Comparison: Two Four Roses Barrel Strength Single Barrels – OBSV & OESV

FOUR ROSES BARREL STRENGTH SiB OBSV
“Nate’s Barrel” selected by Healthy Spirits (2019)

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

PROOF – 105

AGE – 12 years

DISTILLERY – Four Roses Distillery

PRICE – $76 (normally $109)

FOUR ROSES BARREL STRENGTH SiB OESV
Barrel #31 “unEven tiMes” selected by Ledger’s Liquors (2020)

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

PROOF – 112.8

AGE – 10 years 8 months

DISTILLERY – Four Roses Distillery

PRICE – $94

This is one of several Four Roses posts, tracking my journey through a series of mash bill recipe comparisons. I open 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’ve been less strict about matching age. It’s an ongoing experiment in comparing the ten Four Roses recipes over an extended period of time, while my palate continues its constant evolution.

I’ve already posted notes about this particular OESV release. Tonight it’s at its bottle-kill pour. So I’m comparing it to this freshly uncorked OBSV, next in line on my currently fourteen bottle 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

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

HERE WE ARE

OESV, 10 years 8 months, 112.8 proof, picked by Ledger’s Liquors

OBSV, 12 years, 105 proof, picked by Healthy Spirits

AND THESE ARE NEXT

OBSO, 8 years 11 months, 109.6 proof, picked by Bitters & Bottles

OBSK, 8 years 2 months, 122.8 proof, picked by K&L

OBSO, 8 years 2 months, 109.6 proof, picked by K&L

In my previous five posts on individual single barrel releases, I’ve actually only ever posted notes about the most recent bottle, often referring back to the previous releases but not sharing my experience of the proper side-by-side comparison.

Why not?! Hasn’t that been the whole point? Why keep that moment private?

Partly because I’ve enjoyed those side-by-sides free from the task of making formal tasting notes. Tasting for a write-up and tasting for pure pleasure are indeed two distinct variations on the tasting experience. But I’ve been writing about this extended journey of Four Roses comparisons for a good long while now. Might as well share it with my fellow Four Roses fanatics a bit more directly.

So here we are. The OBSV has been freshly uncorked for this tasting. The OESV has been open for a little over three months and is on its final pour. Both were tasted side by side in traditional Glencairns. Here are some notes in brief.

COLOR

BOTH – pale vibrant orange with yellow highlights, with the OBSV only slightly brighter

NOSE

OBSV – very forthcoming, very wood spicy (more than just oak), with black pepper, thick fudgy caramel, very faint dark cherry, some sugary vanilla frosting

OESV – more reserved, but brighter, oaky without the same level of spiciness, brighter caramel with stewed apricots served cold

TASTE

OBSV – spicy, oaky, dry, chocolate, chocolate fudge, very dense cinnamon roll dough

OESV – spicy as well, brighter here too, a nice silky caramel note wrapped inside a granular blend of oak and sparkly baking spices

FINISH

OBSV – lingering spiciness, with the chocolate, and a dark graham cracker note

OESV – a tingly spiciness, the caramel and oak notes sharing equal time and fading gently together

OVERALL

OBSV – some kind of decadent dessert served up on a fragrant wood cutting board

OESV – a nice balance of smooth and spiky aspects to both the sensation and core Four Roses spice/caramel flavors

WORTH BUYING?

OBSV – Especially as I got it at a bit of a discount, yes. I look forward to seeing where it takes me from here…

OESV – Oh yes. This bottle took me on a great Four Roses journey.

According to the Four Roses stock tasting notes, the OESV should tend toward “delicate fruity, fresh, creamy,” and the OBSV toward “delicate fruity (pear, apricot), spicy, creamy.” This is marketing, and from single barrel to single barrel there will inevitably be differences. But anyway, if we extract the specific fruit references from the OBSV notes, each recipe shares three out of four descriptors in common, with the differing descriptors being “fresh” for OESV and “spicy” for OBSV. Speaking generally, my experience tonight complies with this very general difference. Of course both bottles have spicy and fresh aspects. But they do each lean in those general directions.

What I’m appreciating most about the bottle that’s newer to me, the OBSV, is the dichotomy between that melange of wood spice notes—oak, for sure, but also other wood notes for which I can’t quite identify a specific tree—and that sugary vanilla frosting note, which has a smoothness and creaminess to it, and which the more I sip at it the more it lingers on from the nose into the taste and finish…

I handed both glasses to my partner, who has an excellent nose and cuts to the chase with her words. For the OESV she said, “butterscotch, apricot, lavender, bright,” and for the OBSV, “chocolate, bread, caramel, dark.” She also said she could barely tell them apart—something that I experienced as well—and indeed we each had to go back and forth carefully to arrive at our assessments.

Of course, in addition to different mash bills, they are 1 year 4 months apart in age. So is it the extra bit of age that has darkened the OBSV? Certainly 12 years in the barrel are going to up the ante around barrel influence, explaining those many wood spices and perhaps also the added vanilla emphasis. The 35% rye in the mash bill is also going to bring on the spices.

But the OESV’s 10 years 8 months is also a good long time. And 20% is no small amount of rye. Devoting that other 15% to the corn ratio might explain the OESV’s brighter sweet notes.

All this is guesswork. And that is exactly why these Four Roses Barrel Strength Single Barrel comparisons are such a rabbit hole. They offer the opportunity to contemplate subtle differences and imagine what the explanation might be. It reminds me a bit about the concept of a butterfly flapping its wings and having an eventual impact on something many miles away. Or the way a landslide started long before with a single grain of sand succumbing to gravity. A natural, systematic, yet only partially explicable process brought each of these barrels to their respective states at the time of bottling. Brent Elliot, master distiller at Four Roses, is able to make infinitely more educated guesses than I. But even he cannot fully explain the precise outcome of a given barrel.

This combination of science and mystery, craft and art, is one reason we who love whiskey do. Refracted in its many colors are evidence, clues, and questions. In its aromas and flavors one finds history and the immediate present, intention and accident, the explicable and the inexplicable.

Or you can just pour a glass, sit back and enjoy it. Mix it in a cocktail. Loosen up after a long week. Enjoy the conversation or party. Whiskey has something for everyone. Four Roses, with its ten endless variations, embodies that notion exceptionally well.

As the price of these single barrels now reaches the $100 mark, are they still worth it? Part of me says no, they’re not. But part of me also thinks about more expensive “limited editions” that have pleased me far less, so…

Cheers!

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