Four Roses Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

My first whiskey review…

I can’t claim to be an expert on bourbon in any way, shape or form.  Living in Alberta, Canada, whiskey just isn’t the whisky of choice, with scotch and Canadian whiskies dominating the market. Needless to say, my experience with bourbon has, to this point, been fairly limited. Of course, I’d tried a few of the mass-produced mixers and, to be honest, I couldn’t imagine why anyone would choose to ruin their cola with them!

In the past couple of years, however, I’ve noticed that a couple of my local liquor stores have been expanding their selections of bourbons, particularly of the more premium varieties, and I found my curiosity piqued. Recently, I decided to stop window shopping and give bourbon another go. I didn’t have much to base my decision on but the bottle I chose was Four Roses Single Barrel because I liked the rich colour of the spirit and because I thought it had an attractive bottle presentation. This bottle, which comes from warehouse DN and barrel 1-5E, according to the hand written label, is bottled at 50% abv and cost me about $45.


To the Eye

As I noted, the rich colour of this whiskey is what first drew me to give it a try.  In the glass, this Four Roses Single Barrel displays as deep copper with obvious flashes of orange. My usual swirl of the glass reveals a thick oily sheen that eventually releases moderate but extremely stubborn legs.

In the Nose

Corn, obviously, but it quickly gives way to a sweet honey-like aroma that also carries a malty cereal. But there’s way more on this nose… Cinnamon briefly dominates, along with a fruity, almost banana bread character. As the dram breathes, a few other baking spices and oak make an appearance. It’s a great nose that deserves some time to be appreciated.

On the Tongue

Honey? Maple syrup? Corn syrup?  I believe it’s all three, but not nearly in the overly sweet way that it sounds. There is a sweetness, but it’s more like the suggestion of sweetness that comes off the delicate flavours of vanilla and caramel. Oak, for sure, and I can taste the char from the barrel in there too, which combines to be a little like burnt sugar.  Spicy rye and a hint of cinnamon warm up my palate, before giving way to a surprisingly pleasant dark-chocolately and nutty bitterness. The thick, oily mouthfeel of this dram ensure a long finish that offers a lingering sense of baking spices, citrus pith and pencil shavings.

Final Thoughts

I didn’t know what to expect when I grabbed this bottle off the shelf but I have been pleasantly surprised. Obviously, it’s not scotch and it’s quite different from a Canadian whisky but it’s delicious – definitely a dram with a lot to offer and that deserves respect. It’s rich and complex and can be appreciated for each of its appearance, nose and flavour. Four Roses Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon is a dram that has made me an instant fan of another whisky style, and it will definitely not be the only bottle of Four Roses to find a home in my cabinet. I enjoy this whiskey so much that I’m damned near willing to classify it as a favourite even though I’ve only bought a single bottle… if I still think so highly of the next bottle, I will be re-ranking it among my faves!

Glenfiddich – Distillery Edition

Glenfiddich proclaims itself to be the world’s best selling single malt. I have absolutely no reason to dispute this claim and I imagine it to be true since I’ve seen a triangular green bottle of the flagship 12 year old in practically every bar I’ve ever visited.  Recently (within the last 5-10 years) however, I have noticed that the Glenfiddich distillery has been actively marketing more premium expressions, with a variety of special releases and older age-statement whiskies.

The Glenfiddich 15 year old Distillery Edition is one such whisky.  Although it is only a step up from the 12, this dram is distinguished from the regular 15 year old expression with a higher bottling strength.  This whisky is bottled at 51% abv and is available at my local liquor store for about $80 per bottle.

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To the Eye

The Glenfiddich Distillery Edition presents a deep honey-gold hue. It looks like a classic Speyside whisky that has avoided too much sherry influence. A swirl of my Glencairn results in a thick coating that eventually releases medium legs that stubbornly return to the dram.

In the Nose

The breezes above my glass are pretty typical of a Speyside whisky with orchard fruit upfront. Vanilla is also present along with some brown sugar and baking spices. I also sense something a little bit floral, but also kind of vegetal… Chopped chilies? It’s very nice!

