There are a lot of amazing bourbons out there today, new gift shop releases from Willett Family Estate, the hysteria-inducing Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, Four Roses Small Batch and private picks, SAOS picks, on and on. There are also the bourbons that have ascended to Mount Olympus status, the vintage expressions that are so rare and amazing, their praises must be sung to the heavens by choirs of aficionados. National Distiller’s bonded butterscotch bombs. AH Hirsch’s whispy minty evergreens. The legendary Stitzel-Weller oily wheated nectar.
It’s time to focus on another one of them.
For all of the bourbon’s I’ve been fortunate enough to taste and eventually review, there are some that stand-out above the rest. There are a select few of those that have permanently shifted my paradigm altogether, and left me in their pursuit for weeks or months. For the purposes of this review I will state definitively: You’ve never had anything like this, and likely never will again. It fully deserves all the grandeur that should be thrust upon it. It’s not exactly what I would call over-hyped, certainly not to the levels of any Van Winkle release or BTAC, though it’s definitely coveted in Four Roses enthusiast circles, and by anyone who loves the contents of a bottle more than the way the bottle looks on the shelf.
These days, with the typical single barrel release barely edging over the 9yr mark, it’s hard to imagine a time (only a scant 3 years ago) that single barrel offerings could hit the shelf pushing 13, 15 or even 17 years. As a community we are told that age has nothing to do with quality, a chorus that grows louder with each season that production is strained, hoarding becomes epidemic and the bourbon shortage grows….barrels are whisked quickly out of the warehouse, each with less and less dusty patina on the staves. Demand must be met. Quotas must be filled, but quality must not waver, as brands must be protected. It’s a perpetual struggle.
Age and quality are unrelated? That may be true to a certain extent, as there are fantastic 9 and 10 year old private selection bottles. They have their own unique flavor profiles and traits that make them each wonderful to drink. The virtues of the Four Roses 2013 Single Barrel Limited Edition are well known, and its accolades are shouted from the mountain top. It’s a splendid pour, coming in at 13 years. The Four Roses 15yr OESK Gift Shop release oozes out of the glass with wafting glorious scents of toasted berry sexiness. Both of these are in the Pantheon or at least at the gates, no doubt.
But the simple fact is there is an inherent spark that comes with age, the extra magic that’s eked out of the charred wood through extra years of aging that simply cannot be duplicated, nor overlooked or understated as far as I’m concerned. And because of that, the 17yr OBSV Gift Shop tops them all. It is truly the king of the Four Roses releases.
As far as technical jargon, this particular bottle of bourbon mastery came from a barrel that had simmered and slumbered on the Southside of Warehouse Q. It’s part of the high rye family of Four Roses recipes, the OBSV. It’s not overly proofed, coming in at an easy drinking and enjoyable 55.3%.
As I nose it, I wonder aloud what Four Roses “Master Distiller for All Time” Jim Rutledge must have been thinking the first time he augured in and sampled the red berry contents of the barrel. Two words come to mind; Liquid Divinity. I actually imagine him nosing the glass with a huge inhalation of the resonant cherry and oak, his height growing 6 or more inches, his neck extending and posture straightening with the scent, then getting weak kneed and sitting down on the nearest barrel head. “Shew wee!” he exclaims. At that point he calls Sheila down in packaging and says “Hi Sheila? Jim. You still got the custom labeler? Ok, scrap everything you had goin’ and make me a special’n that just says: DRINK ME NOW. “ At this point he gives a knowing wink and nod to someone that isn’t even standing there and continues, ”We’re gonna’ go’head’n fix that right on the front of every one of these bottles, OK? Good. How’s everything else? Kids OK? Rick helping you with the dishes? Yep, he’s a coot…*chuckles*….good ole boy though. Alright then, send that label on over. Right, bye.”
The nose is in fact brilliant. No air really required, maybe just a minute to allow that heady oak and berries to shine through. It reminds me of a country kitchen I used to know so well. A wood burning stove used for cooking. White oak logs stoked to blue flame, heating up the old oak plank floor. The heavenly smells of a cherry cobbler baking in the old kitchen; Sugars, spices and smoke hang thick in the air under the low ceiling, and you can see their dustiness as the dying light of a November afternoon that’s peeking through the naked trees and beaming its final rays through the west windows. The soul-warming scent is everywhere, in every room, even on the porch. It’s in the blankets. It’s in the rug. It’s in the jacket I wear outside to grab a few more pieces of wood. Breathing deeply….….home.
The flavor profile is so expansive I had to keep four different pages of notes, and spread the tasting over five separate days, giving ample time for my mind to reset. I didn’t read the previous round of notes that I had written, but started from scratch. The first sips of the pour reveal themselves to be sweet oaken sizzle…that spicy rye. My mouth couldn’t water any more than it is, with all the gushing berry juiciness of the flavor profile. That rich spiciness that ebbs and flows in layers of woozy goodness. More of the cherry. More sweet ripe raspberries. It’s berry overload! I can picture a huge cooking bowl brimming with sliced homegrown berries, being stirred, the skins breaking down and the pulpy juice taking over. A dollop of brown sugar and a scoop of country butter is cut in. As it’s stirred, some of it sloshes out of the bowl, onto the counter. I take my finger and swab it up into my mouth, eyes aglow with the ultimate berry goodness I taste. It’s like…..the ultimate pie filling. Literally a 110 proof mixed-berry compote that Grandma would have used in a cobbler. I yell the time honored Kentuckiana expression of respect and enjoyment, “Hot damn!” Yes, you are a lovely OBSV.
As the flavor profile begins it’s descent into the finish, something is bubbling under the surface, and it begins to rise. It’s a thick, gooey spicy caramel. It’s a minute-man missile of burnt sugar exploding on the back of my palate, building into a fantastic mellow half-life on the top center of my tongue, and around to the sides. Slow glow. It hangs for a while, and begins to die out.
It’s not that just that this Four Roses is rare, there are lots of rare bourbons. But this one has the amazing quality to match its scarcity. It’s lightning in a bottle. Ah yes, that’s it. The old adage about capturing “lightning in a bottle”. It’s a force, a moment, something rare and wonderful that’s captured once, and can never be captured again. It’s finite and cannot be duplicated. That’s precisely what this 17yr OBSV is. I feel blessed to even have the chance to experience this bourbon…. I hope you get the chance to do the same.
Now, did someone say cherry cobbler?