For my first solo entry on this blog, I thought I’d start out with a fun experiment. My good friend Blake Ross, a casual bourbon drinker, and I, an intermediate taster, would blind taste three Four Roses expressions chosen because of their price points: $20+ Yellow label, $30+ Small Batch & $60+ Small Batch Select. Also, it is important to mention as the price increases so does the proof: 80, 90 & 104 proof, respectively. I chose Four Roses for the simple reason that so many years ago, when I was fairly new to Louisville and bourbon, Blake introduced me to Four Roses Yellow Label. It was his go-to “house” whiskey (usually with a splash of Diet Coke). I remember thinking wow this is much better than what I’d been drinking (which was anything on the bottom shelf of the liquor store and priced accordingly $15 or less). It was a fine, first introduction to a world that I’ve been lucky enough to explore almost without bounds for the past three years, thanks to Michael Veach, but that’s a whole other blog in itself.
For the experiment, my girlfriend Rebecca poured a taste from each bottle into Glencairn glasses in a separate room taking super-secret note of their contents before serving them. Just by the lighter color I immediately spotted the yellow label, but the two others were much alike in both nose and color. Both Blake and I made our initial sips, getting a similar experience on the palette, yet our appreciation for those different flavors couldn’t be more disparate, especially when it came to the finish.
I preferred the higher proof’s rich oak and leather, while Blake was more into the smoothness of the 80 proof yellow label, his quote “I don’t wanna get burned” pretty much sums it up. As old friends tend to do, we reminisced of good times, letting the whiskey breathe, inviting more rich savory flavors with each passing few minutes of nostalgic conversation. Not surprisingly, after letting these whiskeys sit fifteen plus minutes and our palates temper with each sip, Blake changed his decision from yellow label to the Small Batch. I, myself, had quite a dilemma on my hands discerning which glass was my favorite between the Small Batch and Small Batch Select. Surprisingly, I also chose the Small Batch, previously preferring Small Batch Select, but the creamy rich vanilla and toasted bean flavors of the Small Batch won me over.
So what to take away from this project? IMO, you really can’t go wrong with any of these Four Roses entries. Do they punch above their weight? No. Is the small batch select overpriced? Absolutely not, I would say it’s one of my favorite relatively easy to find bourbons. Its bold mouthfeel, milk chocolate, oak and spice are fantastic and most importantly, each bottle I’ve purchased, consistently delivers in quality.
That being said, I am left to ponder what made the Small Batch the winner this time around. I really couldn’t say, maybe I scored a particularly good bottle, maybe I craved those creamy vanilla bean and coffee flavors. Maybe the order of which I tasted each expression had a part to play, who knows? What I do know is that, I had a great time with a great friend and some really good bourbon, and that for me, is what it’s all about.
Photos Courtesy of Rebecca Hammer
April 1, 2021 at 3:17 pm
Does one ever dilute tastings to a standard proof to reduce the dominance of alcohol burn in the higher proof expressions? When using ice the higher proof liquor will melt ice faster, evening things out – the high proof buys you refrigeration not strength
April 1, 2021 at 11:31 pm
Yes! Many tasting days Mike and I will add a few drops of water to an expression we feel has a good chance of benefitting from diluting.
April 5, 2021 at 4:41 pm
I like to add water to anything above 110 proof. I will also add ice cubes to high proof whiskey.