Four Roses Warehouse and Bottling Tour at Cox’s Creek

Four Roses Cox's Creek Warehouse and Bottling Facility
Four Roses Cox’s Creek Warehouse and Bottling Facility

The year prior we toured the Four Roses Distillery in Lawrenceburg, so when we were in Bardstown I wanted to be sure to see the other part of their operation in Cox’s Creek. Daily, big tanker trucks full of distillate make the drive from Lawrenceburg to the Warehouse and Bottling facility. The cargo is put into barrels and rolled into warehouses. When ready, those barrels are also dumped and bottled here.

One of Four Roses' warehouses
One of Four Roses’ warehouses

Four Roses opened a new visitors center here in 2014. Most visitors check out the distillery, but there’s plenty to see out in Cox’s Creek to be worth the drive. Cox’s Creek is just a short drive up from Bardstown and a few minutes from Jim Beam. We were planning to drive up to Louisville for the day, so we were there for the opening. It was a crisp fall morning and we were the only people ready for Bourbon at 9 AM, so we got a private tour.

We jumped into a big cargo van and drove to the barreling facility. Here they both fill new barrels and dump old barrels. Work was well underway so we got plenty of time to watch a lot of barrels be emptied. At Four Roses there are two lines where Small Batch and the regular Yellow Label are dumped. Selected barrels are lined up in a row, un-bunged, rolled, and then dumped into a trough. There’s a smaller trough for single barrel selections, whether done for the Four Roses Single Barrel or the Private Selection for stores or the gift shop.

Plate filter and chilling tank
Plate filter and chilling tank on the left

Once emptied, the Bourbon is transferred to a filtering process. While all the Bourbon is paper filtered for barrel sediment, all Four Roses Bourbon except for the Private Selection are also chill filtered. Chill filtering is the process of crashing the temperature of the Bourbon down to precipitate compounds out of solution. If this step isn’t done, the condition may happen in the glass when chilled with ice. Largely this isn’t necessary for Bourbon of more than 90-proof or so, but Four Roses processes all its standard product this way. Personally, I prefer non-chill filtered and a little haze wouldn’t bother me in the least.

Four Roses old bottling line
Four Roses old bottling line

From there, the bottling line is just the next room over. Four Roses is building a new bottling facility that will sit just behind this complex of buildings. The old line is very small and on the day we visited they were having issues with the labeler. From the sound and looks of things, I think everyone at Four Roses is excited for a new modern bottling line.

Looking down the center of a Four Roses warehouse
Looking down the center of a Four Roses warehouse

From the barreling and bottling area, we jumped back into the van and drove over to a warehouse. As I’ve written before, Four Roses’ warehouses are unique to other distilleries. Built by Seagram’s, the warehouses were intended to be a central hub for Bourbon made in Seagram’s various distilleries in Kentucky. The warehouses have a unique design of long single story buildings. Typically Bourbon rick houses are five or six stories high. In the Kentucky weather, each story is its own microclimate and it greatly affects the aging of Bourbon. Four Roses doesn’t have the same type of variation with a single story structure.

Racks in the warehouses stacked six high
Racks in the warehouses stacked six high

Still, there is a lot of variation to be found. While the warehouses are single floor, barrels are stacked six high. Even on the same floor, there are significant differences between the lower and upper barrels. With the Private Selection, you can observe this in the barrel proof with the lower barrels losing less water and resulting in lower alcohol and the upper with high alcohol content. Other changes are likely related to where barrels are stored. The warehouses are very large and central barrels likely experience less variation still than those nearer the walls.

What’s great about Four Roses is all this information is on their Single Barrel and Private Selections. You can know which warehouse by letter, the direction (north, south, east, west) the barrel’s nearest wall, which rack its on by letter and finally it’s tier 1-6. Between its 10 recipes and unique barrel aging, Four Roses says it’s happy to be so transparent because it’s confident no one can duplicate what they do.

