2016 Whisky Wind-down, 2: Revival


Today’s dram: Four Roses, Single Barrel

Today’s tasting notes: I really can’t taste today. I had a brief reprieve from my head cold yesterday, but that was just the tease before the end, apparently. Today I am stuffy and coughing and cranky. Boooo.

Anyway, let me tell you a story.

I first heard of Four Roses while reading an older book. Not old-old, just mid-’90s. But in this book, which was set in the ’70s, I think, there was an older gentleman (Korean War veteran) who, as a matter of routine, had a nightcap from a bottle of Four Roses.

That’s it. No detail given. As I was reading this prior to the blossoming of my own interest in whisky, and prior to the days of good old reliable Google-at-your-fingertips-to-answer-anything, I lived for a time in mystery as to exactly what Four Roses was.

(It’s bourbon.)

Once, it was a famous brand, and I now realize part of the author’s purpose in having that character drink that whisky nightly was to place him in time and attitude as a certain type of man, an older gentleman who knew the good stuff when it came to whisky.

Trouble is, by the time I learned this, Four Roses had fallen greatly in stature and had become seen as cheap rotgut whisky, not worth drinking neat or savoring.

For a time, it was no longer even sold in the States as straight bourbon whisky. Here, it became a cheap blended grain “brown spirit,” hardly worth the name whisky and legally not allowed to be sold as bourbon.

And yet, overseas, especially in Japan, Four Roses remained true to its heritage and sold straight bourbon. Its success there was such that a Japanese company bought the distilling operation and, gradually, restored the traditional methods while expanding capacity to return to one, global, superb product.

Today, if you visit Four Roses Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky — as The Empress of Whisky and I did, last October — the tour and tasting staff are upfront about all of this. I appreciate that. Rather than try to cover an inglorious past (as some marketing hacks might recommend) the company admits and embraces its history and uses it as a springboard to talk about the quality bourbon it turns out today.

And it is. Quality.

The standard Four Roses Yellow Label Bourbon is fine sipping whisky, and the small batch is quite a lovely step up from there.

The single barrel promises a unique experience — hand-selected by the master distiller and bottled at a higher proof (though not quite cask strength) for a rich, decadent sipping experience.

In my experience, single barrel whisky is good stuff. It is also, usually, available only sporadically, at a higher price, in good bottle shops. And while many (maybe half?) of the distilleries we visited offered some for sale at their in-house stores, only Four Roses made it available in tiny 50ml bottles.

Naturally, I bought one.

I’d planned to drink it today, but it would be a shame to waste that good spirit on my hampered senses just now.

So, it will wait.

Today’s thoughts: I was gone for a long time. I wasn’t writing much, here or elsewhere. That has changed, and I hope to keep going as a new year dawns. I have thoroughly enjoyed 2016 Whisky Wind-down, and not just for the daily drams. It has been a good excuse to get me to the keyboard daily, and it is my hope that when this ends, I shall keep that momentum, like a child who keeps pedaling after the training wheels come off.

I hope to keep giving you something to come back for, anyway.

Today’s sincere note: Thanks for reading along. One more to go, then we’ll see where life takes us.

Today’s toast: To many happy returns.

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