It was Thursday afternoon, and I was struggling to figure out which bourbon I would review for Friday's article (not that I hadn't been drinking bourbon during the week -- drinking and tasting are totally different things). What was I to do? At about 4 p.m., I got a call from El Jefe. "Hey I have about 15 open bottles of bourbon at my office, why don't you stop by?" Now I have never been been one to turn down free booze and the wife was out of town, so I decided that I would join him. On the table Jefe had about eight bottles, two of which were Four Roses: a single barrel and a single barrel select. I decided I would compare both of these.
The first whiskey was KE/6-3D and was 100-proof, or as some would say "Bottled-in-Bond." Bottled-in-Bond (BIB) is a way of describing whiskey that is stored in a US Bonded Warehouse for at least four years and is 50 percent alcohol by volume (also known as 100 proof). It is also a term that lets people know that the bourbon was distilled at one distillery. Though I am not sure that Four Roses has Bonded warehouses, I am sure it is older than four years and is 100 proof and made by them. But legally I wouldn't call this a BIB. However, BIB is a quality standard for making whiskey that was invented/used most notably by Edmonds Haynes Taylor (EHT). Being in a bonded warehouse or not, doesn't mean the bourbon has any more or less quality. The age in barrel, where the bourbon is distilled and the proof however, does.
So, what does the KE/6-3D mean?
The K refers to the particular yeast strain used to ferment this whiskey. The E refers to the mashbill, which is the ratio of corn to wheat to rye to barley to whatever else they put in it. Four Roses has five yeast strains (labeled as V, K, O, Q and F) and two mashbills (labeled E and B), giving them 10 recipes to use.
E: 75% corn, 20% rye, 5% malted barley
B: 60% corn, 35% rye, 5% malted barley
V: light fruitiness, vanilla, caramel, and creaminess
K: light spiciness, light caramel, and full bodied
O: rich fruitiness, light vanilla, caramel, full bodied
Q: essences of floral aromas
F: essence of herbal aromas
(Check out this infographic for more on the recipes)
You will see them on the labels of private select barrels like this: O_S_, where the mashbill is inserted into the first blank and the yeast is inserted into the second. The O is always there to indicate that the bourbon was made on site at Four Roses, while the S signifies that it is in fact straight whiskey. So OESK denotes a straight bourbon whiskey made on site using the E mashbill recipe and the K yeast strain.
But enough lecturing, lets get into the juice. The bourbons I tasted were the Four Roses OESK 100-proof single barrel and the Four Roses OESQ 119.2-proof single barrel private select. The first one cost around $40 and the latter around $55-$65.
Color: godlen, straw gold
Aroma: dill, sort of like a drained out pickle jar. Herbaceous notes slight vanilla, a little caramel sweetness
Taste: slight burn on the palette, not so sweet as it is earthy and woodsy. Has a mouth coating ability with hay-like flavor. This is probably a better bourbon in a cocktail or with some ice than it is neat.
FR-OESQ Private Barrel 9yr 3months
Color: deep copper with some yellow tints
Aroma: faint floral notes, almost like dried rose petals, orange peels
Taste: great heat, very robust in flavor, caramel, vanilla, hints of leather. This one is absolutely great neat or with about three drops of water to open it up. Fantastic bourbon.
Overall I would pick the FR Private barrel. It was fantastic, and it had great aromas and was super robust with loads of flavor. This bourbon is great sipping whiskey. I was able to try all 10 recipes when I visited Four Roses a couple years ago with two friends to pick out a private barrel. They rolled out one of each recipe and we got to sample from the barrel. It was a life-changing experience to see all the work and what goes into making each recipe.