Four Roses Small Batch Limited Edition 2020

2020 release

MASH BILL – blend of two: 75% corn, 20% rye, 5% barley / 60% corn, 35% rye, 5% barley (Four Roses recipes OBSV, OESV, OBSK, and OESK)

PROOF – 111.4

AGE – blend of 12, 16, and 19-year bourbons

DISTILLERY – Four Roses Distillery

PRICE – $190

BUY AGAIN? – Likely not, due to $$$ not taste. Although…

Among the stalwart Kentucky distilleries, Four Roses is the primo blender. Their ten recipes—comprised of two mash bills and five yeast strains—offer exceptional range within the basic Four Roses flavor profile, characterized by a deep and fruity caramel, solid oak presence, and strong spiciness in endless variation.

At the bottom-shelf end, the standard Four Roses “yellow label” release is an 80-proof mixer blending all ten recipes. Next to it sits the standard Small Batch release, combining four recipes and bottled at 90 proof. Up a shelf is the standard single barrel release, using the OBSV recipe exclusively and bottled at 100 proof. Then comes the most recent addition to the standard portfolio, the Small Batch Select, featuring six recipes, a minimum age of 6 years, and bottled non-chill filtered at 104 proof.

Then come the various special releases. Single barrels are released in cask strength variations, drawing from any of the ten recipes, and sold only as private barrel store picks. Occasionally Four Roses has released its own limited single barrel editions, most recently in 2016 under the “Elliot’s Select” label, or more commonly as distillery-only releases available exclusively in their gift store. For legendary Four Roses brand ambassador, Al Young, a one-time bottling honoring his 50 years with the company was released in 2017. And every Fall, Four Roses fans look forward to the annual Limited Edition Small Batch release.

Which brings us to today’s post. The 2020 release follows on the heels of the highly praised 2019 release, and already I’ve read whiskey fans and reviewers commenting on the 2020’s inferiority to its predecessor. Personally, I never feel inclined to rank these special releases. I can’t quite see the need. I’ve only once bought a second bottle, having found it at an uncommon price. Even priced at msrp—and good luck finding them at msrp—they’re expensive. And I know that although I too may favor one release over another, they will always be good. They will always feature exceptionally well aged bourbons, blended with great care. Four Roses is extremely dependable, and I am happy to taste whatever master distiller Brent Elliot has next deemed special enough to bottle under the Limited Edition Small Batch label.

So without further ado, here are some brief notes taken four days after uncorking and four pours into the bottle, tasted in a traditional Glencairn.

COLOR – a beautifully rich autumn orange in endless refractions, with shiny copper highlights

NOSE – wonderful wood and baking spices intermingling up front; the caramel hangs in the background and eases forward only after repeated coaxing; then comes a vibrant dried apricot note, some raspberry, and a bit of chocolate

TASTE – those finely blended wood and baking spices, with a wave of subtle but rich caramel beneath, then more oak, and finally a nice coffee and chocolate note

FINISH – long, warm, and lingering, with the oak spices, coffee and chocolate most prominent…

OVERALL – an ode to oak, with a warm caramel-coffee-chocolate baseline…

I don’t know if it’s the time of day—just before Noon on a Sunday—but this blend’s sense of a decadent cup of coffee is remarkable. That said, at uncorking it was just after 9:00 p.m. on a Wednesday night, and then the “ode to oak” was also evident, with a greater emphasis on the caramel as baseline. Now with a bit of air in the bottle, it’s grown in complexity around the same core notes.

This is a contemplator. Not a thinker. A contemplator. Maybe it’s that coffee aspect, which conjures up relaxed and thoughtful mornings on my family’s back porch in the oak and pine forests of Northern California. Or on the back stoop of my current San Francisco apartment, where the neighborhood’s backyards all converge to create a green oasis relatively free of city noise. These days I sit out there often with my morning coffee and breakfast, starting my day in contemplation rather than in a rush to get downtown—shelter-in-place, and all.

Given this 2020 release’s emphasis on oak barrel spice, I can understand how anyone who favors the fruitier notes in Four Roses might find it less appealing than comparatively sweeter releases. But I’d trade a shot of this for my morning Sunday coffee any crisply cool Autumn day. It’s a perfect fit. That it also befitted the cool, crisp Autumn evening a few days ago means it’s flexible, the through-line being its contemplative impact. Something about the depth and solidity of the oak and baking spice notes, and that deep and rich coffee note that leans in and out of caramel and chocolate. The nose provides a bit of fruit to entice sipping. But the fruit’s comparative absence in the taste and finish does not disappoint. Though the oak is the featured note here, it’s that sweet coffee blend that elevates this bourbon.

I’ll confess to you now. This is the Limited Edition Small Batch release I bought a second bottle of. Not because it is “the best.” I don’t know what that would be. But because, as I said, I found a second bottle at an uncommonly good price—by “normal” standards. I think the little grocery store where I picked it up didn’t know what they had. But I did!

I don’t need to recommend this. Anyone already in love with Four Roses will seek it out. For anyone new to Four Roses, I’d say save your money and buy the Small Batch Select first, to get a taste for what the Four Roses Small Batch series tends to offer. It will make a more affordable introduction that also offers great value in terms of quality and the tasting experience. And then if you like it, keep your eyes peeled in 2021 for the next Limited Edition Small Batch release. We don’t yet know what it will be. But we know it will be good!

Nosing the now empty glass, it’s all lovely wood spice and old fashioned caramel chunks. Man!


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