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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)

Booker’s Small Batch Bourbon Review


Booker Noe was Jim Beam’s grandson. He was also the master distiller at his grandfather’s namesake operation for 40+ years until his death in 2004. In 1987, Booker introduced what is now one of Jim Beam’s flagship products, Booker’s Bourbon. Named after the man himself, this massive bourbon is aged on the 5th and 6th floors of a nine-story aging warehouse, which is the “heart” of the facility. It’s an uncut, unfiltered, barrel proof bourbon. This means the barrels are hand selected, batched, and then bottled with no additional water or chill filtration, allowing all of the flavor carriers in the bourbon to remain. Booker Noe wanted this bourbon to be pretty darn pure and unadulterated. Mission accomplished.

Booker’s Small Batch Bourbon, 63.70% abv (127.4 Proof), $50 (Batch #C03-I-16)

Color: Deep Dark Amber/Copper

Nose: Tight nose to start due to such a high alcohol content. It yields with 5-10 minutes of air time. Dry cedar, oak and vanilla hit first, followed by dark caramel, molasses, candied orange, a punch of rye, and cocoa. There’s a fruity quality to the nose as well that’s tough to pin down but quite prevalent.

Flavor: Grab the reigns and hold on tight – the flavors are so concentrated and intense. First there is a hefty dose of spice accentuated by the alcohol punch. Pepper and rye are anchored w/ rich caramel, vanilla, dried golden fruits, barrel char, and bitter orange. Oak integration is excellent. It’s much more in balance than its small batch brother from Knob Creek. Add a couple of splashes of water (if required) to calm things down a bit.

Finish: Long and as bold as the sip with more peppery bite, caramelized nuts, and some resiny oak.

Overall: Man, what a whiskey. I was honestly caught of guard by how fabulous this batch of Booker’s turned out to be. Over time I’ve noticed inconsistencies batch to batch, but when it’s on, Booker’s is as good as bourbon gets. Few bourbons capture sweetness, spice, fruit, and oak so well in their delivery. It’s a fitting homage to one of Bourbon History’s larger than life Icons.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.4 (Outstanding/Superb)

Baker’s Small Batch Bourbon Review

Baker’s Small Batch Bourbon, 7 Years Old, 53.5% abv (107 Proof), $42-48

Baker’s is our third review from the Jim Beam Small Batch collection consisting of Basil Hayden’s, Knob Creek Small Batch, and Booker’s. Aged 7 years, it’s one of the 2 youngest of the four, but it packs a considerable punch in terms of alcohol (107 proof).

Color: Deep Copper

Nose: The nose is tight to start. Caramel, roasted nuts, ripe banana, vanilla bean, cocoa, polished wood, and cedar come forward if left to sit for a spell. Try it neat before adding any water. In fact, if you can avoid it, I think experiencing this one neat is the best way to go.

Palate: I love the mouth feel – it’s thick, syrupy, and coating. Flavors of chewy caramel, vanilla custard, banana, and dried dark fruits abound. All of that is lifted by toasted nuts, sweet spices and resiny oak. This where the 107 proof has been used to “cut through” a very dense, sweet bourbon. Again, I preferred it neat.

Finish: Medium-long with sweetness of dried fruit, caramel and allspice. An interesting peppery quality emerges as well.

Overall: Baker’s is a very good bourbon, and I do mean very good. Having reviewed both Knob Creek Small Batch and Basil Hayden’s from the Jim Beam Small Batch Collection, Baker’s is definitely different. It has more sweetness, weight, and less rye forward flavor than Basil. It’s also much less oaky and dry than Knob Creek. My absolute biggest complaint is the price. At well over $40 in some parts, it’s moving into competition with a lot of fantastic American Whiskeys. Regardless, it’s good stuff if you love big, sweet, rich pours of whiskey.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.6 (Very Good/Excellent)

Basil Hayden’s Small Batch Bourbon Review

Basil Hayden’s Small Batch Bourbon, 8 Years Old, 40% abv (80 Proof), $30-38

Basil Hayden’s Bourbon is a part of Jim Beam’s Small Batch collection, which includes Knob Creek Small Batch, Baker’s 107, and Booker’s. Basil Hayden’s is the lightest bodied and highest rye recipe of the four, with as much as double the rye grain content. This bourbon is named after Mr. Hayden himself, who moved to KY in the late 1700s. He was a distiller and was reportedly one of the first to employ this very high rye mash bill for bourbon distillation. It yielded a very different flavor profile. So how does it fare?

Color: Light Amber/Golden

Nose: Clean, and crisp. Wildflower honey, mint, eucalyptus, loose leaf black tea, menthol, and dried citrus peel work in tandem with intense rye grain. Vanilla makes brief appearances. This nose could pass for rye whiskey, and it immediately put me into summer time.

Palate: Again, light with flavors of honey, mint, vanilla, candied lemon peel, and rye in spades.

Finish: We’re seeing a theme with this whiskey. The finish falls off sharply and dryly, but in proportion to what you’d expect for such a light bodied pour. Rye grain and minty warmth remain just to let you know it’s there.

