I love meeting people. Everyone has a story to tell, and you can bond with the most extraordinary people, make friends, in the most unusual circumstances. Maybe it’s my ‘talk to anyone’ nature, or being in Manchester where conversation while waiting in line, or sitting together on a bus is common place.
Last week I found myself chatting to Brent Elliot before his ‘Meet the Distiller’ event at The Whiskey Jar. We talked about the geeky elements of distilling – grains, yeasts, chemistry. It’s not surprising really, that’s how he ended up at Four Roses originally. A chemist at heart, Four Roses needed someone to operate specialised pieces of equipment in quality control. When he spied an advertisement for the role, applying really was a no-brainer.
And 11 years later he was made Master Distiller.
He still likes to get his hands dirty. The role of Master Distiller is a complicated one – quality control, taste testing (oh yes, chemical analysis is one thing, but taste is even more important), and meeting the public all have to be juggled into the schedule. It can be a challenge, but while Brent shared a little Red Breast 12 year old, and 21 year old with me (it pays to keep abreast of the competition), he admitted it wasn’t a bad problem to have. It’s clear to see, here’s a chap who loves his job.
Four Roses has made it’s way into the mainstream in Europe in recent years. Complicated by it’s purchase by another company who wanted to concentrate on selling a blended whiskey in the USA, rather than the Bourbon that us Europeans have come to know, it was taken over again in 2002 (three years before Brent started at the company) and after increasing production in subsequent years, it’s now becoming a well known and well respected Bourbon once more – all over the world.
This evening of tasting at the Whiskey Jar was an opportunity for everyone to not only meet the man himself (who incidentally has an incredible accent that means him reading the phone directory would prove audibly pleasurable), and to try the range of bourbons from Four Roses, including their newest release for 2016.
Four Roses uses a blend of corn, rye and barley in it’s creation. Each adds different flavours to the finished product, but it goes deeper than that. Four Roses also uses a number of yeasts – each of which brings out different flavours in the grain. So every bourbon has four letter designations. Two of these are same, only the other two vary. There’s a handy little infographic on their website to break it down for you.
It’s also the only distillery to age all it’s barrels on one floor. There’s no shelving, no stacking or racking, so the flavours imparted during the ageing process stay consistent.
This means that whilst there is a core ‘style’ to Four Roses, there’s a delicious variation in flavours created by both the grain balance, the yeasts and the ageing process.
But enough geekery. Time for the bourbon.
The original Four Roses, that everyone recognises is Yellow Label. All Four Roses have a peppery note to them that’s more intense than in other bourbons, making them somewhat distinctive. Apples, vanilla, spice and caramel all feature on the on the nose of Yellow label, but on the tongue there’s the soft typical rye grain sweetness, fruit and pepper on the tongue.
Small Batch is a different animal. Flatter on the nose, toffee, clear apple juice, a hint of pepper that tickles. Softer on the palate, rounder mouthful, less spice. More soft cinnamon, toffee sweetness that lingers with the pepper spice at the end.
Our third bourbon was Single Barrel. This has more rye, that you can smell – sweet, spice, fruit. Cinnamon and distinctive rye sweetness on the nose, that soft cinnamon – almost a nutty bitter chocolate in the background. Sweet peppery rye on the tongue – such a distinctive flavour. Lingers with white pepper, and finishes with a dry bitter chocolate note.
Finally it was the Limited Edition Small Batch for 2016. Cinnamon and pepper on the nose, but at 55% abv, it’s not surprising. Corn, apple, sweet, white pepper, cinnamon. Spicy sweet. With a good vanillin woody finish.
I haven’t sampled the 2015 Limited Edition – and not surprisingly, as it completely sold out. Having tried the 2016 edition, I’m pretty certain this is going to go the same way.
It was an absolute pleasure to meet Brent – it was a pleasure to talk to someone who so clearly loves what they do, and isn’t just saying it for the public. And it turns out, if you want to get geeky, all you have to do is ask.
With thanks to Brent, to Four Roses Bourbon, Spirit Cartel and to The Whiskey Jar for hosting the event.
(Oh and to Bluu for being my table companions!)