Four Roses Bourbon: Yellow Label, Small Batch, Single Barrel

Four Roses Bourbon

Four Roses has risen from relative obscurity in the US a mere decade ago to become one of the most admired bourbon distilleries in the land, thanks in large part to longtime master distiller Jim Rutledge. The brand has a rich history, dating back to 1888. They were one of the most popular bourbons in the US post-Prohibition, but Seagram’s bought the brand in the 1940’s and soon shifted its focus to selling in Europe and Asia. You couldn’t even find Four Roses here in the States for over 40 years. Four Roses ownership changed hands again in 2002, and (thankfully) soon arrived back on US shelves.

While Four Roses may not have the broad name recognition of a Maker’s Mark or Jack Daniels, nor the raving mad fanaticism that Pappy Van Winkle earns, they have quietly won acclaim from those who know their bourbon. Four Roses has been named American Whisky Distiller of the year three years running now by Whisky Magazine, and they consistently earn all kinds of raves for their line of bourbon.

The three mainstay products from Four Roses are their base “Yellow Label,” the “Small Batch,” and a Single Barrel version. If you’re lucky, you might also find one of their limited edition small batch and single barrel releases, each of which comes out once a year. Whisky Advocate magazine just picked the Four Roses 2013 Limited Edition Small Batch ($85) as their highest rated bourbon for this year’s buying guide.

Here’s a handy guide to choosing among the three main Four Roses bottlings, from the obvious distinctions in proof and price, to a few tasting notes, to some highly debatable comparisons against other well known trios. Were you a Rodman fan when the Bulls were collecting rings? Go with the Single Barrel. Is Carreras your favorite of the Three Tenors? Go with the Yellow Label. Clerks over Mallrats? Small Batch. You’re welcome.

[table]Yellow Label,Small Batch,Single Barrel
less than $20,about $30,about $40
80 proof, 90 proof, 100 proof
10 recipes mingled,4 recipes mingled,1 single recipe (and barrel)
Floral,Spicy,Rich and Spicy
Pear,Vanilla Pepper,Dark Fruits and Nuts
Honey Corn Muffin,Spicy Cornbread,Cinnamon Nut Bread
Jose Carreras,Luciano Pavarotti,Placido Domingo
R2D2,Han Solo,Chewbacca
Martin Short,Steve Martin,Chevy Chase
Hermione,Ron Weasley,Harry Potter
Farrah Fawcett,Kate Jackson,Jaclyn Smith
Stills,Crosby,Nash (and Young)
Ad-Rock,Mike D,MCA
Chasing Amy,Clerks,Mallrats

Got your own comparison for these three? Let us know in the comments below.

Three Amigos
* Thirsty South Rating Scale:
Wow – among the very best: knock-your-socks-off, profound, complex liquid gold!
Excellent – exceptional in quality and character, worth seeking out, highly recommended
Good Stuff – solid expression of its type/varietal, enjoyable and recommended
Fair – fairly standard or exhibiting obvious though minor flaws
Avoid – move away folks, nothing to see here, a train wreck
Full Disclosure: Tasting samples provided by Four Roses.

4 Replies to “Four Roses Bourbon: Yellow Label, Small Batch, Single Barrel”

  1. Love Love Love Single Barrel. $30 in my neck of the woods, $33 of you want a local merchant’s barrel program bottlings. Either way, just awesome value for what is a rock solid bourbon. Single barrel is our house bourbon.

    I’ve been meaning to do a yellow label, Old Bardstown Black, Weller Reserve, Old Charter taste test to compare entry level mixing bourbons too.

  2. The single barrel is quite clearly the winner, but all three are solid bourbons. But oh, that single barrel. I’ll take that over any—and I do mean any—sub $100 bourbon in the land.

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