Overall: It’s been noted by visitors to this website and others at just how often Jim Beam products can get brushed aside by “enthusiasts”. I suppose it’s tough to pull for the big boys, and you don’t get much bigger than Beam. Well, I beg of you to cast aside any preconceived notions and bias when you try this one. If you do, then a light and fresh whiskey with rye intensity and subtle sweetness awaits you. Basil Hayden’s refreshingly crisp quality lends itself well to warm weather sipping – it immediately reminded me of summer. I would like to see this offered around 90-92 proof (it would get lost above that). At that range I feel we’d see more of the heat, spice, and complexity that’s been diluted down a bit at the current proof.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.4 (Very Good/Excellent)

Knob Creek (9 Year) Small Batch and Single Barrel Bourbon Reviews

Knob Creek is an extremely popular and well made bourbon from the folks at Jim Beam. If you drink bourbon or American Whiskey, the chances are great that you have tried or heard of Knob Creek. It’s a 9 year old small batch bourbon (a batching of numerous barrels) that is a part of Jim Beam’s “Small Batch Bourbon Collection” along with Baker’s, Basil Hayden’s, and Booker’s Bourbon.

This past February Beam put out a very highly anticipated Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve. It too is 9 years old and is a single barrel version of the small batch. Based on the below thoughts I’m pretty convinced it’s also from some very choice barrels. Enjoy the review!

Knob Creek Small Batch Bourbon, 9 Years Old, 50% abv (100 Proof), $32
Color: Deep Amber w/ glittering orange highlights
Nose: Burnt sugar and maple syrup dominate at first, then joined by dark dried fruits (particularly raisin quality), flint, and fresh oak. The oak influence is very prevalent in the nose of this whiskey.
Palate: Much like the nose, the small batch starts out with a sweet maple syrup entry as you bust through a crackle of hard caramel candy. Bitter char and sappy, wood resin intensifies almost as soon as the sweetness subsides. Things begin to quickly dry up as the spice takes over with cinnamon, clove, and black licorice playing the lead roles. The later third of the sip is an eruption of dry oak through to the finish.
Finish: Dry, lingering oak for days with some sweet and herbal notes. It’s worth noting, that while I didn’t detect it from the nose and palate, the empty glass (after drying) had a definite honeysuckle scent to it.
Overall: I can surely see why Knob Creek Small Batch has such a strong following. It’s a hefty bourbon with great sweetness, spice, and wood. With each tasting I grew to like it more and more. I would have preferred if the oak influence had been toned down just a bit, but I did enjoy the strong and hearty ways of this bourbon. Beyond just being a fantastic neat sipper, I am certain it would make a fantastic old fashioned or whiskey cocktail. The spice and oak really shines through.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.3 (Very Good/Excellent)

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Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve, 9 Years Old, 60% abv (120 Proof), $40
Color: Deep Amber w/ glittering orange highlights
Nose: The family resemblance is definitely there, but the Single Barrel handles it’s business a bit more harmoniously in spite of 20% more alcohol. The nose is richer, fuller, more earthy and complex than the Small batch. Spicy cinnamon, mint, and floral notes are sandwiched between sweet maple syrup and a dry, clean oak. Leather and tobacco linger in the background.
Palate: This is a sticky, viscously textured bourbon with heaps of maple and marmalade livened with black pepper, clove, sweet spearmint, and a smoky oak quality (BBQ smoke). The char and barrel flavor is very prevalent, but in better balance with the other flavors than in the small batch.
Finish: Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve finishes with sappy wood, mint, sweetness, and rising warmth that lingers.
Overall: This Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve was a real eye opener for me. In fact it is superb. I expected a more intense version of Knob Creek at 20% more alcohol. While I got that to some degree (there is a family resemblance for sure as mentioned), the flavor delivery is so much better with the Single Barrel. This is a complex bourbon packing loads of great flavor in a more balanced package than the Small Batch. With only about an $8 upgrade in price, the decision for me is pretty easy. The Single Barrel is the hands down winner and a good value at the price. Please do note: As with all single barrels there most certainly will be some variance from barrel to barrel. However I have a pretty good feeling they hand selected the very best barrels for their single barrel offering.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.0 (Superb/Outstanding)

New Reviews

Well I’m back in the saddle after a week and some change off. I have some exciting stuff in the queue also. This leads me to a little technical glitch update.

Perhaps you noticed last Thursday that my Michter’s Unblended Small Batch Whiskey review was posted without a video. My format of choice is always video for reviews. I back that up with tasting notes so you can get quicker access to the info. But I just feel this format gives me an opportunity to discuss the whiskey in greater detail. Of course it also saves you from my subpar writing. ; )

Anyway, the Michter’s review originally had a video review recorded and ready. However, serious issues with the video upload feature on my camera messed up the video. While on vacation I wasn’t able to correct the problem so I posted it until I could get back and figure out the issue. Now I have a couple of other reviews in the queue and the same problem popped up.

I don’t want that slowing me down for the short term. The the latest reviews for Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve and Small Batch will post shortly, but without an accompanying video for now. I hope to have one for it early next week.

Cheers to you!

-Jason