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Review: Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch Bourbon (2012)

Four Roses first introduced a limited edition small batch bourbon a good 4 or so years ago. At that time the distillery called this product “Mariage” (one “r”) because it started as a marriage of 2 different bourbons from the distillery’s ten bourbon recipes.

In speaking with Four Roses Master Distiller, Jim Rutledge, in early 2011 (videos here), he informed me that the term “Mariage” was often mispronounced by the buying public. Consumers were confusing the term with a the wine term, meritage. In addition, the name was limiting for the distillery due to the common meaning of marrying just two components. Jim was interested in creating a small batch blend that didn’t constrain him to only two whiskeys.

For the 2010 release, Four Roses chose to stick with simplicity, calling the bourbon the “Limited Edition Small Batch”. The name has stuck since. The 2012 edition is a blend of a 17 & 11 year old OBSV, 12 year old OBSK, and a 12 year old OESK.

For clarification, the “B” in the designation refers to the distillery’s higher rye (35%) bourbon while “E” is the lower rye (20%) version. Even at 20%, that’s a great deal more rye content than the average bourbon whiskey on the market. Venturing a guess, I’d say average is closer to the low teens in terms of percentages. In addition, the “V” in the recipe refers to the distillery’s fruitier, creamier yeast strain. “K” refers to a spicier strain of yeast. These four whiskeys were “mingled” (as Jim refers to it) together to create a harmonious blend. The results are something truly epic.

Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch Bourbon (2012), 55.7% abv (111.4Proof), $70/bottle
Color: Medium Amber/Copper/Burnt Orange
Nose: Cinnamon, allspice, candied orange, brandied cherries, maple fudge, and heaps of vanilla. So full of bright wood spice tamed by sweet, soft fruit.
Palate: Vanilla cream, maple, and toffee on the palate with prickles of cinnamon and chili heat. Bitter orange, grapefruit, and cherry add a layer of fruitiness. Well structured, and layered flavors unfold with each sip.
Finish: Wood and spices bring on warmth while the fruit and vanilla notes linger long.
Overall: Four Roses has managed to create one of the great bourbons of all time with the 2012 Limited Edition Small Batch. I can’t think of a more complex and satisfying pour of whiskey for 2012 than this one. It’s amazing that in a time when the Pappy and the Antique Collection products seem to gain all of the press, a whiskey of this stature can still be found on shelves. What I enjoy so much about Four Roses is that it tastes like………Four Roses. There’s nothing else quite like it. The wood never dominates and these whiskeys amaze you with both their finesse and their power. At 55.1% alcohol, I had little trouble sipping this neat. A splash of water tones down the heat, ramps up the fruit, and makes for a completely different (yet not less satisfying) sip. Well done Four Roses – my shoe-in American Whiskey of the Year.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.8 (Epic)

45 Comments

  1. sku says:

    Great review and couldn’t agree more. This was my favorite bourbon of the year by a mile.

    Did Rutledge tell you why they misspelled “marriage” on the first release? I always wondered about that.

  2. Carter Hopkins says:

    Welcome back! Now if I can only locate a bottle of the 2012.

  3. Sku, you were on this one early on. I’m late to the party – but I think you nailed it in yours also. Tremendous tremendous whiskey. Also, damn if Jim didn’t tell me but I forget the details (which is why I didn’t go into detail in the post). I’m going totally off memory, but I believe he said it was the french spelling. I am speaking out of turn here, but I think they essentially got a little too cute on the naming, recognized that after the first couple of years in talking with consumers, and simplified things quickly.

    Cheers!

  4. Matt Ferguson says:

    I absolutely love this stuff. This bourbon isn’t a “novelty” bourbon like a lot of bourbons in the same tier of hype, it’s just a completely solid bourbon that exemplifies every aspect of what a great bourbon should be. I have never tasted anything that did such an elaborate dance around my palate, hitting every one of my taste receptors with something memorable. What’s most impressive is how well-defined the different characteristics of this are – you can pick quite clearly every note that makes this wonderful! Nothing gets lost! A most expert blend, and every sip is an adventure.

    The one downside? I feel some amount of guilt in knowing that every sip I take of this is one sip less the world has of this release. But I have faith that Jim will keep the good stuff coming for years to come! Spicy, sweet, complex, smooth, satisfying, perfect.

  5. Max says:

    Wasn’t any easier to find on shelves here than BTAC. I had a chance at a few online but never saw one locally.

