Revisiting: Four Roses Small Batch Select


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

PROOF – 104

AGE – blend of 6 to 7 year bourbons


PRICE – $60


What has taken me so long to do a write up on Four Roses Small Batch Select?

I love Four Roses in general. I do grieve the combination of increased scarcity and hiked pricing that has made the Barrel Proof SiB store picks a less accessible purchase for me. While not every SiB has been great, so many of those picks over the years count among my favorite bourbon experiences. The annual Limited Release has always been scarce and has also suffered price hikes. But when I do manage to find one, they never disappoint as a tasting experience.

The standard Yellow Label and Small Batch releases have never been big on my list. I’ve only had them in bars or at parties. But they’re perfectly good bourbons for the use they intend to serve, namely as mixers and affordable neat pours. When the Small Batch Select was added as a standard release in 2019, I was delighted. Great proof, good age, non chill filtered, decent price—all the good things one hopes for.

Yet I hadn’t actually bought a bottle of the Small Batch Select since its initial release. I picked one up recently to test my memory of it as a go-to autumnal flavor profile. My memory was correct. It’s a lovely autumn pour, very easy to sip and a perfect match for autumn’s easygoing light and natural aromas.

So here we are, four weeks after uncorking this long overdue bottle, and just over a third of the way into it. These brief notes were taken using a traditional Glencairn.

COLOR – a lovely spectrum of oranges, ambers and brass that generously reveals its nuances in the light

NOSE – clean, fresh, with drying long-stemmed grasses, bright baking spices with cinnamon and clove most prominent, dry-cut caramel and the brighter sort that might typically wrap apples, oak and oak bark with dried mosses clinging to it

TASTE – the oak and various spice aspects all nicely balanced with a bit of candy sweetness from the caramel

FINISH – the range of baking, wood, and rye spice all nicely blended, with dashes of black pepper and salt, all lingering warmly

OVERALL – very autumn, less in the baked goods way like Wild Turkey and more in the natural way of grasses and wood

For such relatively young bourbons, six to seven years, the oak notes in this are exceptional. Balance is the key word for me here. The balance of spices in particular. I can taste the individual notes alongside one another. Sometimes the oak leans forward, and in other moments the baking or rye spices. But no one element ever takes over.

The feeling of autumn was so compelling I was moved outdoors into my garden. The flowers there were deep in their autumn mode, with fresh blooms budding alongside the fading and the dead. It was a sunny, cool day. The natural light and the earthy garden aromas paired perfectly with this bourbon.

One must enjoy oak to enjoy this. That said, I could imagine someone who considers themself oak-hesitant might possibly be drawn across the bridge (the log?) with this one. Those baking and rye spices are so nicely balanced with the wood spice. It’s all rather cozy and comforting.

A friend had come by a week earlier, and brought with him a sample of the 2019 Four Roses Small Batch Limited Release. We tried them side by side. The L.E. features much older bourbons, from eleven to twenty-one years of age, and only three of the ten recipes: OBSV, OESK and OESV. So the contents are quite different, and yet it made an interesting familial comparison. Naturally the L.E. leaned oakier. My friend’s sample was in fact the final couple ounces of his bottle, so, the bourbon had taken a lot of air by the time I was sipping it. I actually found the Small Batch Select more pleasant overall, and despite the fact the oakier L.E. also had a touch more sweetness to it. Its oak was so dry. The Small Batch Select overall offered a greater balance of something to think about and pure pleasure to enjoy.

Like Wild Turkey Rare Breed, Four Roses Small Batch Select is an easy bourbon to love and yet forget to have around. It doesn’t scream anything at you. It’s just very cozy. The more I sip it as I write these notes, the more chocolatey its caramel becomes. So its consistency of flavor, like its color, yet leaves room for subtle revelations. No doubt it would make a damn good Stone Fence or other autumnal cocktail. Neat, it’s a warm woolly sweater on a cool autumn day. What’s not to like?


The Ten 🌹🌹🌹🌹 Recipes

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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