGE – 10 years 9 months

DISTILLERY – Four Roses

PRICE – $92

BUY AGAIN? – This barrel? No longer an option. The OBSK recipe? Yes!

For its various incarnations, Four Roses makes use of ten recipes, each indicated by a four-letter code. The first letter, O, stands for the Four Roses Distillery. The third, S, stands for straight whiskey. Given these never change, I’m uncertain why Four Roses retains them. It’s the second and fourth letters that matter.

The second letter of the code refers to the mash bill, where B is 60% corn / 35% rye / 5% barley, and E is 75% corn / 20% rye / 5% barley. Both mash bills are considered quite “high rye,” but the B being higher tends toward a spicier outcome while the lower E leans sweeter.

The fourth letter of the recipe code refers to one of five yeast strains, each yielding their own flavor emphasis. I have noticed that the O yeast, for example, yields woodier flavors that can be impenetrable at first, but then very slowly open up to some lovely cherry and chocolate notes as the bottle airs out. The V yeast yields fruitier flavors and a rustic creaminess. The K tends toward a richness, with the baking and cinnamon spices really showing up for the party. The F yeast offers a minty edge, and the Q an herbaceousness.

These are all tendencies. The beauty and the fun of the Four Roses Barrel Strength Single Barrel line is just how varied they can be. Age also plays a factor, of course, as well as warehouse placement and the weather during the aging period. All factors considered, the ten recipes yield endless subtle—sometimes not so subtle—variations.

Store picks of the Four Roses Barrel Strength Single Barrel range in price from $65 on up to $100+ and this Bounty Hunter OBSK pick came in toward the top of that range. Given the rarity of the OBSK recipe in combination with the nearly 11 years of aging, I sprang for it. 

That was a year and a half ago. I’ve finally cracked the bottle open, having been very slowly making my way through a range of Four Roses recipes by way of an elaborate comparison path. I’d gathered several bottles, and put them in an order by placing recipes that share only one element next to each other. I open a new bottle once the previous bottle is nearing its end. Here’s the order I’ve been going in:

THESE ARE DONE ☟

OESO, 10 years 11 months, 105 proof, picked by Plumpjack Wines & Spirits

OESV, 9 years 11 months, 107.4 proof, picked by Plumpjack Wines & Spirits

OBSV, 8 years 8 months, 121.6 proof, picked by K&L

OBSO, 11 years, 110.2 proof, picked by Ledger’s Liquors

OBSV, 10 years 10 months, 127.2 proof, picked by K&L

HERE WE ARE ☟

OBSK, 10 years 9 months, 120 proof, picked by Bounty Hunter

AND THESE ARE NEXT ☟

OESK, 10 years, 110 proof, picked by K&L

OESV, 10 years, 122.6 proof, picked by K&L

OESK, 14 years, 113.4 proof, Elliott’s Select 2016 Limited Edition

Recipes excluded from that line up include OBSQ, OBSF, OESQ, and OESF. They are absent because prior to this extended experiment I’d already discovered that the minty F recipe and herbaceous Q recipe were consistently not enough to my liking to justify the typical cost of these bottles.

Following the order of bottles as listed out above, I compare one next to another, as opposed to many side by side. So there are never more than two bottles open at once. I did this for two reasons. The first is practical: I didn’t want to crack open so many Four Roses bottles at the same time. But the second reason was to make this a long-range journey, allowing my evolving pallet to participate over time with these variations on the Four Roses theme.

So, to the notes on this Bounty Hunter OBSK pick:

COLOR – a dark russet-orange copper

NOSE – rich cinnamons up front, oak, medium-dark caramel, a thin layer of dark chocolate around the creamy caramel, all somewhat reserved

TASTE – peppery up front, then an immediate rich sweet and gooey caramel, a surprisingly mild proof flare on swallowing

FINISH – caramel, a warm and tingly burn, warm chocolate wafting over from nearby

OVERALL – decadent, and serious without taking itself too seriously—those lively cinnamons sparkling above the brooding dark caramels and chocolates.

Well now! I took to this right away. Cinnamon, gooey caramel, and chocolate? I’m there!

Given the high proof, and some success I’d had with my previous open bottle—the 10 year 10 month, 127 proof OBSV from K&L, which was a bit woody and stiff but opened up beautifully with a few drops of water—I decided to try this OBSK with water as well. I added 5 drops to the half-shot still in my glass and let it mingle for about 10 minutes or so before tasting it again:

5 DROPS OF H20 IN ~¾ OF AN OUNCE:

COLOR – oh so slightly brighter toward the orange end of the spectrum

NOSE – also brighter, and a bit more forthcoming, with cinnamons and caramels

TASTE – less peppery, the caramels gooier, the chocolate smoother, and still the nice peppery bloom on swallowing

FINISH – very similar as before, with everything one notch brighter.

OVERALL – still decadent, but with even more of a sense of humor. Fun!

This is easily among the more enjoyable Four Roses Barrel Strength Single Barrels I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing. It’s decadent, yet composed enough to hold back from going over the edge. From nose to finish, it balances its brighter and darker aspects beautifully. It’s excellent both on its own and with water added, offering lovely variations on its cinnamon-caramel-chocolate theme. And the high proof never overpowers the flavors. Dangerous! I could drink this all night and not realize until too late!

Like the OBSO and OESO recipes, the OBSK doesn’t show up that often. If you come across a store pick of the OBSK, grab it. Of course, the barrel you find could be vastly different from this Bounty Hunter pick. But if this bottle is an indication of the basic personality of the OBSK, I’m a fan.

I’m not alone in favoring the OESV recipe overall, with its fairly dependable balance of sweet fruits and chewy caramels. The OESK offers similar flavors with an added richness and an extra spice kick. The OBSV—the official recipe of the standard Single Barrel 100-proof offering—is good but can sometimes be a bit rough and woody. It may be premature of me to say, but for now the OBSK has taken its place just a toe ahead of the OESV as my favorite Four Roses recipe. Maybe that’s the blush of new love, we’ll see. But I do love the richness of it, the gooey caramels and how they support the lively range of cinnamons. 

I don’t normally like to rank whiskeys according to which I like “best.” This can limit one’s imagination down the line—expectations being a killer of the senses. The ten Four Roses recipes beg ranking, however. I know from many experiences, as I said, that the F and Q yeast strains are just not for me. And yet if one came along that blew me away I’d be delighted to have to realign my perspective.

And this is the joy of Four Roses—the opportunity its endless iterations offer to explore the fine details of one’s own taste, senses, and sense of adventure.

Cheers!

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