Comparison: Two Four Roses Barrel Strength Single Barrels – OBSO & OBSK

FOUR ROSES BARREL STRENGTH SiB OBSO
“Fear and Four Roses” selected by the Single Barrel Project (2019)

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

PROOF – 106.8

AGE – 8 years 10 months

DISTILLERY – Four Roses Distillery

PRICE – $92

FOUR ROSES BARREL STRENGTH SiB OBSK
Selected by K&L (2019)

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

PROOF – 122.8

AGE – 8 years 2 months

DISTILLERY – Four Roses Distillery

PRICE – $82

This is the last in a series of Four Roses posts, tracking my journey with the brand via their single barrel store pick releases. My ongoing experiment in comparing several of the Four Roses recipes over time, while my palate continues its constant evolution, now concludes with these final two of fourteen bottles.

How it’s worked is that I’ve opened a new bottle as the previous draws toward its final ounces. The two bottles I’ve had open at any given time have varied by only one of the recipe’s elements, whether the mash bill or yeast strain. I’ve been less strict about matching age.

I’ve already posted notes about this particular OBSK release. Now the bottle is almost dry, so I’m comparing it to this more recently uncorked OBSO, the last in my 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

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

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

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

AND HERE WE ARE – AT THE END!

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

OBSO, 8 years 10 months, 106.8 proof, picked by the Single Barrel Project

These two bottles use the same mash bill (B), but differ in the yeasts used (K verses O) as well as 8 months in age. The proofs vary by 16 degrees. And their warehouse placements are different. That last bit is a level of detail I’ve not endeavored to track. There are Four Roses fans who do track warehouse stats, however. To that end, for those interested, a quick review of how to read a Four Roses single barrel label can be found as an Appendix to the end of this post.

Four Roses fas will notice in my running list of bottles above that four of the total ten recipes are missing: OBSF, OESF, OBSQ, and OESQ. Prior to this experiment, I’d already found the F and Q yeasts didn’t appeal to me more often than not, so I limited my experiment to the O, K, and V yeast strains. Given tastes change over time, I’ve already wondered if my next experiment will be to revisit those four recipes I’ve neglected. Considering the current price tag on these single barrels, however, another prolonged deep dive is not likely.

But for now, here we are. I’m three+ months into this OBSK’s life and at its very final pours, and nine days into this OBSO’s life and still at its initial pours. Here are some brief notes taken in traditional Glencairns. Given the steep difference in proof, I first tasted through the OBSO, then the OBSK, and then both side by side. These notes combine those three steps.

COLOR

OBSO – pale ambers fading into late Summer sunset oranges

OBSK – medium ambers fading into rich Autumn sunset oranges

NOSE

OBSO – rustically sweet and inviting, with cinnamon, dried raspberries and strawberries, oak, thick dry caramel, thick oily organic almond butter, cream with lemon zest

OBSK – decadent and fiery, with brandied cherries and apricots, dark chocolate shavings, charred oak chips, a dollop of vanilla custard

TASTE

OBSO – true to the nose, with more emphasis on a trifecta of the oak, dry caramel, and almond butter notes, but the fruit and custard notes keeping things sweet and creamy

OBSK – also true to the nose, very syrupy, carrying along the dark chocolate notes and submerging the fruits into a rich and tart caramel sauce

FINISH

OBSO – a fine peppery heat, with the oak and caramel notes lingering most

OBSK – a prickly peppery heat, with chocolatey caramel and the oak charring in the fire

OVERALL

OBSO – a very pleasing combination of age, mash bill, and proof, all working together to create a nicely wavering balance between the various aromas and flavors

OBSK – decadent, fiery, rich, like a roaring fire in a solid brick hearth in Winter

WORTH BUYING?

OBSO – Yes

OBSK – Yes

This was a very enjoyable comparison. The OBSO is among the more fruit-forward Four Roses SiBs I’ve had lately. And whether due to the OBSO’s influence or all on its own accord as it’s aired out, the OBSK is also leaning more into its fruit notes than it did when last I took formal notes on it.

Both are a pleasure, in any case. The OBSO being gentler, I’d reach for it when I’m in a mood for cozy calm. The OBSK being more forceful, I’d reach for it when I’m in a mood for cozy intense. Put another way, the OBSO is a crackling fire in the hearth, and the OBSK is a raging fire in the hearth. Both have their moment.

The OBSO has more raspberry and strawberry than I remember experiencing in a Four Roses SiB in a while, and they are welcome. Those notes give the OBSO its gentleness. Raspberries and strawberries are softer tasting fruits, unlike apricot or cherries that can sometimes have a nice tartness to them.

Today the OBSK was also reminding me a bit of 31n50 Barrel 6. It’s that charred quality, and that sense that the fire is live and present. They both have a sharpness to them. This is where the freshly charred oak chip notes come from.

What a satisfying end to this fourteen-bottle journey. This post’s comparison reaffirms my conclusion made in the previous post, that I ultimately prefer these Four Roses SiBs in the lower proof range. At 106.8, this OBSO has a great balance to it. At 122.8, the OBSK is far more forceful. Luckily in this instance that force lends itself toward the decadent quality, which I also enjoy.

Given the price on these SiBs now, if I do continue to buy them in the future I now know more what to look for. If the barrel was aged on a lower tier in the rick house and thus came out at a lower proof, if it’s aged between 8 and 10 years, and if the recipe includes the O, K, or V yeasts, chances are better that I’ll find the bottle money well spent. And between the B and E mash bills, despite my good experience with the current two B bottles, I do still tend to lean toward the sweeter E mash bill as more dependably pleasing to my tastes.

In any case, all good things must come to an end. Here’s to a good end! And of course, I still have a nearly full bottle of the OBSO to enjoy.

Cheers!

Appendix
How to Read a Four Roses SiB Label

OBSO (left) and OBSK (right)

These little strips placed toward the front-bottom of the bottles are the standard Four Roses single barrel label referencing the exact barrel. Using the OBSO (on left above) as an example, reading from left to right:

53.4% — This bourbon was bottled at its natural barrel strength of 53.4% ABV, or 106.8 Proof.

NS — The barrel was stored in Warehouse N, 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.

83-1H — The barrel was stored on Rick 83 (a rick is a vertical stack of shelves, or, tiers) Tier 1 (Four Roses uses ricks built of 6 tiers), and was the 8th barrel from the front—the letter H being 8th 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 warmer the air the more liquid evaporates, and the more concentrated the alcohol and flavors are in what remains. Given this barrel aged on the bottom level, Tier 1, it’s no surprise that its proof is 106.8. You’ll notice the OBSK in today’s comparison was aged on Rick 63, Tier position 6D—the top level tier—and so its proof is higher at 122.8.

And here is the custom label generated for the store that picked the barrel, as well as their custom sticker. These are always affixed to one and another side of the bottle:

The store can choose what to include on the label. In the above example, Single Barrel Project is the store in question (actually a project of the store Maison Corbeaux) and included their logo. They noted the date their barrel was bottled, as well as the mash bill recipe and age. The sticker reiterates the recipe and age, adding a nickname and illustration.

The age of this barrel is listed at 8 years 10 months. Age is typically rounded to the lowest month. So this barrel may literally be 8 years, 10 months and 23 days, for example.

In the four-letter recipe code, the first O and the S never change—the O referring to the Four Roses Distillery in Lawrenceburg, KY, and the S to the whiskey being “straight” (i.e. aged at least 2 years).

The second letter refers to one of two mash bills: B (60% corn / 35% rye / 5% barley) or E (75% corn / 20% 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:

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