“We must not be content to memorize the beautiful formulas of our illustrious predecessors. Let us go out and study beautiful nature.” – Paul Cezanne
Despite the crowded slate of so-called limited edition bourbons on the market today there are only a select few that truly stand out. It seems like every brand these days is trying to create their own “thing.” Whether it’s hokey or meant to showcase truly unique liquid, we’ve reached the point where very few releases are special because seemingly every release is “special.” Standing as an exception to that rule we have the expression I’ll be reviewing today: the 2022 Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch bourbon.
You see, Four Roses Master Distiller Brent Elliott is now on his seventh iteration of the brand’s most highly sought after annual expression. From the very beginning he’s made the case that this is a release that deserves your attention. Sure, there are hoards of Four Roses’ cult-like fans who will tell you this expression is exceptional, but what exactly makes it so?
As you may already know, Four Roses is famous for having 10 distinct bourbon recipes which they create using two mashbills and five unique yeast strains. Allow me here to digress into a brief history lesson…
Soon after being purchased by Seagram in 1943, Four Roses became one of five Kentucky distilleries owned by the company. Those distilleries were the Athertonville Distillery, the Henry McKenna Distillery, Seagram’s Calvert Distillery, the Old Lewis Hunter Distillery, and the Old Prentice Distillery in Lawrenceburg, which would eventually be renamed the Four Roses Distillery.
While each of these sites produced whiskey, the lion’s share of it simply went into Seagram’s blended whiskeys like Seagram’s 7 Crown and Four Roses Blended Whiskey (which I previously wrote about here.
Most interestingly, those five distilleries all shared two mashbills while utilizing their own individual yeast strains. In time, as four of the five sites were eventually shuttered, all of their respective yeast strains were sent to Four Roses in Lawrenceburg. It’s from that consolidation where the brand gets their 10 distinct recipes from.
Today, with all of those options at his disposal, it takes both imagination and a clear-cut vision for Brent Elliott to craft a release that effectively showcases the full range of flavor Four Roses bourbon can achieve, year after year. By eschewing the more quotidian goal of creating a consistent flavor profile, Brent has sought instead to strive toward the loftier pursuit of creating a consistency in quality. This is an important distinction.
Having achieved that aim more often than not, Four Roses fans are annually made to consider: what will Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch taste like this year? With the expectation of superlative quality as the only constant, one is left to wonder whether Brent will opt for a bolder profile (as he did with 2020’s release reviewed here by Taylor) or a mellow one?
Luckily, Four Roses is always kind enough to include information about which recipes are used in these limited editions and so before we even begin we can make some assumptions about the 2022 blend.
Let’s take a quick look at each recipe included in this batch:
- A 14 year OESF, indicating their lower rye mashbill and an herbal profile with their “F” yeast strain.
- A 14 year OESV, again with the lower rye mashbill, and their “V” yeast strain which creates a “delicate fruit and caramel” flavor profile.
- A 15 year OESK with the same mashbill as above, but with the spice-laden “K” yeast strain.
- And finally, a 20 year OBSV consisting of the brand’s high rye mashbill with the “V” yeast strain for a “delicate fruit and rye” profile.
For this release Brent Elliott paired several lower rye mashbills with yeast strains noted for their spicy and fruit-forward notes, on top of a bit of herbaceousness. While the percentages of each recipe are undisclosed (a gripe I’d like to see rectified at some point) we can immediately note that there should be a fair bit of balance in this year’s limited edition. I’ve always found Four Roses’ inclusion of these recipe breakdowns interesting as it shows a welcome level of transparency and adds yet another layer to the tasting experience.
After spending a bit of time imagining the flavor profile that blend of recipes might produce (as I’m sure you are as well, dear reader) I finally cracked open my bottle to begin today’s review. I should note here that I was graciously sent a sample of this limited edition free of charge, though that will in no way effect my score. I’d like to thank everyone at Four Roses for affording me this opportunity, and particularly Brent Elliott for assembling this blend.
The 2022 Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch produced just over 14,000 bottles and clocks in at 109 proof (54.5% ABV). As always, this expression is non-chill filtered and it carries a suggested retail price of $179.99.
Now let’s give it a try!
Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch 2022 – Review
Color: Light amber.
On the nose: Right away I’m welcomed by a hefty dose of caramel to go with aromas of Rainier cherries and apricot plus some candied ginger. After swirling in the glass a few times those notes are joined by cinnamon, clove, and some slightly browned pie crust. There’s also the faintest whiff of mint to go with the aforementioned medley, and it all strikes me as a classic Four Roses nose executed deftly. Anticipation builds.
In the mouth: A good bit of allspice sizzles up the palate before vanilla extract, bright cherries, and a dollop of caramel fan out to the edges of the tongue. On a second sip I’m struck by the impressively slick mouthfeel, which carries with it waves of rich oak and the cinnamon from the nose before cresting and leaving a lovely touch of honey in its wake. The finish is only slightly drying and it’s there where the candied ginger and mint find a home, leaving every region of the mouth with some fun flavors to explore.
As I initially suspected, the 2022 edition of Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch appears to be a study in balance. Brent Elliott plays all of the hits from the “classic bourbon” catalog. Tasked as I am with being critical, I would note that for a barrel proof bourbon this is a mellow expression that, despite an initial hit of spice, really defers to being a well-integrated and approachable pour. I’m not sure you could really call being “well-integrated” a quibble, but I mean that to say those who prefer more of a punch in the mouth might prefer iterations from years past. Personally, however, I feel this is an exemplary release that’s more crowd pleasing than many previous editions. The Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch 2022 showcases its age without coming across as too oaky, and that’s really a credit to Brent Elliott’s blending acumen. As a result I feel comfortable awarding this my highest score to date.