Four Roses Al Young 50th Anniversary Review

Whiskey Name: Four Roses Al Young 50th Anniversary Limited Edition Small Batch

Distillery: Four Roses

Whiskey Type: Bourbon

Release Date: 2017

Price: Technically $150 a bottle. And technically, if you buy a ticket, you could also win the lottery.

Age: See mashbill.

ABV: 53.8%

Mashbill: 5% 23-year OBSV, 25% 15-year OBSK, 50% 13-year OESV, and 20% 12-year OBSF. If confused, see Four Roses mashbill translations here.

Introduction/Background: Just about anything seems to justify a special edition whiskey these days. So it’s nice to see something genuinely worthwhile being celebrated with a properly special bourbon.

Al Young has worked at the Four Roses distillery for 50 years. That’s an astonishing period of service, especially to those of us who haven’t even given service to breathing for 50 years. In that time he’s been involved in a huge spectrum of roles with the brand, becoming Distillery Manager in 1990, Brand Ambassador in 2007, and currently working as Senior Brand Manager. If anyone deserves their own bourbon, it’s probably him.

Rather than bottling a single barrel, Al worked with Master Distiller Brent Elliot to put together a small batch release, comprising four recipes and ages. With a huge library of aged bourbon to drawn on, as well as the ten Four Roses recipes, whiskey fans were expecting Al and Brent to come up with something rather special.

As expected, it hasn’t been released in the UK. I gather as many as 12 bottles may be coming over; good luck getting your hands on one. My taste came about through the medium of toddling over to Stillwater Bar and Grill in London, whose commander-in-chief, Dan, just so happens to be a Four Roses Brand Ambassador. The bottle he had brought back from the US was rumoured to be disappearing fast, so I thought I ought to nip in before it was entirely drained.

Here’s what I thought:

Appearance: Deep amber.

Nose: Shows the Four Roses DNA – and the influence of the high-rye recipes – straight away. But what’s wonderful is the immediate complexity; beyond anything that could be achieved by a single barrel. Yes there’s toasty oak and black pepper and dill, with a little menthol and cigar – everything you’d expect from high rye. But there’s so much depth too; fig and blackcurrant and char and meat. Caramel binds it all together. No intrusion of alcohol at all. Astonishing nose. Sniffed at it for about 20 minutes before I even got to sipping.

Mouth: Palate is just as exciting, and effectively a follow-through. Hard to know where to focus; do you stick on the classic cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper, and oak, or do you go after the dark fruits, battenburg cake and caramel? Again, the proof is perfectly weighted; together with the (still vibrantly crackling) rye, it adds structure; that Four Roses firmness that keeps it a million miles away from becoming cloying. Perfectly weighted and perfectly balanced. Outstanding.

Finish: The black fruits and caramel fade ever so gradually; spices play about a little longer.

Value for Money: At RRP, a no-brainer.

Summary: Compared to other distilleries, Four Roses bring out so few expressions, and do so brilliantly in the value-for-money category, that the spotlight seems so often to be elsewhere. And then I think back over the bourbons I’ve drunk in the last year and I realise that the best two were both from that distillery. One was the OESO single barrel pick from our 10 recipes tasting. The other is this.

It’s an utterly, utterly astonishing whiskey. Bucket list bourbon that demands to be hunted down, opened, and drunk. If, as it is for me, a bottle is beyond what you can really justify (and it is going mental on the secondary market) then look it up at a bar whenever you can.

I’m so, so pleased that they made this one a batch whiskey, rather than bottling a single barrel. Single barrels are all very well, and often delicious – brilliant even – but they lack the romance of a bourbon deliberately put together by genuine masters of the art. A true small-batch whiskey – and make no mistake, that is what this is – is a cerebral thing; a constructed, orchestrated, deliberately designed creation. To do it perfectly takes expertise and time, and the sort of care that a celebration of 50 years’ service deserves.

The star, as a result, is the complexity. The twists and turns, and the ever-shifting layers of flavour. You can see what each individual constituent has brought to the drink, and how it has made the whole thing greater than the sum of its parts. What’s more, at its sensible proof, there’s no burning alcohol to distract you from the important elements of flavour. It’s an absolute triumph of the blender’s art.

Stunningly good. Stunningly good.

Overall Verdict: We’re probably close enough to January for me to say it: this is, without doubt, my favourite bourbon of 2017.

Words by WhiskyPilgrim