Four Roses 125th Anniversary 51.6%- Vanilla in a Woodpile

There are just so many Four Roses bottles. My cabinet is stocked with all manner of recipes, private picks, gift shop releases, limited editions, etc. I don’t come close to having a fraction of what some people own. The options are a study in statistical analysis, and individual opinion about which is best. A favorite store pick. A favorite recipe. The favorite warehouse. The best proof. An optimum age. That speaks loud volumes about the quality of the bourbon that burbles forth from the Vendome equipment shrouded within that grand Spanish Mission facade. I have my favorites too; for instance the soon-to-be legendary Cask 12yr OBSV Warehouse ME, the Lincoln Road OBSK (I’ll take nearly every pick by Jamie Farris at Lincoln Road), the 2013 Limited Edition Single Barrel (have I reviewed this charmer yet??), the 17yr Gift Shop Barrel #9 and the 2015 Limited Edition Small Batch, which was my bourbon of the year last year, and should have been on the top of everyone’s list.

To that end, sometimes I just overlook certain releases. To be honest, living in an ABC state makes access to good bourbon an absolute quest. More often it’s an endless, toturesome exercise in futility. Sometimes it’s elation. Other times its dejection. Once I had some local guests over for a tasting at my home and one of them remarked that they had never seen three quarters of the bottles I’d pulled out for the festivities. They inquired how I came about sourcing them. I went into great detail about the hunt, the research and the acquisition. I talked for a while, semi-wowing myself with what I considered to be high adventure on the Sea of Bourbon. After some bit of overly glamorous cloak-n-dagger explanation one of them said, “Wow, you really love this stuff.” That was the signal. I poured him another glencairn, and the subject was quickly switched to our opinions on the ending of Breaking Bad and whether or not the entire final scene was in Walt’s mind.

But I sat there in my antique rocker, creaking back and forth, thinking that my friend was right. I love it. But even though I want every bottle of limited or rare bourbon I can get my hands on, I pick and choose carefully. This is especially true of Four Roses, since there are hundreds of options readily available for drinking pleasure. Each bottle is procured only after serious discussion with friends whose palates I know and trust. I can honestly say that for me, the research and hunt are extremely enjoyable, and I like to think about the effort that went into the acquisition while I’m savoring the pour. Satisfaction is the true sixth sense.

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Now, despite the fact that I am an admitted Four Roses acolyte, for a long time I looked past one of their more popular releases, the 125th Anniversary small batch. Maybe because I’ve always been so in love with the 2013 single barrel LE, and my taste buds have a craving for barrel proof. The 125th always just seemed, well….inexplicably uninteresting. I’m reminded of the scene in one of my favorite movies, Cool Hand Luke, where Luke’s mama comes to visit him at the county farm during her last days. She tells him she always loved him more than his brother, and that sometimes you just have a feeling about someone. I suppose this was the same way I felt about the 125th.

In a recent conversation, I mentioned to my bourbon compatriot Mike that I’d never tried the 125th. He was shocked. I explained to him that I’d simply missed out on the opportunity to grab that release, and instead of obsessing about it, I just let it go. As he often does, I guess he felt the need to correct my gross error in judgment and took it upon himself to send me a sample. So when the sample bottle arrived at my doorstep, it wasn’t long before it ended up in a glass.

How wrong I was.

The nose is rich with vanilla along with the juicy, rosy red berries that everyone loves about Four Roses. It’s that charred oak that manifests itself from within in a floral beast of beauty. “That’s it”, I think to myself. “It’s vanilla in a woodpile.” There’s also an awesome component of sweet spices that kiss and burn concurrently. That’s the smooth, clever genius of an 18yr OBSV, mixed with the devil spice of a 13yr OBSK (which by the way is the same age and recipe of the 2013 Single Barrel Limited Edition). And oh, sourwood honey. Honey bees buzzing in and out of an old hollow log, working the honeycomb, the sticky gold drip dropping out of the bottom into a mason jar.

The flavor was a syrupy caramel. A deep and binding cherry tranquility draped over more of the rounded vanilla. Luscious fruit layers to soften the cinnamon spice. There are rolling sweet components of barn hung tobacco. It’s typical of Four Roses, that there are never less than 17 flavors to decipher. Such majesty and mystery. Such a game. So much about drinking bourbon takes me back to places and times in my past that are special to me. A lot of those memories revolve around the experiences in my youth where I cataloged the formative thoughts, ideas and senses that are the base foundation for everything I experience today. Drinking this, I’m reminded of Halloween, taking apples on sticks, and dipping them into a hot vat of churgling caramel. My grandpa would have been around then, packing an old pipe full of sweet tobacco, the smell filling the room with an aroma unmatched, and unmistakable.

The finish was longingly rebellious. I say that from the standpoint that from flavor to finish it acts similar to the perfect shift between first and second in a street race. The transition is just so clean between those phases. Some bourbon has a tendency to jump the gun and let the finish outpace and bypass the flavor, but not here. I was pleasantly surprised by this ending. It was rebellious in the way the burn defied my expectations. For the length and intensity of heat, I would have expected it to be a much higher proof. In this case, the flavors help accentuate and amplify the heat, thereby punching it across the goal line.

In my mind I was singing the words, “Burn, like we’ve never, seen red before….”

With minimal regret, I now admit that I have to have a bottle of this bourbon.

Cheers!

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