  6. Tony says:

    Thanks for the review. Agree that this is truly a great whiskey although not that easy to find, they never sent any to Michigan so had to do some work to get it. But the work was worth it and anyone who has the opportunity should pick a bottle of this. Four Roses is making great bourbon.

    Best regards, Tony

  7. castelletti says:

    I wish I could find one more bottle of this stuff. If there is a subjective “better” pour of whiskey I’d sure love to meet it.

  8. Cincy Hound says:

    I completely agree, this bourbon is epic. Frightening to think that it is a limited edition and won’t be around much longer. Managed to snag a couple bottles over the past three weeks that are headed to the “secret stash”. Very much looking forward to the 2013 release.

  9. Chris Vela says:

    Welcome back Jason hope 2013 is treating you well so far; I’m with Carter finding any limited edition bottle is proving beyond difficult as whiskey has become more and more popular; if I may ask how do you come across this, pappy and all the rest?

  10. Tim Read says:

    Agreed on this one, Jason. It was a great and kind of came out of nowhere to be far and away my favorite of 2012.

    The only thing I noted to be aware of is that over time, if left to oxidize, the wood comes through in a less than flattering way on this. Consider it a good excuse for making this a drinker and not a treasure, as well as sharing with friends. :)

  11. Josh says:

    Sadly, I never saw this one on the shelf here in Houston (been looking for 4 months). I am convinced that none was shipped down this way! Bummer, but I will continue to keep my eye out. Can you compare this edition to any other bourbon? The 2011 LE SB is still on shelves…

  12. Archaeology Carl says:

    Can’t say this is one of my favorites. It’s a nice, well rounded bourbon, but when you factor in the price I think there are better bottles of bourbon out there. I’ve tried it many times…some of it in double blind tastings. While it is well balanced and has an easy nose, nothing really stands out to me. I’m surprised, given the number of glowing reviews out there. Admittedly I’ve not been a huge fan of most Four Roses products, but I do love the Limited Edition Single Barrels. Perhaps the Limited Editions have a heartier taste and longer finish that suit me better. The 2012 Limited Edition Small Batch certainly isn’t bad, and I’m glad I purchased a bottle to try. But to me this is another example of how everyone’s preferences are not the same. On a side note, I do appreciate your posts and reviews and look forward to many more. Best wishes in 2013 (and beyond). Carl

  13. Mark says:

    Jason,

    I think you are way off base, 4 Roses is bad and this bourbon is the worst *wink wink.* Everyone should keep looking for Pappy and BTAC, nothing to see here, nothing to see.

    All kidding aside, it’s good to see 4 Roses getting the praise they deserve, but it will be a sad day if these releases wind up getting thrown into the insanity of the other annual releases.

  14. CB says:

    I lucked into a bottle a couple of weeks ago in Portland as I was on the hunt for the 2012 Limited Ed Single Barrel.
    With the similarity in names I actually thought I had the Single Barrel until I got it home. Not too shabby of a runner up hmmm?

    In any case they’re both top of the heap tipples and I’m even happier I came up with the Barrel Strength!

  15. Ryan says:

    There are multiple bottles on the shelf in the Minneapolis area. Just picked up one today! Can’t wait to try it.

  16. Randy Watson says:

    By far the best bourbon of the year. This following the fantastic release earlier in the year of the 2012 Single Barrell Limited Edition. Four Roses is on a roll and has replaced Pappy on my top shelf.

  17. Joseph Allen says:

    I was very much looking forward to this review and you – as well as this bourbon – did not disappoint. I was shocked to learn the amount of rye in this blend. I’m normally not a huge fan of the higher rye content, but this is OUTSTANDING bourbon. I have several bottles of the 2012 Limited Edition Single Barrel (12 year OESK, 112.8 proof), which you rated a 9.5, and enjoy it immensely, so I was anxious to sample this Small Batch. I’ve had the bottle for a month and had not opened it until a few days ago – and WOW! What a surpise – It packs plenty of heat, but the layers make it remarkably easy to drink neat or with a splash.
    I live in Bowling Green, KY and it is (wonderfully) readily available in almost every liquor store here – that is until I texted this review to several of my friends a few minutes ago.
    Thanks, Jason, for this wonderful service you provide to those of us who love good bourbon and value reliable opinions. As usual, in my opinion, you (and Four Roses) are spot on with this one. Cheers!