On the Tongue

POW! That 51% abv whacks your tonsils right away… but it’s more of a karate chop of flavour rather than just a swift kick of alcohol-burn. Within the oily mouthfeel there is a sweet, honeyed spiciness about this dram and it has a bit of that dusty character normally associated with a Canadian rye whisky. However, the abv warms my mouth a lot and leaves my tongue tingling more than I really like. I don’t normally water my whiskies, but this one seems to be begging for it…

A couple drops of water does tame the Distillery Edition down just a bit and reveals vanilla and oaky flavours that were previously overpowered. That rye-like spice remains and I’m curious where it comes from since it’s not a flavour I usually associate with Scotch whiskies. It seems to be missing the sweetness that I expect from Glenfiddich malts. This whisky is good but, all and all, it’s a bit of a one-note flavour profile, in my opinion.

Final Thoughts

This whiskey exits fairly quickly, with a little burnt sugar and a hint of baked apples. Dominating the finish, however, is a lingering soapy bitterness. It must not be altogether unpleasant… the drying quality of this whisky does leave me reaching for another sip.

Overall, this whisky strikes me as rather ordinary. It’s fine and I wouldn’t turn down a dram… but it’s not threatening any of my favourites, or even any of the whiskies I’d put in my second tier. I know it’s not super old but I expect more from a 15 year old and from a whisky bottled at 102 proof.

Johnnie Walker Double Black

Readers of this blog (yes, both of you) will likely notice that this is the first bottle photo not taken on my kitchen table. During a layover in Toronto, en route to Cuba for a vacation with my wife and our best friends, I decided that it would be nice to grab a bottle at duty free to take down for sipping on the patio in the evening.  The Double Black had my attention after reading some favourable reviews, including this great one by the boys at Whisky Waffle.

The gentleman at the airport liquor store pointed to strong influences from Caol Ila and Talisker as major contributors to the core blend of malts in this incarnation of JW.  This was a good sales pitch to provide me, since I love the smoky, peaty flavours of “West Coast” malts.  Johnny Walker Double Black is bottled at 40% abv and cost me about $60 for a 1L bottle at the duty free store.

To the Eye

This is a deep honey-golden dram. The label Johnny Walker Double Black states that this whisky is aged in heavily charred oak barrels and the depth of rich colour certainly matches this description. A swirl of my glass – wish I had a Glencairn – produces thick legs that drop back down the glass fairly quickly.    (I don’t normally make mention of the bottle presentation in my reviews, but I must admit to loving the dark, smoky blue-grey glass used here – the photo doesn’t do it full justice but it reminds me of the Blue Label!)

In the Nose

My friend, travelling companion and frequent whisky-tasting buddy, immediately claimed that the Caol Ila character was unmistakable on the nose.  Not being as familiar with that particular malt, I was unable to verify.  What I did pick up was plenty of smoke, although it remains gentle, some dark chewy fruits like dates and prunes, a touch of iodine and just a hint of peat. As the dram breaths, vanilla and a slight sweetness emerge which, along with the smoke, gives me a distinct impression of toasted marshmallows.

On the Tongue

First and foremost, it’s good.  The Double Black is smooth and very drinkable… I’m glad to have brought it along for the vacation since it is undoubtedly a better dram than many of the mysterious, never-heard-of-before bottles that are collecting dust at the bars at our tropical all-inclusive!  The Islay, or “West Coast”, character of this whisky is obvious, although somewhat tamed down.  It’s not a peat monster by any means, such as a single malt from Ardbeg or Laphroaig, but most of the typical Islay elements are still there in a dialled-down kind of way.  That gentle smoke remains firmly up front, along with some musty peat. Although I’m not sure if it’s at least partly due to the fact that we are in literally steps from the Carribean right now, I am certainly also detecting a briny note, which fits with the Islay influence as well.  There is a malty, toasted cereal flavour that is nicely balanced with that subtle, sweet vanilla that I discovered in the nose. Oak lingers within the smoke and I’m  also vaguely aware of tobacco. This is a gentle but well-composed dram!

Final Thoughts

Once again, I’m afraid my single-malt snobbery is affecting my judgement, somewhat… and I feel like I should like Johnnie Walker Double Black a bit more than I’m allowing myself to. I always expect the more premium blends to offer up a more complex nose and a lengthier finish than they usually deliver – what with having so many different whiskies contributing to their makeup – and I wish I had a better understanding of why this hasn’t been my experience.  With that said, the Double Black is quite a delicious drop, with surprising depth of flavours.  This blend would make an excellent introduction to the Islay/West Coast profiles for those who want their first rendezvous with smoke and peat to be gentle!