Four Roses Single Barrel Private Selection OBSF vs. OESF

Four Roses Private Selection Single Barrel, Barrel Strength: OBSF vs. OESF.

Four Roses Single Barrel Barrel Strength OBSF OESF

by Stephen Netherton

In a previous post, I introduced my intention to review each of the ten Four Roses Private Selection recipes. These bottles, unfortunately, are not easy to come by, as none are available in Kansas. Undaunted, I will persist.

In case your are unfamiliar, or in need of a review, below is the Four Roses infographic from the company website explaining the two mash bills and five yeast strains utilized to yield the ten varieties of Four Roses Private Selection Single Barrel, Barrel Strength bourbon:

As I wrote previously, it is not the high-rye and low-rye mash bills that piques my interest with this lineup. It’s the proprietary yeast strains.

I looked more into the background of how Four Roses not only developed these yeast strains, but also promoted their use to stake a unique claim in the bourbon market.

Fred Minnick authored an excellent overview of this development in a 2014 article for Whiskey Magazine. But, before delving into the yeast’s origins, some brand history is necessary. That’s because Four Roses’ five yeast strains actually have their roots in Four Roses’ prior parent company — Seagram’s.

Many look upon Seagram’s with disdain for what it did to Four Roses. In the late 1950s, after Four Roses had become one of America’s top selling bourbon brands following the repeal of Prohibition, Seagram’s decided to discontinue selling Four Roses bourbon in the United States. Instead, Seagram shifted its attention internationally, selling Four Roses bourbon in Asia and Europe. Back in America, the Four Roses brand was exclusively used for a blended whiskey, which was historically awful. Apparently, Four Roses’ former mast distiller Jim Rutledge even tried to buy the brand back himself to put an end to this horror. Thankfully,  in 2001, Four Roses was purchased by its current parent company, Kirin.

Despite Seagram’s apparent attempt to cut off its nose to spite its face with the Four Roses brand, the company should be thanked for its ingenuity, at least on the research and development side.

Seagram’s R&D experimented with fermentation methods to produce proprietary yeast strains. Originally, the intent was to utilize these yeast strains to achieve a consistent flavor profile after several different whiskey barrels of varying ages were blended together. Seagram’s was so committed to this that it built a micro-distillery solely for the purpose of experimenting with these yeast strains.

After nearly two decades of experimentation, by 1983, Seagram’s had settled upon two mash bills and five yeast strains.

Ever wondered why the seemingly random letters are assigned to Four Roses’ two mash bills and five yeast strains? Four Roses simply stuck with the letters assigned to the recipes and yeasts that were ultimately selected during experimentation.

Each yeast strain and mash bill combination yields a particular flavor profile, as seen in the hangtag accompanying one of the bottles below:

Four Roses Single Barrel Private Selection

I’ve recently acquired the high-rye and low-rye bottles containing the “F” yeast strain. Without further ado, here’s the review:

Four Roses OESF (9 years, 8 months, 111 proof)

Nose: Vanilla, caramel, sweet cream, oak, twizzlers, quite of bit of ethanol.

Palate: Cinnamon sweet cream, prominent spice, much more so than indicated on the nose; the spice is difficult to identify beyond being a “baking” spice.

Finish: Medium long, cherries, twizzlers, and ethanol heat ramps back up, with some light mint.

Four Roses OBSF (11 years, 4 months, 111.4 proof)

Nose: Less heat than the OESF, but stronger aromas; musty rye spice, cloves, stronger oak, caramel, dried red fruit.

Palate: Strong juicy fruit gum; full bodied, oily and mouth coating; rye spice, but the spice seems to be mellowed by the oak notes.

Finish: Long and lingering, blackberries, sourdough, and mint.

Conclusions:

The first thing that stood out to me was the higher heat and spice in the OESF, despite its lower rye content and nearly identical proof to the OBSF. The age difference is my best guess to explain why the OBSF’s spice and heat seemed more tame.

Though I enjoyed the OESF, the OBSF was outstanding. It is similar to a combination of watermelon, mint, and pepper – the cool fruit and fresh mint paired with the pepper’s kick is a cohesive trinity of flavors. The flavor profile is much more complementary and balanced compared to the OESF. Perhaps with additional aging, the OESF could achieve more balance.

I’ll store these bottles until I am able to acquire more for comparison. The hunt continues for the remaining combinations: OESV, OBSO, OBSK, OESK, OBSQ, and OESQ.

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