  18. Texas says:

    Josh, I thought I read where one of the more connected Houstonians got some of the 2012 at Spec’s..maybe I am wrong. The 2011 is still very good, you need to grab some. Maybe all the remaining 2011 is why Spec’s did not get an allotment of the 2012 if that did happen…

  19. Nelson says:

    Hi Jason,

    There is something incorrect with your post. The 2012 Four Roses Limited Edition Small batch is 55.7 abv (111.4 proof) and NOT the 55.1/110.2 you listed in your review.

    Did you accidentally review the 2011 version or some single barrel version? Or perhaps you meant to type ’7′ instead of ’1′?

    Best

  20. Nelson says:

    Jason,

    Just double checked, the 2011 was 55.1%. This is going to be fairly interesting because if you gave the 2011 a 9.8/Epic, the 2012 is going to be a 9.99/SUPER-EPIC!

    If you ordered the bottle online, was there a chance the retailer sent you the ’11 instead of the ’12 by mistake? The bottle clearly states which year’s release it is.

  21. Nelson says:

    Based on my private-detective skills, the photo posted by Jason’s twitter account clearly shows the 2012 edition: https://twitter.com/i/#!/jmpyle/media/slideshow?url=pic.twitter.com%2F3XY9agEj

    I’m guessing he meant to type 55.7 instead of 55.1 (2011 edition).

    Mystery solved.

  22. Josh says:

    @ Texas – If someone was able to find it at the Specs, they were lucky! Nobody working at the store ever really had a good answer on the 2012 and it’s availability. They had about 20 – 25 bottles of the 2011 sitting on the shelf from the middle of the summer until the end of December. Once all the reviews started coming out on the 2012, they all vanished. I called the other day and they had 2 bottles left of the 2011. Still on the fence wheter or not I want to drop $85 on it, as most reviews I read for that release were just ‘ok’.

  23. Jody says:

    Still looking for this one around Nashville. I just got the last bottle of 2012 LE Single Barrel from my favorite local store. It is amazing so I can only imagine how good the small batch must be. So glad I discovered your website last month, Jason. Love the reviews…keep ‘em coming!

  24. Dean E says:

    I have to say I’m with Carl. I just can’t understand the huge buzz for this whiskey. I tried the 2012 LE Single and Small Batch side-by-side in a recent tasting and was disappointed with both. I felt the Small Batch was well-rounded and tasty, but not as complex as I’d hoped. Maybe my expectations were just too high after all the buzz. I’d say my palate was having an off day, but others who tasted with me felt the same. I’ll try it again another time.

  25. Thanks for the good eyes on the alcohol content guys! This is the 2012 release however the percentage alcohol is written by hand. My “7″ looks like a 1. I did some looking as well and confirmed it is indeed 55.7. There is no proof noted on the bottle so it was difficult to recognize it for anything but 55.1. Thanks for catching it. Corrected!

  26. Vince says:

    Best Bourbon of the year Jason! You are right on the money! Keep up the great work and I hope to see you soon!

  27. Joseph Allen says:

    Jody – drive an hour north to Bowling Green. A great little bar called Wino’s Depot has several bottles of both the Limited Edition Small Batch and the Limited Edition Single Barrel. While you’re there they usually have 12-16 great beers on tap as well. Worth the drive, I assure you. (and no, sadly, I don’t own any part of that establishment)

  28. Chris says:

    I splurged and got it. Jason, you were right; amazing stuff. I can’t find any fault in it. Great flavors of wood, spice, yeast, fruit, etc., all perfectly balanced out. The blending of ages and mashbills is epic. BTW, mine also looks like “55.1″. It’s incredibly smooth for that high an ABV!

    I have a feeling I got the last one in town. Only one shop had it, and it was their last bottle. Everyone seems to have either the LE, and/or Small Batch and Single Barrel, but not this one.

  29. Jody says:

    Thanks for the recommendation, Joseph!

  30. Kevin says:

    Carl,
    Regarding your comment “there are better bottles of bourbon out there”, which ones do you feel are better? While I am enjoying this Small Batch, I also am not blown away. As Dean E said, maybe my expectations were too great.

  31. terriblecertainty says:

    I just picked up two bottles of this and a bottle of the LE Single Barrel. Anxious about dropping that much dough, but I’ve heard nothing but good things.
    Jason, as a new reader I just wanted to say thanks. I’m enjoying your work.

