Revisiting: The Four Roses OESQ Recipe

Barrel TS-85-1N selected by Cask (2023)

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

PROOF – 106.2

AGE – 10 years 9 months

DISTILLERY – Four Roses Distillery

PRICE – $109

WORTH BUYING? – Yes, despite the new-normal price, because I hadn’t tried an OESQ in a very long time

Four Roses famously works with ten recipes, mixing and matching barrels of each to create their various standard and limited-edition products. Each recipe is represented by a four-letter code:

In the 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:

The only way to try the recipes on their own is through the single barrel program, whereby retailers purchase a barrel to sell exclusively at their store. From 2017 to 2022, I very slowly made my way through a lengthy recipe comparison of various store-picked Four Roses Barrel Strength Single Barrel releases. (Many of these have been written up here on the blog.) As one bottle drew toward its end, I’d crack the next and try them side by side. The two bottles I had open at any given time would vary by only one of the recipe’s elements, whether the mash bill or yeast strain.

When I posted my last write-up in that comparison series, I truly thought it would be my last. Prices on these single barrels were rising like hot air balloons. Four Roses SiBs no longer seemed worth it to me, unless I knew from my extensive studies that I’d be very likely to relish a given bottling based on its specs. For example, over time I found I favored the lower-proof releases, which were typical of bourbons aged on the lower tiers of the warehouses, where temperatures are cooler. I also found the OESK, OESV, and OESO recipes appealed to me most overall, and that an age of 8 to 10 years seemed to be my sweet spot.

Even before I started my formal comparisons, I’d already been convinced that the F and Q yeast-strain recipes just weren’t for me. But when I saw this 2023 OESQ offering on the shelf, I thought, well, tastes do change over time. Maybe I should give the Q yeast another go. This particular bottling featured the sweeter E mash bill, which I prefer to the spicier B. Also, it hailed from its warehouse’s Tier 1, the lowest level, resulting in a cozy 106.2 proof after 10 years and 9 months of aging. All this sounded great, save the questionable Q. So I went for it.

Now here we are, five weeks after uncorking and a handful of pours into the bottle. These brief notes were taken using a traditional Glencairn.

COLOR – a range of oranges, from soft and hazy to vibrant and fiery

NOSE – baked banana and oak up front, with cinnamon, caramel, dry rye spices, faint whiffs of cherry and apricot

TASTE – soft rustic rye spices and oak, the baked banana now less forward, the herbal rye spice notes almost like a floral potpourri

FINISH – sweet toasted oak dominates, with remnants of the caramel and now some dark chocolate, a fleeting raspberry note, then the banana returns

OVERALL – loving that baked banana and the sweet rustic oak, but wishing there was more sweet fruit to balance the drier wood and rye aspects

From uncorking to now, this is more pleasing than my memory of past Q recipe bottlings. That wonderful baked banana note, showing itself best on the nose, is absolute perfection. I also appreciate the strata of sweet and rustic oak notes. They pair well with the herbaceous rye—though these two flavor areas do feel a bit redundant of one another here, adding dry on dry.

The proof is perfectly balanced between heat and holding up the flavors. Definitely drier than it is sweet, it leaves me curious how this barrel would have tasted at 8 years X months. Though I’m a fan of certain drier aspects of bourbon and rye whiskeys, I am missing a sweeter fruit element to provide balance. The baked banana isn’t a particularly juicy fruit note. Were those fleeting cherry, apricot, and raspberry notes to lean in more, I’d be happier.

It’s not at all bad. It’s good, and complex. It’s just not centered enough in my personal flavor profiles for the price. Once I’m buying in the three-digit range, my openness to the world beyond my favored flavors narrows exponentially. So I don’t think the Four Roses Q SiBs will figure into my own future purchases. But if you enjoy the Q’s and come across a SiB with similar specs as this one, go for it. You’ll likely be delighted.

Despite my mixed response, this is an enjoyable reacquaintance with the Q recipes. I’d similarly like to give the F recipes another go. I’ll certainly enjoy this OESQ SiB while it lasts. It’s actually rather relaxing, like a remote log cabin in the dry end of summer. I’m sipping it not there but in San Francisco, on a typically chilly sunny afternoon, and it’s warming me up from the inside like a good bourbon should, so:


3 thoughts on “Revisiting: The Four Roses OESQ Recipe

  1. I wonder how far back the custom of comparing the flavor of Spirits to fruits goes. Nowadays we are accustomed to it but where did it start? I can’t help but think it’s a relatively new thing because it’s hard for me to imagine the Highlanders back in the day ever making correlations between their whiskey and their fruit! Any idea?


    1. That’s an interesting question. I’m not sure when the contemporary appreciation of whiskey tasting started. Perhaps after Napa made similar wine tastings a thing? I do imagine it’s a 21st Century thing. I’ll look into it. Thanks for the prompt!


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