After we had looked at enough full barrels, we got back into the van and headed to the gift shop. The tour ended with tastings of the Yellow Label, Small Batch, and Single Barrel. Along with the tasting, you keep to keep your glass, which is a nice heavy rocks glass with the Four Roses logo on the bottom. These are my favorite Bourbon glasses and you can only get one by doing the tasting.

Inside the gift shop they have the various Bourbon and Kentucky trinkets. The big draw is the Private Selection bottles available for sale. When we were there, long-time master distiller Jim Rutledge had just retired and there had been a run on barrels he picked. The distillery was sold out, but Cox’s Creek had a bunch. I picked up a bottle from Jim’s last barrel selection and one of Brent Elliot’s (the new master distiller) first picks.

I’m a Four Roses fan, so this was a must stop for me, but it’s also worth making the drive if you’re around Bardstown or checking out Jim Beam. I’ll be curious to stop by again some day to see their new bottling line and get some more glasses.

Visited September 2015

Your Top 10 Whiskeys for 2015

Everyone loves end of the year lists, so I bring you my 10 most viewed reviews of 2015. This list is compiled from a year of analytics based on your fellow whiskey lovers.

Lets just get right to it… But as first, as always, this is only an exhibition. This is not a competition. Please, no wagering.

10. Hancock’s President’s Reserve

This might be the least known of Buffalo Trace’s single barrel Bourbons. It’s not really that widely available and no one seems to really talks about it. Not one of my favorites, but happy to offer some info.

9. Colonel EH Taylor Jr Single Barrel

The CEHT line from Buffalo Trace has been popular this year as it takes up three spots on this list. Some of that could be due to the unicorn 2015 Cured Oak release, I suppose, but it’s also a fine line of Bourbons. I like the Single Barrel expression, although I think it’s a bit pricy compared to the Small Batch further down the list.

8. Weller Blend / Poor Man’s Pappy

Pappy mania shows no signs of subsiding, so it shouldn’t be surprising this little experiment was popular. Essentially blending two different WL Weller products should get you in the ballpark of an Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Year, which for practical purposes is still a ‘Pappy. Forgetting that goal for a moment, blending Old Weller Antique and WL Weller 12 does make for a nice Bourbon.

7. Crown Royal Hand Selected Barrel

Crown Royal is a big name in whiskey, so not really surprising this special single barrel program has gotten some attention. It’s a unique single barrel Canadian rye whiskey, which is typically blended. This release shows uniqueness of Crown Royal’s Coffey still, which typically creates the more robust components in Crown’s blends.

6. Four Roses Small Batch

I’m a fan of Four Roses Small Batch for its price, complexity of four blended recipes and simply for being a great Bourbon. It’s mellowness makes it approachable plus nice berry fruits and floral goodness. It’s widely available and won’t break the bank, which is always a big plus.

5. Bowman Brothers Small Batch

I feel like Bowman Brothers Small Batch was a bit under the radar. This seems to be changing based on this year’s hits. To me, this one is a bit tamer version of some of Buffalo Trace’s stuff that might be harder to find, such as Elmer T Lee.

4. W.L. Weller 12 Year

Did you know that Weller 12 is basically pappy??? If you haven’t heard that one, then you probably haven’t read a mainstream Pappy-Mania article in the past few years. Combine that bit of Bourbon lore with Buffalo Trace’s inventory issues and Weller 12 has been harder to find in recent years. I’m a fan though and it’s my favorite of the Weller line.

3. Colonel EH Taylor Jr Small Batch

While I think the CEHT Single Barrel up above is better than the Small Batch, I don’t think it’s 50% better, which is  price difference of these bottles. I like this Bourbon quite a bit, and along with good pricing and decent availability, this is the Buffalo Trace bottle I always keep on hand.

