Being booze nerds and all (hence the name :)), it isn’t unheard of for us to spend our vacation time doing things that are booze-related. So a week and a half ago, we decided to go to Lexington, Kentucky and visit some of the bourbon distilleries there, both to see how one of our favorite spirits is made and to see what goodies we could find that aren’t getting distributed to Washington.
While there is both a mainstream bourbon trail and a craft one as well, we decided to go our own way as always and hit a mix of both larger and boutique producers. A few that we would have liked to see were either too far from Lexington (like MB Roland), or didn’t have a tasting room (like Angel’s Envy, though I understand one is coming next year, yay!). But we did get to quite a number: Four Roses, Buffalo Trace, Town Branch, Willetts, Barton’s, Limestone Branch, and Barrel House. We also visited a few of the big booze purveyors there, notably Party Source and Liquor Barn, to see what they might have on offer.
In this post, we’re going to talk about what we saw at Four Roses and then discuss some of their delicious bourbons, namely the last several years of the Single Barrel Limited Edition.
We arrived at Four Roses in the pissing down rain. We were fortunate that our tour was run, as they had cancelled the previous tour due to lightning. Though we probably would have either stayed until we could do the tour or come back the next day. No way were we going to travel all that way and not see Four Roses.
The distillery is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year! Go them. The buildings and grounds are quite beautiful. If it had not been so wet the distillery grounds would have made a lovely place for a picnic. Perhaps some other time.
As we started the tour, they were filling up this tanker truck with Four Roses white dog. It turns out that their barreling and aging facilities are off site. So they transport it via tanker truck and then barrel it. That tanker is ~1000 gallons of white dog. They typically do approximately 13 runs a day when they’re in full production. 13,000 gallons a day is “slightly” more than the micro-distillers we’re used to here in Washington. However Four Roses is still one of the smaller bourbon distillers in operation.
As you hopefully know from our previous post on the Four Roses Alphabet, they have 10 unique recipes based around 5 yeasts and 2 different mash bills.
Next up was the fermentation room. They have 8 wooden fermentation tanks in each of 3 different fermentation rooms for a total of 24 tanks. The tanks were originally made from red cedar. However the red cedar is getting harder and harder to come by so they’re building their new tanks out of Doug fir.
Next up we got to see the bottom half of their 40 foot column still.
They were in full production so you could see the mash bubbling away in the base.
After the column still, it goes into a holding tank before it is then re-distilled in this lovely pot still. As you can see, even though they’re almost entirely mechanized, Four Roses has still done a great job of making things aesthetically pleasing.
We especially loved the Tail box. Though why do they have a lock on it?
We don’t remember what this does exactly but it’s quite pretty. (Christa says: I think this is where the first run of distillate from the column still goes before it goes into the doubler.)
Once the tour was finished we got to do a tasting of their Yellow label, their regular small batch and their regular single barrel, all quite different and tasty. Our guide swears by the current small batch, which is bursting with red fruit.
In the gift shop, we saw that they had a few bottles of the 2013 Limited Edition single barrel left. Not being shy, we quickly grabbed two for good measure. And boy are we glad we did, as it is pretty spectacular.
We’ve been acquiring the Four Roses single barrel Limited Editions for a few years now, so we thought we’ve give them a comparison taste test to see how they differed over the years.
2011 Single Barrel Limited Edition (12 yr OBSQ, 54.6%)
- Nose: Vanilla, sugar, sweet corn, subtle floral notes, ripe pear.
- Palate: Fair bit of oak, though not unpleasant. On the hot side. Wood sugars on the front, then vanilla, caramel and leather on the mid-palate along with some faintly medicinal (in a good way :)) notes like botrytized wine. Spicy rye and some pear fruitiness on the finish.
2012 Single Barrel Limited Edition (12 yr OESK, 55.6%)
- Nose: Red fruit, almonds, molasses, under current of orris root (almost like a gin).
- Palate: A lot smoother than the 2011 with less oak. Red fruit and almonds to start. Barrel notes, almond skins, and some anise on the mid-palate. A little mint towards the end, then a fairly dry finish.
2013 Single Barrel Limited Edition (13 yr OBSK, 57.7%)
- Nose: Toffee, chocolate, latte, some stone fruit. More subdued than the other two. Very faint orris root notes again.
- Palate: Oooo that’s good! Very smooth. Black cherry and roses to open. Pie spices and sweet creamy candy notes on the mid-palate. Very long, gentle, spicy finish.
These three bourbons are quite different. The 2011 and 2013 share the same mash bill but different yeasts, while the 2012 and 2013 have different mash bills but the same yeast. Then of course there’s how long they are aged and where they were stored in the barrel house. In any case, it is fun to compare and contrast them. We both prefer the 2013 a tiny bit over the other two (it was bottled in honor of their 125th anniversary), but that’s a matter of taste, and they’re all quite delicious in their own way.
Over all a great start to a very fun trip. We highly recommend doing your own bourbon tour and visiting Four Roses. It’s very much worth the effort. Our only disappointment: not getting the try their Premium brand that’s exclusively shipped to Japan. Perhaps a sake/schochu trip to Japan is in order.
We hope you enjoyed your virtual Four Roses tour. Join us over the next few weeks as we talk about visiting Willetts and some of the other distilleries, and recount other goodies we picked up along the way.