Editor’s Note: This whiskey tasting kit was provided to us as a review sample by the party behind it. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review.
What better way to learn about a distillery than to taste ten of its component recipes at once? Enter: Four Roses The Ten Recipe Tasting Experience kit. This tasting kit contains 10 50 ml samples of different Four Roses recipes and a QR code link to a guided video tasting tour with Master Distiller Brent Elliott.
This type of experience kit rose out of distributors’ response to COVID lockdown. Pre-COVID, distributor and industry reps regularly schlepped alcohol samples to retail and restaurant buyers, often with producers in tow. This was a commonplace and often daily occurrence. Many wines and spirits are purchased for resale based on the palate of the buyers.
When lockdown made this ritual of tasting and spitting a no-no, reps began emptying shelves of mini glass bottles and sharing stories and sales pitches over awkward Zoom meetings.
This normalized online, prerecorded, self-guided tastings. Hand-scrawled labels gave way to professionally packaged kits just as the boring, Verizon-slogan-filled, 90-minute-long Zoom meetings gave way to better and shorter pre recorded videos. Suddenly, wine- and spirits-makers were starring in on-site video walkthroughs and discussions.
As production quality increased, the marketing opportunity became more apparent. We’re talking about professional sales people, after all. Encase each bottle in custom-cut foam and slap a surgeon general warning on the back and those kits became end-consumer-ready. And the beauty from the pain? Now folks that can’t travel, whether due to affordability, time, disability, or inclination, can partake in these intimate experiences at their own leisure.
This brings us back to to Four Roses The Ten Recipe Tasting Experience Kit. For consistency, the ten samples are pulled from private barrel at roughly the same age, and all are proofed to 52% ABV. Each 50 ml bottle contains a unique “Recipe” distinguished by its four-letter label, though the first and the third letters are the same across all ten.
The first letter, O, refers to the Four Roses Distillery. Spoiler alert: all ten samples are pulled from that distillery. The third letter, S, refers to each being a straight whiskey, so they are distilled to 80% ABV or less, all additive-free, and aged for at least two years in new charred oak at 62.5% ABV or less.
Where these samples differ are in the second and fourth letters. The second letter refers to one of two mash bills: B is 60% corn, 35% rye, and 5% barley, whereas E is 75% corn, 20% rye, and 5% barley. Samples one through five are mash bill B, and samples six through ten are mash bill E.
The fourth letter is the proprietary yeast strain, of which there are five. In the distillery’s words, the yeast strains are V, delicate fruit; K, slight spice; O, rich fruit; Q, floral essence; and F, herbal notes. Broadly speaking, expect those of mash bill B to show rye spice and mash bill E to show sweet cereal notes alongside each yeast profile.
The combination of letters means you can compare the same yeast strain with different mash bills. If that doesn’t excite you, well, this might not be a kit for you.
The QR-code-followed website bills this kit as a “first-of-its-kind” tasting, which seems to hold true both in terms of this being the first kit of its kind produced by Four Roses and being among the first commercially available blending component kits of its size for an American whiskey. The website contains an overview of the kit, an introductory and an outro video, and a series of ten short videos for each sample, or recipe, where Elliott describes each sample along with a tasting note.
The ten videos walk through each of the samples. I won’t spoil the fun by reviewing each, but will pick out two that I think best showcase this kit’s potential: Recipe 1, OBSV, and Recipe 6, OESV, thus the same yeast strain but different mash bills. According to the video, OBSV is a “high-rye mash bill with the V yeast that creates delicate fruity flavors.” It is typically used in 100 proof single-barrel, Four Roses Bourbon, and as part of the small batch select. Elliott describes it as “defined by the rye” with fruit and floral notes such as pear, apricot, apple, cherry, and honeysuckle.
This sample right off the bat was a favorite of mine. I found it to be explosively aromatic with spice notes of sandalwood, candle wax, and vanilla paste. The layers of fruit lift up the mid-palate and rye grain, and oak notes lead the charge on the long finish.
With Recipe 6, Elliott notes the E mash bills show less rye spice and more sweetness and roundness from the corn. According to him, the aromas are softer and sweeter, with delicate notes of “pear and apricot” showing “elegance and balance” and a slow fade out on the finish.
Whereas Recipe 1 reminds me of perfume with its musky spice and fruit notes, Recipe 6 comes off as utterly dominated by sweet vanilla and oak on the nose. The palate is where Recipe 6 shines, with hints of pear and white flowers on the palate with a long finish. You really get the feel of what the two different amounts of rye do for this combination by tasting the two side-by-side.
I think the greatest strength of the kit is oddly where the website falls short. This kit offers the ability to analyze across variables, but the videos are almost completely lacking in this regard. Although Elliott gives excellent tasting notes for each, including reflections on where each recipe is used in their greater lineup, I think consumers would be better served with a comparative tasting.
For example, how are Recipe 4 and 9, OBSQ and OESQ, similar? This is hinted at in the video for Recipe 6, but I think it should be expanded upon. You have Elliott in the room, samples poured, cameras ready, why not make the videos longer than 90 seconds, or at least include a separate comparative analysis?
There is a final video, but it’s just a brief mention of the limestone-rich Kentucky water and a sales pitch to visit the distillery. It too seems to miss the mark. Either you purchased the kit at the distillery and so you’ve already been; you purchased the kit because you can’t visit and so can’t be convinced; or you’re a fan of Four Roses, buy all their merch, and will visit anyway.
It makes me wonder what purpose the kit serves: is this just a marketing opportunity? If so, the kit should be less expensive. Or are you buying an online tasting experience? If so, the videos should be longer and more in-depth (consider that the distillery tasting experience runs one hour and only offers two samples).
The shortness of the videos, the sales pitch to visit, and the lack of comparative analysis all lead me to believe the kit’s purpose is more of the former than the latter, to everyone’s loss.
In some ways, the Four Roses The Ten Recipe Tasting Experience Kit is more exciting than the experience: you get to sample all ten combinations at your leisure, versus two at the distillery, and the 50 ml bottles are proofed to 52% ABV, which gives the comparisons more consistency. I just want more from its website.
This kit was created to celebrate the 135th anniversary of the founding of Four Roses. It is available to purchase at the Four Roses’ visitor centers or at select retail shops in California, Georgia, Illinois, and Kentucky. Steve Coomes, journalist for The Whiskey Wash, suggests one kit per person so you can explore and compare more easily, should its SRP of $129.99 be in your budget. I’ll toast to that.