2. George T Stagg (2014)

George T Stagg is the only bottle in the Antique Collection that I’m most interested in tracking down. It’s generally available enough for me to win in a bottle brawl and it’s the one I like best. I’ve got the 2015 version, but I feel silly reviewing these unicorns. By time I get to forming an opinion and putting it down in words, bottles are long gone. That is unless you’re willing to pay stupid money for a store trophy or from some weirdo on the Internet. I don’t recommend doing either. Best bet I think is to just indulge in a 1-oz pour at a Bourbon bar spend your time and money elsewhere.

1. Colonel EH Taylor Jr Barrel Proof

This might be crazy to some, but I actually prefer the CEHT Barrel Proof over Stagg. I just prefer younger Bourbons in general, and these releases have been very solid to great. Plus it’s easier to find and generally cheaper at retail.

So there you have it. Hopefully you found this interesting, and here’s to a great 2016 of Bourbon.

Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel – Review

Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Background

Russell's Reserve Single Barrel
Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel

Launched in 2013, Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel comes in at 110-proof and is non-chilled filtered. I find Wild Turkey’s lineup to be a little confusing with some overlap. Russell’s Reserve has become its own brand that to me has some parallels to the Wild Turkey brands. Perhaps making it a little more confusing, to me Wild Turkey has a distinctive flavor profile so they all have shared traits. I enjoy them all, so the goal with Wild Turkey Bourbons may be simply finding the flavor you like best at a favorable price.

How I wrap my head around Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel, and I could be wrong, is I see it as a premium single barrel version of Wild Turkey Rare Breed, but a little older like Russell’s Reserve 10 Year. Maybe. We do know though that Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel is selected from “center cut” barrels, meaning barrels from the middle floors of the aging warehouses. Wild Turkey uses seven story warehouses and the Russells feel the middle floors are the sweet spot of their inventory. The upper floors get hotter and age faster with more robust flavors and lower floors age slower and more mellow.

The bottle shown here is actually their old label as the Russell’s Reserve labels recently were revamped. The old label here is kind of funny saying a small batch single barrel, which I guess is the smallest batch possible, technically. The new labels I think help unify the Russell’s Reserve brand and appears to also clean up the superfluous buzzwords.

Details

No Age Statement. Bottled at 110-Proof. Mash recipe of 75% corn, 13% rye, and 12% barley. $53 Shelf Price

Aroma

Vanilla, Grainy, caramel, orange peel, toast, cinnamon,

Flavor

Toffee, oranges, Werther’s Originals. Berries. A bunch of spices. Some nail polish remover. Dark roasted flavors. Viscous, soft and creamy. Woody tannins coming towards the finish. Grainy and roasted corn.

Overall

Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel seems a bit of a contradiction. It’s got some of that signature big flavor and zip of Wild Turkey, but it also quite full and creamy backed up by sweet caramel flavors. It doesn’t seem like a 110-proof Bourbon to me, but at the same time flavor is big and bold with just some rough edges towards the finish. I’m getting a little roasted bitterness, some alcohol, and tannic bite that leave a little cotton mouth. Between there is a sweet caramel goodness and full-flavored barrel char.

If there’s ever a case to be made for higher proof Bourbons skipping the chilled filter process, Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel would seem to be a good example. Chill filtering is a practice of crashing the temperature of Bourbon near freezing and running it through plate filter. Proteins, fatty acids, and other stuff precipitate out of solution at lower temperatures and then get filtered out. If they’re not chilled and filtered, they could appear as a haze or clumps in your glass when ice is added. But this is only an issue for below 90-proof or so, and even then it’s largely a cosmetic phenomena. Filtering may make whiskey more visually appealing under certain conditions, but it also strips away components that lend to mouthfeel and perhaps also flavor.

Anyway, I’m a fan here of Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel. I think Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel is a nice step up from Wild Turkey Rare Breed, and Wild Russell’s Reserve 10 Year. I could also toss in Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit, which in my mind is basically an older single barrel version of Wild Turkey 101. Basically, I think Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel is my favorite from Wild Turkey, although the other’s listed have their respective charms and value.

