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SUNDAY SERENDIPITY
11/07/2010
Sunday Serendipity
The Return of a Whiskey Legend

By Stephen Eliot

A couple of weeks back, Bourbon was our Sunday topic, and a new acquisition brings it back to the spotlight. While recently sniffing out new and interesting spirits, I found something special in a special place, and both the whiskey and the purveyor deserve applause. The bottle is a Single-Barrel Private Selection from Four Roses, and Ledger’s Liquors in Berkeley.

A bit of background first. Four Roses is located in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky and during the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s was the best-selling Bourbon in America. In the 1950s, however, its owner, Seagram’s, pulled the brand from the American market and focused exclusively on international sales. Kirin Brewery of Japan purchased Four Roses in 2002 and, at the urging of Master Distiller Jim Rutledge, began to distribute the brand first in Kentucky and then more recently to a broader national market . I have enjoyed both the distillery’s basic yellow-label bottling and more limited small-batch releases, but its single-barrel offerings simply rank among the very best Bourbons that I have tasted. One of the latter, in fact, is what inspired this Sunday’s musings and is the kind of stuff to squirrel away for special moments. Four Roses is unique in that it employs two different mash bills (the blend of grains whose starches are turned into sugars for fermentation of the “low wine” that is then distilled into whiskey) and five different yeasts thus allowing for ten combinations, and its single-barrel releases will carry an four-letter code that indentifies its particular mix.

 

O = Designates that the whiskey was produced at the Four Roses Distillery in Lawrenceburg
E = The mashbill consists of 75% corn, 25% rye and 5% malted barley
B = The mashbill consists of 60% corn, 35% rye, 5% malted barley
S = Designates straight whiskey distillation
V, K, O, Q and F = Identifies the yeast strain.

Our bottling was labeled “OESK Barrel #6” and bottled at barrel proof (59.9% ABV) after nearly twelve years of aging during which time its volume reduced through evaporation by nearly half. The result is an amazingly rich Bourbon with liqueur-like concentration and stunning complexity. It came with recommendations that it be cut with a bit of water, but in all truth it is as smooth as can be even when drunk neat. Now, I must admit such bottlings are very much in the realm of esoteric, but dyed-in-the-wool Bourbon devotees will revel in the details, and even the casual fan will immediately know that something special is going on in the glass. It is priced at $65.00 but is in my mind worth every dime.

As I mentioned earlier, this bottling selected by Ledger’s Liquors in Berkeley, and the folks at Ledger’s had the empty barrel on hand to make the point. The unassuming Ledger’s has been one of my favorite haunts when looking for the rare and unique spirits be it brandy or bourbon, tequila or rum, and I doubt that I have ever visited the place without finding an exciting new discovery. These people know what they are doing. It is worth a trip if you are a Bay Area resident, and, if touring from out of town, it belongs on the travel itinerary of all unrepentant aficionados of fine spirits.

Of final note, a new book on the history and people behind Four Roses entitled Four Roses: The Return of Whiskey Legend by distillery historian Al Young is set for December release, and you may well see a review here in the near future.

Ledger’s Liquors
1399 University Avenue Berkeley, CA 94702
(510) 540-9243
www.ledgersliquors.com

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