May 03, 2015

Epic Tasting: The Four Roses Icons of Whiskey

The Whiskey Jug reviews the entire Four Roses Icons of Whiskey lineup.

Four Roses Icons of Whiskey

When an email shows up in your inbox saying. “We were able to get our hands on all 10 of the Four Roses Icons of Whiskey, do you want to come try them” the answer is always yes. Inside I might have been screaming “Hell Yeah”, but one must keep a sense of decorum so my reply was more along the lines of “Yes, that would be lovely good sir”. Aw who am I kidding? It was Hell Yeah.

Thanks to the amazing hustle, team work, and foresight by some dedicated whiskey loving folks here in Los Angeles, LAWS (LA Whisky Society) was able to put together the entire collection for this increadible tasting. If you’re not familiar with the Icons of Whiskey here’s the down and dirty of it.

Whisky magazine recently gave Distillery of the Year to Four Roses. They also nominated a handful of shops around the country as whisky retailer of the yea r with 2 winners (Binny’s and Julio’s). To celebrate this event Jim Rutledge (Master Distiller at Four Roses) picked out some barrels, which he doesn’t do too often these days, and the nominated retailers got to buy one of the chosen barrels. Some of the stores got involved in the selection themselves, some didn’t and even Fred Minnick got involved. In the end 1 barrel of each of the 10 recipes was selected and 8 retailers got a barrel with 2 retailers getting 2.

Four Roses is famous for their 10 different bourbon recipes which uses 2 different mashbills and 5 different strains of propriety yeast and if you’re only passingly familiar with those cryptic 4 letter codes here’s a quick reference before we dig into the evening.

O = From the Four Roses distillery
B / E = The mashbill. B = 60% corn, 35% rye, 5% malted barley E = 75% corn, 20% rye, 5% malted barley
S = Straight whiskey
V / K / O / Q / F = The yeast strain

The way this epic Icons of Whiskey tasting was organized was semi-blind. We all knew what we were tasting, but the retailer and the recipe were covered up and each bottle was given a code name. That way all we knew was that we were drinking cask strength Four Roses Icons of Whiskey single barrels until the end when we did the reveal. Here’s how the night played out for me.

Four Roses Icons of Whiskey Tasting Notes & Reviews

Four Roses Icons of Whiskey – OBSV
ABV: 53.7% Store: Julio’s Age: 12yrs 2 mo

  • Nose: Caramel, raw grain, vanilla, Twizzlers and spice. This one didn’t really wow me with it’s aroma, felt really basic.
  • Palate: Big spice with layers of leather, dark fruit gummies and grain. Again, not terrible, but didn’t wow me either.
  • Finish: Wood, Twizzlers and spice. What I mean by Twizzlers is that waxy fruity quality.
  • Overall: B- (80-82) OBSV is the most common single barrel recipe that gets put out so it’s the one you’re most likely to encounter and in this lineup it was definitely my least favorite. Though I’ve had some great OBSV single barrels in the past and this really illustrates the point about the wild nature of single barrels.

Four Roses Icons of Whiskey – OESV
ABV: 60.7% Store: Wally’s Age: 10 yrs 10 mo

  • Nose: Rich thick notes of caramel, dark fruit, leather, spice and wood.
  • Palate: Dark fruit, wood, spice, brown sugar, vanilla and nail polish remover (acetone). Sounds like an odd note, but it works against the sweeter woodier notes.
  • Finish: Wood, mineral water, dark fruit and burnt citrus.
  • Overall: B+ (87-89) This one was a solid B+ and was even jockeying for an A- by the end of the night. It was a fantastic whisky and I wish I had ran down to Wally’s and picked one up when I had the chance.

Four Roses Icons of Whiskey – OBSK
ABV: 59.6% Store: Schneider’s Age: 12 yrs 10 mo

  • Nose: Melon rind, Fig Newton’s, mild oak, dark fruit and a touch of spice.
  • Palate: Oak, dark fruit, vitamins, spice caramel, vanilla and dust.
  • Finish: Woody and spicy with notes of cardamom, caramel and a light touch of maple syrup.
  • Overall: B (83-86) Good, but feels a little washed out and light overall. Oddly enough adding water does help open it up, but it still feels a bit muted.

Four Roses Icons of Whiskey – OESK
ABV: 57.4% Store: Bay Way Age: 9 yrs 4 mo

  • Nose: Woody and spicy with nice notes of char, fruit and dark sweets.
  • Palate: Dark fruit, wood, caramel, vanilla, a light bit of spice and something that reminded me of black tea.
  • Finish: Wood, spice, vanilla and grains that faded out sweetly
  • Overall: B+ (87-89) This was just a really good solid bourbon. May not have been the most complex of the bunch, but it was nice and rich and warm. I could easily enjoy a glass of this any time.