I feel like you can get the Wild Turkey experience for less, so Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel pricing I think is a little high, but at the same time reasonable for what appears to be a top tier bottle. The few things towards the finish have me hedging a bit, but everything else is plenty to enjoy.

Recommendation

Buy Again – 4.0 out of 5.0 Rating

(My 5 point scale: Pass, Try a Glass, Buy a Bottle, Buy Again, Shut Up and Take My Money – Bottle price is taken into consideration for recommendations.)

Buying Options and Further Research

I like to offer some options for similar Bourbons around this price. Feel free to investigate other reviews for further research.

If we call this a high proof Bourbon, some similar options may be Booker’s, Stagg Jr, Knob Creek Single Barrel, and if you can find it, Elijah Craig Barrel Proof. I think too it’s worth checking out Wild Turkey Rare Breed, Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit, and Russell’s Reserve 10 Year.

Links & Other Reviews

 

Holiday Gift Guide for Bourbon Drinkers (2015)

Bourbon Gift Guide 2015
Bourbon Gift Guide 2015

As a second annual tradition, I’ve updated my Bourbons for the holidays. My rules are first, each Bourbon has to be readily available or can be ordered from a respectable booze monger. Second, the prices can’t be stupid. This means I’m excluding special limited releases and distilleries that have limited geographic distribution. For pricing, I’ve offered three tiers to fit your budget. Pricing is based on suggested or near suggested retail pricing. Your pricing may vary a few bucks each way, and if you live in an area that permits discounts, you could find a good deal.

Since last year, prices have crept up, so a few bottles have been removed. I’m keeping the lowest price tier, but it’s a little tougher this year to recommend something I really like for less than $25. At the high end, however, I bumped up the upper tier $5 to $65. Also a couple bottles I think have become harder to find, so they’re also out.

Each section is ordered by my preference.

Under $25

  • Wild Turkey 101 – Wild Turkey has a distinct flavor that’s a little rough and tough, but quite lovable. A nice blend of different aged straight Bourbons give a range of flavors. Excellent value and a timeless classic.
  • Old Forester Signature – If you like Woodford Reserve or any of the Old Forester bottles, this is one to check out. Similar flavor profile to me as Woodford, but cheaper. Bottled at 100-proof and a nice value.
  • Old Grand Dad Bonded – OGD 114 got bumped up to the next tier, so I’ll just stick the cheaper sibling here. Similarly feisty as Wild Turkey and as good of a value.
  • Jim Beam Black – This used to carry an 8 year age statement, but we recently saw that go away. Still, Jim Beam Black is quality value.

Under $35

  • Four Roses Small Batch – I don’t think you can go wrong with either Four Roses Small Batch or Single Barrel, but Small Batch is about $10 cheaper. I think I like it better too. One of my overall favorites.
  • Maker’s Mark – Maker’s Mark is pretty mild and I think it has wide appeal, so something to consider if you’re shopping for someone who isn’t a regular Bourbon drinker. This is one of my favorites, especially in warmer months.
  • Elijah Craig Small Batch 12 Year – Generally I don’t like older Bourbons, but Elijah Craig 12 has some nice woody goodness for when I’m in the mood. This too saw a significant price increase this year, but still a great value.
  • Bowman Brothers – Last year I had Elmer T Lee in this group, but now it’s impossible to find. I think Bowman Brothers is a good substitute and nice price.
  • Old Grand-Dad 114 – Last year I thought OGD 114 was one of the better values out there. After a significant price hike, it’s still a good value, but no longer a hidden gem.

