I wrote the following last year when introducing Four Roses’ annual Limited Edition Small Batch release, and it’s just as true now as it was then:
I can’t really imagine what it must be like, to be in the shoes of someone like Four Roses Master Distiller Brent Elliott, especially when it comes time to design the blend for each year’s Limited Edition Small Batch Bourbon. With Four Roses’ classic 10-recipe foundation, there’s an endless permutation of avenues one can explore in making a final choice—no shortage of very different, eclectic routes to be taken. You can craft a product in any given year that is true to a “classic” Four Roses profile, or focus more heavily on rarer Four Roses recipes that veer off the beaten path. All I can say is, I don’t know how I’d choose which direction to explore on a yearly basis.
Each year, then, the annual Limited Edition release stands out as the most anticipated of the Four Roses calendar, at least partially to see how Elliott will choose to ply his craft. And for this year’s newly announced 2022 batch, it sounds like a greater degree of subtlety and finesse was what was desired. As opposed to the 2021 batch, which was the strongest in the series to date at 114.4 proof, the 2022 batch dials things back a little bit, ending as something “unique, layered, mellow and elegant,” in the words of Elliott.
What we have here is a bourbon crafted from four of the company’s 10 bourbon recipes: Specifically, this year is made from 14-year-old OESV, 14-year-old OESF, 15-year-old OESK and 20-year-old OBSV. Of note there: This is a significantly older blend than last year’s, with more influence from the older and oakier bourbons. Also, an “F” yeast strain isn’t always among the choices for the Limited Edition batch, and is significantly less common than the V or K strains. The “F” strain is described by the distillery as featuring some overtly herbal notes; OESF specifically is described as “herbs and mint.” It feels like it’s probably included here to provide some drier complexity to richer fruit and spice impressions of the V and K strains.
So with that said, let’s get to tasting this year’s 109 proof Limited Edition Small Batch Bourbon.
On the nose, this bourbon features a deft interplay between richness, oak, spice and subtle fruit. I’m getting toffee and nutty cocoa, along with clove/allspice, old oak and slight smoke. At the same time, there’s something distinctly evocative of fresh, sweet cream butter, with just a touch of apricot stone fruit as well. The nose suggests a moderate sweetness, but plenty of spice.
On the palate, the first thing one really takes note of here is the silky soft texture. It has a really wonderful mouthfeel, extremely smooth and a little creamy, which amplifies the buttery note of the nose. Oak and spice are two of the biggest players of the flavor profile, with waves of old, seasoned oak (not bitter in the least, and with little tannin) contributing big spice notes of cinnamon sugar and allspice. These are supported by richer impressions of molasses and some dark cherry fruitiness, but the overall profile really isn’t on the overtly sweet side at all. Nor is the oak really of the drying variety; the final bourbon isn’t being “dried out” by the oak, it’s just not as sweet on a baseline level as some of the other, more recent years of the Limited Edition. Instead, it’s a more delicate profile, featuring vanilla been and spicier green notes coming out over time, products of the F yeast strain. That rye spice and mint has been preserved from the original Four Roses flavor profile, and it plays nicely with all the old oak and spice, with just enough sweetness to get it where it’s going.
All in all, it’s another wonderful LE Small Batch release; one of the few big limited edition annual releases that never seems to disappoint. It’s perhaps not as bold or memorable as some of the other recent years of this release from Four Roses, but even then it’s still among the best bourbons I’ve had in 2022 to date. Good luck finding it in the wild.
Distillery: Four Roses
City: Lawrenceburg, KY
Style: Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey
ABV: 54.5% (109 proof)
Availability: Limited, 750 ml bottles, $180 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident beer and liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.