Four Roses Single Barrel Private Selection 16 Year Old 54.7 abv NV (1 BT75)
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Four Roses Single Barrel Private Selection 16 Year Old 54.7 abv NV
“Special Mutated Yeast”
Bottled January 2012, barrel no. 78-3A, bottle code: 013121, "Barrel #4", warehouse QS, recipe OBSV, 35% rye mashbill, ullage : top shoulder, contains original neck tag
Four Roses (LOTS #321-#420)
Over the last twenty years, Four Roses has developed a reputation as one of the best all-around distilleries in Kentucky, its portfolio ranging from a solid, inexpensive entry-level whiskey to a very limited and highly coveted series of annual releases, some of which critics rank among the best bourbons of the century.
It was not always so. Up until World War II, Four Roses was considered a reliable, high-quality whiskey. But in the late 1940s its owner, Seagram, decided to turn the brand in the United States as an inexpensive blend, and it quickly developed a reputation as a cheap, poorly made whiskey. That wasn’t entirely fair – Four Roses continued to make great bourbon, but it was all sold overseas.
Coincidentally, that fact ended up saving the distillery: Seagram eventually sold the distillery, and for a time, in the 1990s, it looked like it might close for good. Fortunately Kirin, a beer and spirits company in Japan, where Four Roses had never lost its prestige, knew just how good the distillery was. It stepped in to buy it – and to return it to its former glory.
Four Roses came roaring back, and more, under master distiller Jim Rutledge, a legend in the bourbon industry. He understood that Four Roses has a unique advantage over other distilleries. Where most have just one bourbon mash bill, Four Roses has two – one with 60 percent corn, 35 percent rye and 5 percent malted barley, the other with 75 percent corn, 20 percent rye and 5 percent malted barley. And where most use just one yeast, Four Roses uses five, each with its own flavor profile. That means Four Roses can produce 10 distinct whiskeys, which can then be blended to create an almost limitless range of bourbons.
Rutledge first demonstrated the sheer beauty of his whiskey in 2008, when he released “Mariage” (LOTS #358-#360) a blend of two of his 10 whiskeys, one aged 13 years and the other 10 years. Since it was the distillery’s 120th anniversary, he also released a single-barrel bourbon at cask strength (LOTS #321-#326), pulling back the curtain to reveal the full power of Four Roses. Only about 2,300 bottles were produced. Both whiskeys are considered milestones in the history of bourbon, and they put Four Roses on the map as a distillery to be reckoned with.
The single-barrel release was so popular that Rutledge made it an annual feature – until 2015, when demand for Four Roses got so intense that he had to suspend it. Bottles from that era have become practically a cult item, as have bottles from private, single-barrel picks that continue to appear at retail stores from time to time today, only to disappear within minutes.
More changes were afoot. Rutledge released another Mariage in 2009 (LOTS #361-#364), after which he transitioned to a small-batch limited release, allowing him to work with more than just two whiskeys but still keep the air of exclusivity. The series, now known as the Small Batch Limited Release, has repeatedly won accolades as the best bourbon of the year from Whisky Advocate and other critics.
Of particular note is the 125th Anniversary bottle (LOTS #327-#329), from 2013, a blend of 18-year-old whiskey and two 13 year olds, and the 130th Anniversary bottle (LOTS #330-#334), from 2018, a blend of four whiskeys, all between 10 and 16 years old. In both cases less than 10,000 bottles were released in the United States, all of them vanishing immediately from shelves.
The 125th Anniversary bottle is especially sought after for its connection to what you might call the “Tale of the Mutated Yeast.” While fermenting a mash in the late 1990s, Rutledge and his team noticed that one of the yeasts had mutated. Rather than bear the cost of starting over – this was, after all, before Four Roses hit it big – they decided to take a risk. The result went beyond Rutledge’s expectations. He has said repeatedly that it is his single favorite whiskey he ever; even the unaged distillate, he said, was unmatched in flavor. The resulting whiskey, including the 125th Anniversary, were the perfect storm, a happy accident, and since Rutledge did not keep samples, they can never to be replicated.
Even the Small-Batch Limited Edition releases during non-anniversary years and using non-mutant yeast are considered unicorns by many fans. They are so rare, so in demand, and sold, when available, at such high prices that die-hard fans will seek out single barrels and try to blend their own clone of that year’s small-batch release – a testament to the mania that Four Roses generates.
There are also six bottles from the 2017 commemorative release marking the 50th anniversary of Al Young’s career with Four Roses (LOTS #352-#357). Young stands alongside Rutledge as a singular figure in Four Roses, and bourbon, history, having worked as the distillery manager and as its in-house archivist. Few people know more about Kentucky whiskey than Young, and to recognize him Four Roses assembled a four-whiskey blend, ranging between 12 and 23 years and bottled in a 1960s-era retro decanter. The whiskey is phenomenal, but the bottle itself is history, honoring the life’s work of a bourbon legend.
1 bt 75cl (nop)
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