FOUR ROSES ELLIOTT’S SELECT
2016 Barrel Strength Single Barrel OESK Recipe
MASH BILL – 75% corn, 20% rye, 5% barley
PROOF – 113.4
AGE – 14 years
DISTILLERY – Four Roses Distillery
PRICE – $216
BUY AGAIN? – Not likely, because $$$ and availability not taste
Why put out notes on a bottle like this? It’s a question I ask myself whenever I share notes here about things like the Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year or 31n50, whiskeys that are either near-impossible to get, impervious to comment, or both.
The simple answer is because unicorns are fascinating. I certainly like to read about them, even if I can’t find them. They are a curiosity. Why are they famous? Are they actually any good? How much of their status is FOMO and how much is legit whiskey bliss?
With Four Roses Distillery specifically, their famous ten recipes invite exploration, comparison, study, debate, and devotion.
Count me among the devoted. So the opportunity to taste a cask strength, 14-year-old single barrel of one of my favorite Four Roses recipes, the OESK, was impossible to pass up—especially given I found this bottle at a third to half the price I’d seen it elsewhere. That’s right. True, the pricing on any unicorn bourbon has nothing to do with sanity. But neither do unicorns.
If you follow this blog and have tracked my past Four Roses posts, then you know this bottle fits into a prolonged experiment. I’ve been slowly making my way through a series of recipe comparisons, opening 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 a longterm experiment in comparing the Four Roses recipes over time while my palate continues its constant evolution. This OESK is the ninth of thirteen 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
OESK, 10 years, 110 proof, picked by K&L
OESV, 10 years, 122.6 proof, picked by K&L
HERE WE ARE ☟
OESK, 14 years, 113.4 proof, Elliott’s Select 2016 Limited Edition
AND THESE ARE NEXT ☟
OBSK, 8 years 2 months, 122.8 proof, picked by K&L
OBSO, 8 years 11 months, 109.6 proof, picked by Bitters & Bottles
OBSV, 12 years, 105 proof, picked by Healthy Spirits
OBSO, 8 years 10 months, 106.8 proof, picked by the Single Barrel Project
This is a protracted endeavor I continue to enjoy. By spreading the exploration out over time, time itself becomes a strong contributor to my developing understanding of the vast possibilities of Four Roses. It’s a very different experience than lining up a dozen bottles side by side. Not that I wouldn’t jump at that opportunity! But the experiences these two scenarios offer are quite different. I’m often comparing some handful of whiskeys side by side. But the ten Four Roses recipes, and the endless variants that come out each year through their single barrel program, offer a unique opportunity for whiskey fans fascinated by the minutia of variance that comes of any whiskey’s basic elements—grain, water, wood, yeast, region, and time.
Here are some brief notes, taken three days after uncorking and three pours into the bottle, tasted in a simple brandy glass.
COLOR – a nice burnt orange with yellow highlights
NOSE – toasted cinnamon and vibrant oak on a background of caramel, with very dark chocolate, baked cherry, and some nice dried herbal rye spice wafting through
TASTE – rye-spiced caramel up front, then oak with baked cherry and rhubarb, followed by another wave of the caramel, smooth despite the peppery spices
FINISH – a nice prickly pepperiness lingering around the caramel and sweet baked orchard fruits
OVERALL – a masterpiece of precarious balance: bright and dark, rich and sparkly, smooth and spicy…
There you have it. What more can I say? From a consumer report standpoint, buy this if you find it at a decent price. Most single barrel releases fall within the 8 to 10 year age range, with occasional barrels lingering into the 11th year, more rarely the 12th. So a 14-year single barrel is quite rare. Add to that master Distiller Brent Elliott himself having selected this barrel to showcase the OESK recipe, and you have a very specific opportunity in your glass.
From a basic tasting-experience standpoint, if you’re a fan of what oak, caramel, and spicy high-rye bourbon recipes can achieve together, this bourbon is a must-try. It’s a kind of master class in balancing extreme flavor components. Not a daily or casual sipper, for sure. It commands too much attention for that. It’s too particular to be a mere party guest. It’s the event itself.
Am I glad I came across this bottle or what? Sometimes unicorns are worth it.
P.S. For insights into how to decipher a Four Roses label, go to this post and scroll down.