Four Roses Icons of Whiskey – OBSO
ABV: 54.7% Store: Binny’s Age:10 yrs 4 mo

  • Nose: Overall a bit light on the nose. Notes of caramel, wood, spice, citrus, vanilla, dried strawberries and bit floral.
  • Palate: Oaky dark sweets with a bit of leather and spice. There was something “green” to it… almost vegetal but not quite. A bit more like fresh picked herbs that have sat in the fridge for a week.
  • Finish: Sour, vegetal and chalky with thick notes of spice and wood.
  • Overall: B- (80-82) Didn’t care much for this one, but some of the guys did, which is why blind group tasting are so much. You get to hear other people’s notes and opinions. A chance to learn, discuss and argue.

Four Roses Icons of Whiskey – OESO
ABV: 55.8% Store: Binny’s Age: 12yr 4 mo

  • Nose: Oak, caramel, dried strawberries, spice, vanilla, and wonderful, full bourbon character.
  • Palate: Wood, dried fruit, light spice, vanilla, caramel and toasted nuts.
  • Finish: Wood and fruity that fades to a sweet allspice.
  • Overall: B+ (87-89) The way the notes are written makes it sound like it was spicy, and while it was there, it was light and balancing. This was another example of just a really nice bourbon.

Four Roses Icons of Whiskey – OBSQ
ABV: 58.1% Store: Hi-Time Age: 10 yrs 11 mo

  • Nose: Big dark sweets, dark fruit, spice and oak. Touch of toasted nuts and vanilla.
  • Palate: Oaky and spicy, caramel and vanilla and dark fruit.
  • Finish: Wood, mint spice and a light bit of dark sweets.
  • Overall: A- (90-92) Complex, rich and full of awesomeness it was hard to choose between this and OBSF. If I set them on a numerical scale this would be a 91 and the OBSF would be a 92. Another one I wish I had driven out to get.

Four Roses Icons of Whiskey – OESQ
ABV: 60.4% Store: Liquor Barn Age: 10 yrs 11 mo

  • Nose: Sugar Daddys, dark fruit, smarties, fresh mint and a cavalcade of dark sweets with a touch of vanilla and oak.
  • Palate: Woody, darkly sweet with good layers of spice and a slight earthy character.
  • Finish: Spice, wood, dark sweets and earth.
  • Overall: B+ (87-89) Sitting on the cusp of a B / B+ I really enjoyed this one and the earthy character added a nice dimension of flavor to it.

Four Roses Icons of Whiskey – OBSF
ABV: 56.6% Store: Schneider’s Age: 11 yrs 8 mo

  • Nose: Dark juicy fruit and oak with big notes of spice and vanilla. One of the fruitiest Four Roses I’ve had in a while.
  • Palate: Oak, rich dark fruit, caramel, vanilla and just a touch of citrus.
  • Finish: Sweet and darkly fruity with notes of dark sweets and wood.
  • Overall: A- (90-92) A little water really opened it up and brought out a light bit of nuttiness and was a great way to start the evening. This one ended up being my favorite of the night after doing a H2H with my second favorite (OBSQ, the other A-).

Four Roses Icons of Whiskey – OESF
ABV: 59% Store: Liquor Barn Age: 10 yrs 11 mo

  • Nose: Caramel, oak, blackberry compote and the whole rack of baking spices. Cinnamon, nutmeg, anise you name it.
  • Palate: Oak, complex baking spices, caramel, vanilla and a light bit of dark fruit leather.
  • Finish: Wood, dark fruit and vanilla fades to baking spices.
  • Overall: B (87-89) This one for me was a bit off balance due to all of the spice. It was good, I’d never turn down another glass, but at times the spice covered up some of the other notes and weighed heavier than I usually like. A splash of water did help even it out a bit, but not enough for me to give it a B+.

So there you have it. The entire Four Roses Icons of Whiskey line up. If you’re a Four Roses fan then I highly recommend this is something you try to put together. Not necessarily this exact lineup, that’s going to be incredibly tough, but I mean tracking down the 10 different recipes and trying them side by side. It’s fascinating to see how whiskey changes with adjustments in mashbill and yeast.

Though if this is something that you’re interested in doing you’ll want to start by locating an OBSQ & OESQ right away. Four Roses isn’t releasing any of those for a while and they’re starting to disappear off shelves due to the impending scarcity so don’t hesitate on grabbing those two right now, otherwise you’re going to have to wait a few years to get the opportunity again.


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tagged taste, whiskey, drinks, liquor review