I've been tasting this release in different capacities since first being introduced to it by a good friend back in October of 2023 shortly after it started hitting shelves. Now on my 5th individual tasting in 5 months of this bottle on a fresh palate, I'm confident that I've definitively explored everything there is to experience on this bottle. It's an intricate story; a tale I've grappled with since my first taste. How might I rate this bottle? Unfortunately at this point, I have been exposed to quite a few opinions and even seen some of my fellow industry writers finish their own reviews of this release. My conundrum? I've disagreed with just about everyone else's opinion on this one.
Fans crazy enough to track down this limited edition release are undoubtedly aware of the whole 10 recipe spiel. Anyone who's been reading my reviews for long enough also knows I thoroughly love Four Roses and always look forward to the yearly limited edition release. To further illustrate this point, the 2022 release managed to earned my incredibly elusive 5/5 score and I'm quite scrupulous about what earns the tail end of the bourbon quality distribution. That said, this isn't as impossible-to-get as the likes of Pappy Van Winkle (a foolish endeavor, but I'll save that for another review) with a bottle count all the way up at 15,060. That means about a 3,000 gallon blending tank (15,060 x 750mL = 11,295,000mL) was used to mix up this batch for consistency across the board.
Now in it's 16th release, the limited edition offering has become a core part of the Four Roses identity. With Brent Elliott at the helm since taking over from Jim Rutledge in 2015 and his 10 prior years of experience with the brand, there has been a common hand (and palate) in every one of these batches. Not every batch has been stellar - that's the fickle nature of bourbon. I recently had the opportunity to try the 125th anniversary release from 2013 and found it to be a little lackluster overall. Regardless of the realization of satisfying the neediest of whiskey nerd needs, the Four Roses brand in general has seen wild success in recent years. I've been to the distillery several times to do single barrel selections for my local retailer, and I know they make damn good bourbon. But how good is this particular release? You might have the same question, my dear reader. Before you go out and drop $200 on a bottle of whiskey, wouldn't you like to know if you're going to enjoy it? Let's dive in and see if we can't get a few of those lingering questions answered.
Company on Label: Four Roses Distillery
Whiskey Type: Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Mash Bill Percentages: A blend of Four Roses' two mash bills
95% E mash bill (75% corn, 20% rye, 5% malted barley)
5% B mash bill (60% corn, 35% rye, 5% malted barley)
Age: 12 years (a blend of 12-25 year barrels)
40% 14 year OESK barrels
35% 12 year OESV barrels
20% 16 years OESV barrels
5% 25 years OBSV barrels
Further identification: The 135th Anniversary bottling from Four Roses first released in September of 2023 at an MSRP of $200; I am reviewing bottle 276 of 15,060 which is comprised of 40% OESK,
Nose: On first raising the glass to my nose I find rich oak is most dominant. The age on this is almost unbearable, holy smokes! Traditional notes that accompany double digit age statements can readily be found throughout: caramel, molasses, anise, carraway, clove, French tarragon, and allspice all bubble up in potent waves. There's a good bit of wood smoke and old varnish stuck in the glass that acts like a screen for some of the more delicate notes beneath. A touch of sandalwood, a note I'm quite sensitive too personally, sticks out on the well-rested glass. Deep inhales produce more dry oak, light vanilla, leather, brown sugar, graham cracker, black pepper, and dark, burnt bread. The highlight of the pour here is clearly all the age and I don't really find any of the base recipe characteristics I know and love. Let's have a sip.
Sticking my nose back into the glass shows off charcoal and cacao powder. Beyond that, I find this has turned rather reserved and ultimately a little boring. The potency of the prior notes has all but vanished, notably a positive for the sandalwood tone, but disappointing overall. As I continue my exploration, everything continues to be light on the nose, telling me this might be a better fit for the Summer rather than the Winter. With further rest a bit of caramel creeps back in. Subtle red berry undertones are trying their hardest to poke out, but continue to be buried by a cloud of obfuscation. Bits of cinnamon and well-oiled leather can be discovered by the patient observed. The empty glass smells of old wooden crates, smoke, light raspberry vinaigrette, damp soil, oak bark, confectioners sugar, juniper berries, and fluffy, unadorned pancakes. This is a bit of a wild conclusion to an otherwise insipid pour if you ask me.
Palate: My first taste shows off great stewed plum, apricot, and cherry cordial. The mouthfeel is on the thinner end with subtle amaretto sticking around, but it's notably not drying despite all the age behind the blend. Another sip builds upon some of the traditional wood spice with parallels to some tannin-forward Merlot examples; black cherry, blackberry, and plum do well to stave off the black pepper and allspice onslaught I can feel waiting in the wings. I also find vanilla pudding, crème brûlée and bocconcini mozzarella cheese balls at times. The linger is semi-sweet, featuring prominent Earl Gray tea, as well as patisserie treats like raspberry tart and vanilla macaron that show off some unpretentious class. Back end hints of mint and lemon peel give this a little bit of depth that I am craving. Late in the glass I find little evolution beyond the well-crafted flavor triangle of wood, fruit, and spice. It's not high-flying, eyebrow-raising, or hair-on-end quality, but I can taste the intention that went into the blend. My last sip is tannic up front, sweeping across the tongue like cherry fun dip, before blooming into nutmeg, anise, and rich caramel brittle.
TL;DR: A rather austere hyper-aged blend, surprising for what is normally an exceptional release
Overall I find this to be a little lacking on both nose, palate and finish. There's certainly no sharp edges, but it almost comes across too cohesive - a blend that fades into the crowd despite all its crazy age. While this is absolutely enjoyable, I could definitely live without it. I would not say the same about the 2022 release, which captured my heart and attention at every sip and moment of zen with nose in glen. I have enjoyed some wonderful moments with this bottle, notably sharing a dram with my dad while we were out on a February hike through the woods that was inherently beautiful, likely more to do with the scenery and the company. While any whiskey has the power to be exceptional when put in the right situation, it's the patient, objective evaluation of whiskey quality over several thoughtful tastings that drives me to continue to provide these reviews to you, my dear reader. I hope that you appreciate the tactfulness and can overlook how long it took me to get this out to print. I'd love to hear if you agree or disagree with my rating down in the comments!