Translate Caskstrength!

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Bourbon Outfitters Part One: Fruit and Flowers

When Guy Hands took over EMI via his investment vehicle Terra Firma in August 2007, one of the ways the financier claimed he was going to help wipe out the company’s £260 million losses from the previous year, was to clamp down on expenses claims. The example which was given by Terra Firma in 2008 was that EMI had spent a whopping £200,000 on “fruit and flowers” in the previous financial year.

Often used as a cover-all for gift to artists and managers, fruit and flowers underpins many music industry expense claims as you can pretty much get away with anything under the guise of 'fruit and flowers'. I'm sure it's contributed to many a hangover, or worse, in the past few decades. In John Niven’s excellent book Kill Your Friends, the lead character, an A&R chap at a record company in the 1990’s named Steven Stelfox, muses

“I take my mind of the subject by smoking another cigarette and doing some expenses, noting with some surprise that I managed to spend nearly two thousand pounds on ‘entertainment’ last December.”

Presumably, most of this would have been listed as ‘fruit and flowers’...

Now away from major record company expense claims, the only ‘fruit and flowers’ which appears on my credit card statement are maraschino cherries for a good cocktail and bottle or two of Four Roses, either Small Batch or Single Barrel.

We’ve covered Four Roses in quite some depth before, explaining how they make effectively ten different styles of whiskey at the distillery, using different mash bills and different yeast strains. See here for the post which covers off this information in detail, but the three key releases from Four Roses remain the same and are as follows:

Yellow Label (the real mixer of the team), Small Batch (for premium mixing and sipping) and the always fantastic, value for money, Single Barrel (for sipping. If you touch mine for anything else, I’ll touch your face. And not in a good way).

Last year the distillery branched out to release a Limited Edition Small Batch, a mix of 10, 11 and 15 year old bourbon, expertly blended by Master Distiller Jim Rutledge.

This year, Jim has gone one stage further by released a limited edition selection of single barrel whiskies from the warehouse. These releases differ from the standard Single Barrel release in two main ways:

Firstly, they are barrel strength (a phrase which always makes me think of the Dandy cover character, Desperate Dan, left) so will range from between 55.5% - 58.5% ABV, with the standard Single Barrel weighing in at an always consistent 50%.

Secondly, these bottling are an example of just one of the ten different styles of Four Roses which goes in to making up the Small Batch and the Yellow Label. Over time, we’d like to think that examples of all ten different whiskies produced at Four Roses will be releases, enabling fans to sample ten distinct different bourbons, all from one distillery.

Think of this limited releases a bit like a single by your favourite band: each of the barrels bottled in the 3600-strong release is like being a different live version of that single. It’s the same song, just done slightly different depending on the night, the venue, the audience. The 'standard release' Single Barrel 50% is like the album version; dependable, consistent and reliably good. The Small Batch would be the album: made up from lots of different songs, as the whiskey is made up from the various styles of bourbon that the distillery produces.

Four Roses – Single Barrel – Limited Edition 2011 – variable ABV

Nose: Intensely spicy, with hot pepper/picante notes, following into sweet, creamy vanilla, Tonka bean (finally we know what one smells like!) marzipan and sweet cereals. With a dash of water light Virginia tobacco, fragrant pipe tobacco and the merest hint of EVO stick.

Palate: The spice continues onto the palate, as does the fragrant tobacco and marzipan. It's classic Four Roses but much hotter than other bottlings - a dash of white pepper in there and more of the picante/BBQ gives this a distinctly rugged feel- pair it with some baby back ribs, smothered in hickory sauce and you'd find most folks giving leave of their senses. Wonderful stuff.

Finish: Carrying on where we left off. More of the vanilla and aromatic pipe tobacco, give this an extreme length and complexity, which takes ages to dissipate.

Overall: Only 180 bottles of this Four Roses limited release are making their way to the UK, available exclusively at The Whisky Exchange for £84.99. It is pricy for a single barrel bottling, but when you consider what else is out there in the same category, this looks like a decent bet. For those who don't want to stump up nearly a ton, the more available 100 proof single barrel is an absolute snip at around £35 available here.

Shame I don’t have that record company expense account any longer, as with this release coming out and my cocktail cherries running low, I could have rivalled Steven Stelfox for his ‘entertainment’ bill this month...