There are a very select few who deserve the distinction of “master” distiller. The term gets thrown around a lot in the spirits industry, but the truth is, true mastery takes a lifetime. Unfortunately, many of the great masters in American whiskey are getting on in age, and their focus has begun to shift from day-to-day production to solidifying their legacy and training the next generation of distillers. For the late Booker Noe, that legacy was captured lovingly by his son, Fred Noe, in the recently released 25th Anniversary Booker’s Bourbon. Jimmy Russell, who already has the benchmark rye whisky under his belt, will get a victory lap release later this year with Wild Turkey Diamond. Parker Beam’s legacy was brilliantly captured by Parker’s Promise of Hope Bourbon and Bill Samuels Jr. solidified his legacy before leaving his post at the helm of Maker’s Mark with Makers 46.
While Jim Rutledge hasn’t been showing any signs of slowing down, he is clearly punctuating his legacy. Last year his release for Four Roses 125th Anniversary Small Batch Bourbon was the actualization of everything that Rutledge has been working for. Years and years of explaining why Four Roses uses 10 different yeast combinations all came together in a brilliant palate of flavor from which he made one of the best American whiskeys we’ve tasted. Now, Rutledge continues to pull out all the stops with a rare 11 year old single barrel “OESF” (the designation for the yeast strain used) whiskey. OESF is a straight whiskey with a mashbill of 75% corn, 20% rye, and 5% malted barley, using the “F” yeast strain.
“This year’s Limited Edition Single Barrel is a tribute to the loyal following we are so fortunate to have,” said Rutledge. “This bourbon went into the barrel and was put away at a time when Four Roses had just returned to the States, and it’s remarkable to see how far we’ve come as a company since then.”
Four Roses 2014 Limited Edition Single Barrel Whiskey (60% ABV / 120 proof, $100) – light amber in color, this Four Roses Single Barrel is slightly lighter in color than many of its 11 year old peers. While oak is clearly and solidly in the nose, it’s not singularly oak. Underneath the oak is vanilla, cinnamon, and pear. The entry for Four Roses 2014 Single Barrel is a burst of flavor with caramel and cinnamon leading the pack but with solid oak right behind. In the entry the lush caramel balances the oak and cinnamon spice wonderfully, and it’s accompanied by the pear note from the nose.
Aside from the intensity of flavor, you might not guess that this is a cask strength whiskey. By the time we get to the midpalate, there’s no doubt that Four Roses 2014 Limited Edition Single Barrel is a cask strength monster. In the midpalate, solid oak, cinnamon spice, and clove dominate with just a dash of fire. The sweet caramel notes from the opening are still there underneath to supply some balance, but balance isn’t the core focus of this whiskey – power is. Towards the end of the midpalate the spice begins to fall away and we’re left with a slightly acidic pear note. It’s not unpleasant, but it’s the complete flipside of the lush opening. The finish is long and slightly dry, remarkably not overly dry given the intensity of the midpalate. Four Roses 2014 Limited Edition Single Barrel responds okay to water, which helps tame some of the fire but also enhances the acidic element of the pear notes. With water, it just isn’t the same intense experience, and if you’re watering it down, this may not be the best whiskey for you.
Last year, with the Four Roses 125th Anniversary Whiskey, Jim Rutledge showed how all the elements of his different mashbills can come together to sing in harmony. Here, with the 2014 Limited Edition Single Barrel, it’s all about showing off the sheer power that his OESF variation brings to the Four Roses mix. In a time where big, bold, oaky whiskeys are being prized, Jim Rutledge tips his hat and then shows his cards with a monster flush. Four Roses 2014 Limited Edition Single Barrel Whiskey is a good example of how a distillery can achieve strength and intensity without completely losing balance and complexity. That being said, this whiskey isn’t for everyone, while it’s very well crafted and well orchestrated, it’s a big one. While we absolutely appreciate it, we still prefer the balance, finesse, and beauty of Four Roses 125th Anniversary Small Batch Bourbon.
Four Roses 2014 Limited Edition Single Barrel Whiskey is limited to 5,000 bottles and will be released in June 2014.