Bottle Kill: Four Roses Barrel Strength Single Barrel OESV

Selected by K&L, CA (2018)

MASH BILL – 75% corn, 20% rye, 5% barley

PROOF – 122.6

AGE – 10 years


PRICE – $70

BUY AGAIN? – I can’t, they’re all gone. But future well-aged OESV SiBs? Yes, so long as the price doesn’t continue to climb…

Four Roses is a bourbon collector’s dream rabbit hole. The brand’s ten recipes, derived from two high-rye mash bills and five yeast strains, offer the distillery itself endless possibilities for blending. Every autumn their standard blends are crowned with a new limited release, cask strength edition of their Small Batch, usually featuring exceptionally well-aged bourbons in the mix. These are always top hunting prizes for bourbon fans!

But tasted singularly in these barrel strength store picks, the ten recipes can be assessed on their individual merits by consumers, at ages varying from 8 to even 12 years and proofs ranging from 100 to 125 on average. And if a consumer wants to try their own hand at blending, they can have as many single barrels to mix and match as they care to pay out for.

This 2018 K&L pick of the OESV recipe sat quietly on my shelf for two years while I made my way through a series of Four Roses Single Barrel releases. I always open a new bottle only 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’ve been less strict about matching age. It’s been a leisurely experiment in comparing the recipes over time while my palate itself continues to evolve. This OESV is the eighth of eleven bottles in my current line-up:


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

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

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, tasting the very final ounces in a good old fashioned tumbler, almost exactly two months after uncorking:

COLOR – rich shades of burnt orange and mahogany

NOSE – dark brandied orchard fruits, candied orange peel, caramels rolled in exotic cinnamons, the high proof threatening to lunge if you sniff too eagerly…!

TASTE – like how it looks in this fancy tumbler: decadent, witty, hearty, and rich, with deep and tangy caramels, juicy dried fruits, some black pepper, soft oak, a lovely creaminess contrasted perfectly by a sparkly pepperiness from the rye and proof…

FINISH – warm, gently prickly, with the fruit aspects dipped in a bowl of caramels

OVERALL – a delicious glass of contradictions: decadent, approachable, robust, relaxing, intimidating, charming, formidable, and inviting

Looking back at my first impressions from two months ago, I wrote that the nose gave off luscious juicy caramel, boozy fruit, those Four Roses cinnamony baking spices, chocolate liqueur, and some dust from the oak. The taste was all tangy caramel, oak, very dry, with a surprisingly mild pepperiness given the proof. The finish was likewise dry, with that great Four Roses caramel served up on an oak platter. I liked it right away, and was very curious how it would open up and take water.

Since then it has continued to be a stalwart pour, consistent like an ocean—always there, always ebbing and flowing, always powerful. Something about it seemed to warrant its final outing being taken in this antique tumbler, which I often use to honor great pours.

It’s a celebratory glass for whiskeys worth celebrating. Four Roses Single Barrels may be fairly common, but each is unique. Naturally some please more than others, and each have their own particular characteristics. This 2018 OESV, aged an even 10 years, has stature, intelligence, humor, and some nifty dance moves. The kind of bourbon that, were it a person, would know how to dress itself sharply and cut loose when the party revs up.

I would say I’ll miss it. But I’ve got a very special OESK up next to keep me company—the 2016 Elliot’s Select limited edition, aged a ripe 14 years and clocking in at a steady 113.4 proof. I enjoy this process of going slowly from one single barrel to the next. I feel no need to hoard any single release. If one is lucky enough, as I am grateful to be, to live in an area with a number of liquor stores that pick one or two single barrels each year, then there will always be another great single barrel coming down the pike any given season. And with laws around shipping alcohol starting to shift and open up, it won’t be too long until any number of store picks across the country are available with a click and a swipe on your iPhone.

Okay, The very final sip…

Cinnamon. Caramel, caramel, caramel. Oak. Baked orchard fruits. The finish lingering warmly and richly…

That’s it.


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:

61.3% — This bourbon was bottled at its natural barrel strength of 61.3% ABV, or 122.6 Proof.

PS — The barrel was stored in Warehouse P, 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.

26-5F — The barrel was stored on Rick 26 (a rick is a vertical stack of shelves, or, tiers) Tier 5 (Four Roses uses ricks built of 6 tiers), and was the 6th barrel from the front—the letter f being 6th 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 an upper level, Tier 5, it’s no surprise that its proof is 122.6. 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 January 18, 2018. 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 OESV. 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!

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