The 2020 Limited Edition Small Batch Bourbon from Four Roses was one of our most anticipated bourbon releases of the year, and it exceeded expectations effortlessly.
Master Distiller Brent Elliott is comparably spartan with releases in comparison to many of his Kentucky peers, but it’s hard to argue with his results. And part of what makes his whiskeys so successful is a bucking of clickbait-worthy trends that generate mediocre whiskey, including the demand for high-number age statements.
The 2020 Limited Edition Small Batch is composed of four selections from the Four Roses bourbon catalogue. As you may know, Four Roses has ten separate recipes that they produce year-round: two separate mashbills each fermented with five unique years strains (2 x 5 = 10).
There are endless miles of rabbit hole you can traverse if you want to find out more about the differences (and which ones are cult favorites), but this year’s bottling is a blend of the following: 19-year OBSK, 16-year OESK, 12-year OBSV and 12-year OESV.
These days the average drinker understands that crossing younger stock with older stock can make for some really great whiskey, but if you’re raising an eyebrow at the idea of blending 19-year bourbon with 12-year bourbon, trust us: it’s not a “waste.”
Despite what the marketing departments in Scotland might have you believe, most whisky doesn’t taste good beyond a certain age. Whisky “aging” is really just the process of high-proof alcohol stripping flavoring compounds and color from the inner walls of a wooden barrel. The longer you leave it in there, the more flavor it’ll strip out.
The problem is that, at some point, the whiskey will start to strip out flavors we don’t actually want to taste, which can leave whiskey tasting like old sawdust or, in some cases, like a can of fresh varnish. A little of these things can be good, when properly balanced by more crowd-pleasing flavors.
This is where Four Roses master distiller Brent Elliott earns that “master” title, yet again. As he said himself in a press release, “Each batch in this year’s limited edition bottling is an exceptional whiskey that could have stood on its own as a single barrel offering, but in this case the sum is even greater than the parts – as together these bring a perfect balance of bright, vibrant flavors and aromas from the 12 and 16-year-old barrels combined with the oak tones and aged expressions from the 19-year-old batch.”
The 2020 Small Batch is the Freddie Mercury of this year’s rare releases—it demonstrates incredible range with regards to flavor, and control within that range.
Even from the nose this is a gorgeous whiskey. It starts with initial pops of clove and cinnamon, but a lingering, fresh apple sweetness is sustained throughout. Further hints of pepper and leather develop as well, and they’re reflected again later on the palate.
On the first sip, butterscotch and dark honey are broken up by intonations of dried apricot for a few moments, before a powerful white pepper and cinnamon note booms through the experience. As it fades, vanilla syrup, orange and old oak notes fill the space, leading into a finish of rye spice and a dry, oak and apricot finish.
This incredible whiskey is easily in the top three of a shortlist of great bottles from Four Roses over the last decade (and perhaps longer). At 114.4 proof, it drinks considerably softer than expected.
There are 14,040 bottles of this whiskey in the wild, and at $150 a piece retail, they’re on our priority list. Sometimes tastes differ, but it’s hard to see any bourbon lover not appreciating this bottle deeply. When it goes on sale later in September, you’ll want to be one of the ones who tries it.