FOUR ROSES BARREL STRENGTH SiB OESK
Selected by K&L, CA (2017)
MASH BILL – 75% corn, 20% rye, 5% barley
PROOF – 110
AGE – 10 years
DISTILLERY – Four Roses
PRICE – $70
BUY AGAIN? – I can’t, they’re all gone. But future well-aged OESK SiBs? Yes, so long as the price doesn’t continue to climb…
Though I put out some brief notes on this bottle already in the context of a post on oaky bourbons, I thought it deserved its own post. It’s just so dang interesting. I’m kind of obsessed with it.
Four Roses invites obsession. The ten recipes they work with, derived from two high-rye mash bills and five yeast strains, yield endless blending possibilities. Released singularly in these barrel strength store picks, consumers can try each recipe on its own merits and at ages varying from 8 to even 12 years or so. Proofs likewise range from around 100 to 125, depending on where the barrel was shelved. Diehard Four Roses fans will even hunt down single barrels that match the blending specs advertised for their favorite of the annual Limited Edition Small Batch releases, and then attempt to recreate the blend at home!
This 2017 K&L pick of the OESK recipe had been waiting patiently on my shelf for a bit over two years while I’ve been slowly making my way through a series of Four Roses Single Barrel releases, always opening a new bottle as the last draws toward its end. The two bottles I have open at any given time vary by only one of the recipe’s elements, whether the mash bill or yeast strain. I was less strict about matching age. It’s been an extended experiment in comparing the recipes over time while my palate itself continues to develop. This OESK is the seventh of eleven bottles in my current line-up:
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
OBSK, 10 years 9 months, 120 proof, picked by Bounty Hunter
HERE WE ARE ☟
OESK, 10 years, 110 proof, picked by K&L
AND THESE ARE NEXT ☟
OESV, 10 years, 122.6 proof, picked by K&L
OESK, 14 years, 113.4 proof, Elliott’s Select 2016 Limited Edition
OBSK, 8 years 2 months, 122.8 proof, picked by K&L
OBSO, 8 years 11 months, 109.6 proof, picked by Bitters & Bottles
Here are some notes in brief, taken from tasting it in both a Glencairn and simple brandy glass, about a month after uncorking and nearing halfway through the bottle:
COLOR – a burnt yellowish-orange, like wheat in sunset light.
NOSE – dusty oak, meaty orange peel, caramel, cinnamon, clove, brown sugar
TASTE – oak and caramel side by side, the meaty orange peel now grilled, honey, freshly toasted wheat bread
FINISH – warm and tingly, butter, caramel, oak, with oak tannins that outlast the sweets and fruits…
OVERALL – a very pleasing mix of oak, caramels, cinnamons, and fruits, united by toasted and grilled qualities
I think I’ll never get tired of Four Roses. It’s not what I reach for every day. But whenever I do reach for it I’m inevitably rewarded by Four Roses’ characteristically dense, textural, nicely blended flavors of oak, caramel, fruits, and cinnamons. In the case of this OESK the fruits are steeped in oranges. That’s a development since the uncorking. Looking back at my notes from then, I’d initially noticed red berries. Other bottles have featured cherries, boozy stewed apricots, even roasted peaches. Chocolate and vanilla turn up a lot. Heat rises and falls according to the rye quotient and varying proofs. There is a tremendous range to be experienced.
I wonder if Four Roses has never become a “daily sipper” for me because it’s so thought provoking. The density and flexibility of flavor commands attention. A good Four Roses bourbon can stop me, unfurling such thick layers of specific flavors that conversation halts and I’m compelled to sort carefully through the nose, taste, and finish to figure out what all in the heck is going on there.
At a full 10 years old and a very manageable 110 proof, this OESK has experience, ease, personality, and patience. If it were a person I’d go to it for advice and likely come away both informed and having had a good laugh to boot.
Though you can’t likely find this specific barrel anymore, do seek out one with similar specs. It will inevitably differ from what I’m tasting here. But in my experience the combination of the OESK recipe, about a decade in the barrel, and a 100 to 115 proof window is inevitably a winner, able to please a range of palates and expectations. It will be interesting enough to compel aficionados, and welcoming enough to entice more casual drinkers.
And that’s the great thing about Four Roses. It’s a true ambassador for the sheer variety of what bourbon has to offer. There’s something in Four Roses for everyone.
How to Read a Four Roses Barrel Strength Single Barrel Label
The ten recipes Four Roses Distillery uses create the puzzle of piecing together one’s own preferences within the infinite variety of what their barrel strength single barrel program has to offer. Here’s a quick dissection of the two pertinent labels.
This little strip is the standard Four Roses label referencing the exact barrel. It appears on the lower front of any single barrel bottle. Reading the label from left to right:
55.0% — This bourbon was bottled at its natural barrel strength of 55% ABV, or 110 Proof.
QS — The barrel was stored in Warehouse Q, on its south side. Warehouses have their micro-climates. You might find you like what tends to happen to bourbons stored in one warehouse versus another, and even one side of the warehouse versus another.
51-1D — The barrel was stored on Rick 51 (a rick is a vertical stack of shelves, or, tiers) Tier 1 (Four Roses uses ricks built of 6 tiers), and was the 4th barrel from the front—the letter D being 4th in the alphabet. The most pertinent aspect here is the tier. Tier 1 is at floor level, for example, and tier 6 is the top-most level. This matters because heat rises, and temperature impacts evaporation during the aging process. The more liquid evaporates, the more concentrated the alcohol and flavors are in what remains. Given this K&L bottle aged on the lowest level, Tier 1, it’s no surprise that its proof is only 110. Barrels aged on higher, warmer tiers lose more volume over time and tend to come out at proofs closer to 120+.
And this label is the custom label generated for the store that picked the barrel. It’s always affixed to one side of the bottle:
The store can choose what to include on it. In this example, K&L is the store in question and included their logo. They selected this barrel on October 18, 2017. That does not guarantee the barrel was also bottled on that day. But likely it was bottled sometime shortly thereafter.
The age of this barrel is listed at 10 years. Age is typically rounded to the lowest month. So this 10-year barrel may literally be 10 years and 13 days, for example. Similarly, a barrel listed at an age of 8 years 3 months might literally be 8 years, 3 months, and 4 days.
The mash bill recipe here is OESK. In the four-letter recipe code, the O and S never change—O referring to the Four Roses Distillery in Lawrenceburg, KY, and S to the whiskey being straight (i.e. aged at least 2 years). The second letter refers to one of two mash bills: E (75% corn / 20% rye/ 5% barley) or B (60% corn / 35% rye / 5% barley). The fourth letter refers to one of five yeast strains—F, K, O, Q, V—each providing their own impact on flavor. Four Roses attaches a tag to the neck of their single barrel bottles featuring this handy at-a-glance recipe guide, with very general tasting notes:
Over time, by paying attention to the details offered on the Four Roses labels, you can hone in on what among their recipes and aging factors you tend to enjoy most. This helps to make more educated guesses when purchasing your next bottle. I have found, for example, that yeasts F and Q generally don’t appeal to me as much as yeasts V and K, and that I find yeast O appealing but very slow to open up after uncorking. As for mash bills E versus B, I enjoy both for different reasons. Comparatively, mash bill E tends to be sweeter and B spicier. Which of them I choose depends on my mood.
Enjoy your adventures in the Four Roses garden!