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Four Roses Single Barrel Head-to-Head Review: Gift Shop Edition

Posted on by Eric Burke

I’ve been meaning to write this post for just about a year. I tried when I first got back from Kentucky last year. It was a blind head-to-head. Imagine that, two different four Roses Gift Shop releases. One 13 years old, the other 17. What could be a better set-up? Well that was a question that needed to remain unanswered. You see, I accidentally started with the 125 proof one. I burned out my taste buds before I could even try it with water. 

I was sad.

So I put it off. And off. And off. Until I realized that I had very little left in the bottles. They’d become candidates for “removal.”

Removal is what I call the process of drinking only one bottle until it is gone in order to free up shelf space for the next bottle. It usually occurs when there is about 1/4 left in the bottle. It’s a policy that helps me to get over my urge to hang on to the “special” ones for longer than I should. And it’s a policy I desperately need. I secretly think that I might have a little hoarder in me. 

Actually, there’s a pile of little hoarders in me. They’re over there, behind the spleen. What? I might need them someday!

Anyway, the two gift shop releases of Four Roses had reached the point where they have been tagged for “removal.” I’d had the samples poured in my library for a while now, all I needed was that blog post and I’d be free to concentrate on finishing off those two bottles. 

The reason for the post has changed over the last year. Initially, it was a bit of a brag. Look what I have: it’s a 17 year old Four Roses…blah. It’s a good thing I never wrote that post. I would have been a dick. Now it’s a reminder. A reminder, that if you end up in Kentucky, to stop into the distillery and pick up a bottle of something so good, they decided to keep it for themselves.

So let’s get to the tasting. First the older/lower proof one (see I learned from last time).

Four Roses Single Barrel Gift Shop Release 17 year

Specs: OBSV. 17 years 5 months. 54.8% ABV. Warehouse QS. Barrel no: 73-3W. Selected as one of four barrels to commemorate the opening of their new visitor center.

Nose: Maple syrup, licorice, old wood that’s gone punky

Taste: whoo, that’s sharp. JuicyFruit gum, and baking spices. adding water amplifies the sweetness and the spices.

Finish: There’s just a wisp of a burn here, but it dries the mouth nicely. Adding water devastates the finish making it dangerously quaffable. 

Four Roses Single Barrel Gift Shop Release 13 year

Specs: OBSK. Barreled November 1998 (bought September 2012). 62.6% ABV. Warehouse NS. Barrel No: 16-4A.

Nose: This reminds me of a warm cookie. Sweet vanilla and allspice. Hints of barrel char.

Taste: Caramel/Vanilla sweetness balanced by cinnamon red hot candies. Sweet. Spicy. Wonderful.

Finish: warm, but doesn’t burn. there’s some wood left over. 

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Thoughts: It’s no secret that I love Four Roses. And I think they hit both of these right out of the park. Both of these are fantastic whiskies and I would be happy to have either or both on my shelf. I’ll be sad to see both of these go. If pressed my wife and I each would choose a different favorite. I loved the 13 year. I’ve reached for this over and over during the last year. In previous drams, I’ve found lovely fruitiness that I just couldn’t find this time. I typically drink it with an ice cube though so that would affect it. My wife prefers the 17 year. Which is no surprise, she loves old woody bourbons. And this trends that direction.

In short: if you find yourself within an hour of Lawrenceburg, KY, stop in. Get a gift shop release. It won’t be either of these, but it will almost certainly be fantastic.