  32. RJ says:

    Thanks for the review Jason. I was lucky enough to score one bottle of this, but have not picked it up yet. Looking forward to my first taste. Have you given up the video reviews on your site? I really used to enjoy them and hope you bring them back soon.

  33. Jody says:

    Oh my goodness…just found a store in town that got an extra batch in…scored one of the remaining bottles. Can’t wait to get home tonight and try it!

  34. Gary Partoyan says:

    Not all that great for me, nor is the LE 2012 Single Barrel. Got one of each, tasted with my neighbor, he loved Small, I preferred Single over Small. I think it’s the Four Roses DNA, rather than this bourbon. I just never really like the flavors of any FR bourbons. Obviously these are outstanding bourbons, so I’m not knocking anyone’s preference. Maybe it’s the higher-than-most-other’s rye content that does not appeal to me. I’d give high ratings for objective things like body, integration, dynamic experiences of smell and taste. Just not my favorite flavors. I’d much rather have Stagg or Pappy 15 or WLW. As for Jason’s 9.8… I don’t agree. A rating that high should, to me anyway, be granted to a bourbon that can transcend flavor preferences across the spectrum of fans and aficionados. Four Roses may be wonderful to many, but I also suspect it is off-putting–or at least not a delight–for many others. Pappy 15 from SW got a 9.8, and I can see that because I reckon almost every bourbon drinker would find it pretty wonderful, and very few I know have said they are “not a huge fan”. But this is very subjective stuff, and it’s Jason’s blog, and he’s great about making it clear that the ratings are his own and not dictates for the rest of us to follow. Thanks for a great blog, Jason. And if you’re ever in DC/VA in the next year or so, I’ll probably have some of my FR LE 2012 Single Barrel left for ya. Cheers, and drink your bourbon!

  35. SCmayor says:

    Gary,

    A lot of truth in your post but I feel the high scoring wheated bourbons like Pappy are almost too darn smooth for thier own good.

    With higher rye mashbills you certainly introduce some tough to contain flavors but when nailed I think represent the best of what bourbon can be….truly unique, massive flavor and all the smoothness and drinkability there is.

    I think 4roses sb le does that in spades and I think we should appreciate the effort.

    I guess I am saying that while PVW is certainly world class but I give 4roses some extra credit for pushing the envelope a bit.

  36. Harald Moore says:

    I’ve been meaning to revisit this one. I’d seen a couple of rave reviews, and very much enjoyed the 2011 version, so my expectations were high…unfortunately, my first encounter with it left me disappointed. I’m hoping that I find my taste buds were just a bit off that day, and that my second sampling brings a smile to my face.
    I don’t recall much about my initial impression, other than it being drier than I like.

  37. Joe says:

    Josh,

  38. Joe says:

    …hit enter instead of TAB.
    Josh,
    Did you find any? They have had two shipments in the Houston area that I know of. Texas is right though, the 2011 and 2012 are both great.

  39. Josh says:

    Joe, absolutely no luck. I heard from a pretty good source that Texas wasn’t even supposed to get the 2012 LE SB this year but a few cases slipped in due to the sku’s matching the 2011 or something like that. If you get a lead on a bottle here in Houston, let me know. I am headed to Louisiana in a few weeks and in the past have had good luck locating hard to find whiskeys…

  40. Joe says:

    Josh,
    They should have some at Specs. If you can’t find any PM me at SB (smknjoe.)

  41. Joe says:

    Josh, I hope you found a bottle. If you’re headed to Louisiana I want to put an order in for a bottle or 2 of hard-to-finds!

    Jason, thanks for the site. It’s a great resource for bourbon nerds.

  42. RyanV says:

    I just scored two bottles of this for $90 a piece. I can’t wait to try these.
    Thanks Jason . . . over the last year and a half of exploring bourbon and scotch, I think 4 Roses is now my favorite distillery.
    So with this rating are you saying this is your favorite bourbon you’ve ever had along with the Pappy15? I know this is all subjective, but I’m curious about your answer.

  43. RyanV says:

    These two bottles won’t last long.

  44. RyanV – it’s right up there with it for sure!

  45. Josh says:

    Scored 3 bottles of the 2012 LE SmB this week in Dallas! believe it or not, the distributor still had them stored in their warehouse?!? Must have been clearancing them out for the 2013. Looking forward to doing a comparison with your 2 highest rated SourMash Manifesto bourbons. This one and an older PVW15….