Under $65

  • Four Roses Private Selection – I would be happy drinking nothing but good private barrel picks from Four Roses. Basically stores pick their own barrel and sell 100+ bottles. You’ll have to hunt around a little to find a store in your area or perhaps search the Internet. This is the hardest to find because it’s not a standard item for ordering, but it’s worth a little searching.
  • Colonel EH Taylor Jr Small Batch – The EH Taylor Jr line I think might be my favorite from Buffalo Trace. The Small Batch is the better value vs Single Barrel, It think. It also comes in a fancy cardboard tube, which means it’s already gift wrapped.
  • Booker’s – Booker’s is a big barrel proof Bourbon. A little on the younger side and also generally aged higher up in the warehouses. It makes for a strong, fiesty glass.

Elijah Craig 18 Single Barrel – Review

 Elijah Craig 18 Background

Elijah Craig 18
Elijah Craig 18

A few short years ago there was enough supply of Elijah Craig 18 and low enough demand for it to be a regularly stocked item on shelves. As interest in Bourbon increased, particularly for older Bourbons, Elijah Craig 18 was temporarily discontinued to rebuild aging supplies. Heaven Hill says they didn’t have enough barrels stocked to do a sufficient release, so they spend the past three years reworking their barrel inventory. This fall, Elijah Craig 18 finally returned to shelves with a release of about 15,000 bottles. With that many bottles, Elijah Craig 18 should trickle a little farther than the typical limited edition Bourbon.

I missed out on getting one of the older bottles be by about a week. I was just getting into Bourbon and working my way through a list of stuff to try. I walked into my Bourbon monger and spotted a shelf tag, but no bottles of Elijah Craig 18. They said someone came in the previous week and cleared the shelf at $44.85. The new release of Elijah Craig 18 though will see a price adjustment for current Bourbon times. The new suggested retail price is $120.

Heaven Hill says that Elijah Craig 18 was selected by master distillers Craig Beam and Denny Potter from barrels stored on lower floors. Lower floors of warehouses generally provide slower and gentler aging, which would seem ideal for very old Bourbons like 18-years. This year’s Elijah Craig 18 release joins the standard Elijah Craig 12 Year, Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, and a new batch of limited Elijah Craig 23 Year.

Details

18 Years Old. Barred on 9/24/97, Barrel #4156. Bottled at 90-proof. Though to be mash of 75% corn, 13% rye, and 12% barley. $120 MSRP

Aroma

Old oak, musty, mint, vanilla, menthol, chocolate. Chemical like rubber worm fish lures. A little medicinal bandaid. I guess it smells better than that probable sounds.

Flavor

Sweet caramel, vanilla, honey. Oak, light, Fruity strawberries. Roasted, charred wood, mint and mildly astringency in the finish.

Overall

So, I started writing my notes before doing research on this release. I was surprised this was an 18 year old version of Elijah Craig because it seems lighter, softer, and more delicate than what I’d expect from a super-aged Bourbon that was already fairly robust at 12 years. I was thinking it might have been aged on the bottom floor of the warehouse, and now smart = me I guess because that seems to be the case.

At least with my barrel, I would throw out the window preconceived ideas of super-aged Bourbons. I found Elijah Craig 18 to be surprisingly sweet and honey filled, and while the wood is present, it’s not overly assertive. While I get some weird stuff in the aroma, it doesn’t seem to translate to the sip. Some of that medicinal and musty stuff is there, but it seems to all come together and work. I think this is a very nice Bourbon. Keep in mind, this is coming from someone who generally doesn’t prefer older Bourbons.

I’m not going to hold a price hike against Elijah Craig 18. $45 would be a ridiculous price, but $120 seems silly to me regardless of age. Still, I fully expect it to quickly sell out. Also, keep in mind this is considered a limited edition, so it shouldn’t be surprising if a premium was added to that $120 price.

If you appreciate great Bourbon enough to pay for it, I think the price is worthy of at least one purchase, but for me it’s not a regular item.

Recommendation

Buy a Bottle / 3.5 out of 5.0

(My 5 point scale: Pass, Try a Glass, Buy a Bottle, Buy Again, Shut Up and Take My Money – Bottle price is taken into consideration for recommendations.)

Links and Other Reviews

Heaven Hill’s Website