“Isn’t desire always the same, whether the object is present or absent? Isn’t the object always absent? — This isn’t the same languor: there are two words: Pothos, desire for the absent being, and Himéros, the more burning desire for the present being.” – Roland Barthes
Four Roses’ Limited Edition offerings annually cradle the imagination in a way I believe few other expressions have. The way that Four Roses obsessives pore over the recipes of each release, project their anticipation onto the imagined flavor profile, and then spend the length of every sip parsing the impact of each barrel on the resulting liquid seems unique among highly sought-after blended releases.
I think it stems from the entrenched camps created by Four Roses’ ten recipes. Where some may prefer the sweet fruit notes commonly present in OESO or OESV recipes, others have a tendency toward the lineup’s oddity, OBSO, which has never previously been a component in Four Roses’ Limited Edition blend.
The motivations are manifold and the justifications are frequently deployed ex post facto but, because there are fervent fans of each recipe, Four Roses Limited Edition offerings tend to serve as an American whiskey Rorschach test. The prognostication of what each release should be can at times stand in the way of what it actually is. And what Four Roses Limited Edition typically is, is outstanding whiskey. Given the broad palette Master Distiller Brent Elliott has at his disposal, this should come as little surprise. However, it is noteworthy that this annual experiment faces twin obstacles in both the breadth of recipes but also a great range of ages at Mr. Elliott’s avail.
For 2023, Four Roses Limited Edition celebrates the brand’s 135th Anniversary (having been established in 1888), though this is just the 16th iteration in the Limited Edition series. To mark this momentous occasion, they’ve opted to include the oldest bourbon ever blended into the annual expression, with 5% of the final product coming from a 25 year old OBSV batch. The rest of the blend is comprised of a 16 year old OESV (20%), a 12 year old OESK (35%), and the base of the blend is a 14 year OESV (40%).
For his part, Brent Elliott said, “Once the ideal balance of (three initial batches) was achieved, I looked at several other batches of various ages and recipes to add an extra layer of nuance to the blend. Ultimately, I selected the 25-year-old OBSV, which melds perfectly with the other batches and adds additional complexity and depth.” It’s worth acknowledging that the 186 barrel blend went through 35 initial tests before the product we have before us today was achieved. While it’s not typical for a brand to divulge just how many trials were errors before reaching the end result, it’s commendable that Four Roses sought to further educate consumers with this nifty tidbit.
In the interest of being forthright, I should say that Four Roses provided a sample of this whiskey for me to try in advance of its release, though I’ve been slow to review it. Blame it on the aforementioned allure of preconceived notions, flavor forecasting and the like, but I very much wanted to enjoy this whiskey and so I attempted to corral my expectations before giving it a try.
Was I able to succeed? I believe so, as I ended up cracking it open on a whim during a muggy September afternoon. Released from the burden of expectations, having avoided the deluge of other reviews, and able to sip this whiskey at my leisure with a fresh palate I’m finally ready to share my thoughts with you, dear reader.
To take care of our final programming notes, this whiskey comes in at 108 proof (54% ABV) and the release’s 15,060 hand-numbered bottles have an MSRP of $200, which is a $20 increase over the 2022 edition. While rising costs are typically given little thought in whiskey reviews, it should be known that Malt utilizes a price-sensitive scoring systemand, though this sample was graciously provided to me by the distillery, I’ll be taking the $200 mark into consideration during my final judgement.
Four Roses 135th Anniversary Limited Edition – Review
Color: Golden amber
On the nose: Golden delicious apples and brown sugar lead the way before cinnamon, allspice, clove, and cooked red apple come in. There’s a touch of orange peel beckoning beneath the surface but, for the most part, this is a whiskey that makes its well-aged nature obvious upfront, courtesy of the complex and refined aromas that come wafting out of the glass. In time, a steady pulse of vanilla ice cream crops up as well.
In the mouth: Right away there’s a bursting bomb of brown sugar and lush dark cherry that detonates across the palate and holds tight to every crevice. Sure, there’s leather that emerges along with the clove and allspice from the nose, an elusive mint sprig note, and the gentle beckoning of vanilla ice cream… but what’s most striking is how balanced and well integrated each of these notes is. None of them mar the experience of the other or appear muddled, which is a real delight as they each deserve their due attention.
Once settled in there are gobs of gooey caramel to be found and, while the presence of well-aged oak is there, it doesn’t detract or distract, but rather serves as a bridge between the spice and sweet flavors. The mouthfeel isn’t exemplary, but the finish is alluringly long, leaving you with the impression of cocktail cherry syrup that stubbornly clings to the corner of your lips.
Consider me thoroughly impressed. I’ve painted myself into something of a corner in that, I very much enjoyed this whiskey more than the 2022 iteration, but awarding it a higher grade seems precarious. I’ve only ever awarded one whiskey higher than an 8, and Four Roses 135th Anniversary Limited Edition stands as the biggest threat to that claim all year. In hindsight, I would probably deduct a point from Four Roses’ 2022 Limited Edition in order to better commend this year’s expression as the triumph it truly is.
But let’s take a step back. At $200 this is unapologetically expensive bourbon, even in a liquor landscape that’s seen a steep rise in MSRP over the past few years. That said, it’s almost a bargain compared to my previous high score (King of Kentucky, $250 MSRP) and as aforementioned I like it a great deal more than the 2022 Four Roses Limited Edition ($180 MSRP). So, set against that backdrop, I think a superlative score is warranted.
To be clear, Four Roses 135th Anniversary Limited Edition is not “flawless” whiskey. A bit more spice would provide additional balance and a more viscous mouthfeel would elevate the decadence of the flavors, but even with those nits picked, 2023’s Four Roses Limited Edition is quite possibly the best whiskey of the year.