Interview with Four Roses Brent Elliott

Brent Elliott was nice enough to have a phone chat with me… I have made some minor edits for time purposes, flow, continuity and because I took notes and didn’t record it… on to the interview…

NBD: Thanks for taking the time to chat with me today.  So… what is your daily routine?

BE: It’s different everyday, no two are alike.  When I’m here [at the distillery] I usually spend a lot of time in the sensory lab, mingling and blending different batches.  We look at every batch that comes off the still for quality check.  We check the distillate and 99 out of 100 are fine.  After four years we check each batch again to see where it will go.

NBD: How do you define a batch?

BE: A batch is about 290 barrels, coming from eight fermenters.   We make about 22 batches a month.  After four years we have a pretty good idea where it will go.  We test it and it gets designated for Yellow Label or Private Barrel or something different.  At 6.5-7yrs we test them again and at this point we are 75% sure how long they will go for and where they will end up.  From time to time we find a special batch that isn’t too astringent and still have more to go and that will often go into Small Batch Limited Edition.  Most of the longer aging are from the first or second tier.

NBD: What is a tier?

BE: Our warehouses have six stories, which we call tiers, the first being the ground floor and the sixth the top floor.  The first through third often produce batches that can age longer.

NBD: So… what is your daily drinker?  What did you drink last night?

BE: I actually didn’t drink last night, but the night before I had FR Small Batch.  When I first started out I tried everything, tried to understand the different processes, and the taste differences.  And over the years lots of people have brought over bourbons, but I do not have many competitors products at my house anymore.

NBD: So, I tried to Tweet you the other day and I couldn’t find you. Are you on Twitter?

BE:  I am not on Twitter… or Facebook or anywhere on social media.  I do check it from time to time from my wife’s account, but I’m so busy with emails and phone calls that I do not have time for it.

NBD: So, check my math.  22 batches a month, 290 barrels a batch, so you are making over 75,000 barrels a year?

BE: If we ran for 12 months a year that would be correct, but we shut down for about two months a year.  Historically we shut down for almost 4-5 months a year due to the heat in the river but now we shut down for about two months for cleanup, rebuilding and fixing the pipes, pumps and facilities.  We also are in the process of doubling our production and using that time to expand.

NBD: Thank you so much for your time… if there was anything you could fix in the bourbon industry, what would it be?

BE:  The price gauging on the secondary market bothers me and I also wish we have enough inventory.

NBD:  Seems that if you have enough inventory, the supply and demand would be fixed and would solve the price gauging problem.

BE: That’s right…

NBD: Do you think with all the increases in production that a bourbon bubble is forming?

BE: I do think that bourbon will slow down, whether it is in ten or fifteen years, but I do not think that the bottom will fall out.  This is not like cherry vodka and next week people like grape flavor more.  With bourbon, the growth requires more people to be introduced and there is increased recognition; when people try it they love it.  Bourbon has history, tradition, is hand crafted and has a soul; most importantly it is delicious.

NBD: Thank you so much for your time.

Top 5 Drams of the Year 2016

Another year gone by and I’ve read so many negative stories, yet, there were some pretty awesome bourbons released this year.  Overall the prices have gone up, but you can still find bargains and making friends with your local retailer has never been more important… onto the list!

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#1 2016’s Buffalo Trace Thomas H Handy 126.2 proof 97.5/100  secondary price: $300 (https://newbourbondrinker.wordpress.com/2016/11/27/btac-thomas-h-handy-2016/)  This was my favorite of the BTAC releases, with a close second being GTS, but THH is far easier to get your hands on and better price giving it the edge.  Handy may be the BTAC that is least respected, but time and time again it is my favorite release.

#2 2016 Release Four Roses Elliott’s Select OESK 52.9% abv 91/100 secondary price $225 (https://newbourbondrinker.wordpress.com/2016/08/15/four-roses-elliotts-select/)  There was a lot of worry when Jim Rutledge retired from Four Roses, but when Brent Elliott came out with this bottle immediately afterwards, all fears were assuaged.  In fact, this bottle was substantially better than the 2016 Four Roses Small Batch Limited Edition release, although not quite as good as last year’s winner, the 2015 FRSBLE.  I think we can all sleep soundly knowing that Four Roses is in good hands.

3# Barrell Bourbon New Years 2017 retail price $99.99 (for now!) (https://newbourbondrinker.wordpress.com/2017/01/02/happy-new-year-barrell-bourbon-2017/)  Another top award for this up and comer.  This is their first true marriage release of 4 different barrels from Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee, and once again blows the competition away.  Grab a few while you still can as the first release of this bad boy probably will be worth a lot of money in the near future…. keep your eye

#4 Willett Family Estate Single Barrel Bourbon #438 119.8 proof 96/100 $120 @ gift shop (https://newbourbondrinker.wordpress.com/2016/01/27/willett-family-estate-single-barrel-bourbon-438-holy-moley/)  This was one of the bottles I was lucky enough to buy when I visited Willett in January of 2016.  This was a honey barrel if I’ve ever tasted one.  If you are ever able to get some of this, don’t hesitate!

#5 Garrison Brothers Single Barrel Bourbon #3824 97 proof 96/100 $100 retail price (https://newbourbondrinker.wordpress.com/2016/11/24/go-visit-garrison-brothers-single-barrel-amazing/) Garrison Brothers consistently puts out a great product.  I also visited their distillery this year and really enjoyed meeting Dan and the team.  Very excited to see the 2017 Cowboy Bourbon when it is released next year!

There were so many that almost made the cut… I tried a couple rums this year that were really good including one from Balcones (https://newbourbondrinker.wordpress.com/2016/06/29/balcones-texas-rum-special-release-batch-15-1-63-9-abv/) and another from Barrell (https://newbourbondrinker.wordpress.com/2016/12/03/barrell-rum-batch-001-7yr-jamaican-pot-still-rum/).  Barrell’s Whiskey 002 was another one that almost made the cut, but after careful consideration I preferred the New Years (https://newbourbondrinker.wordpress.com/2016/04/24/barrell-whiskey-002-magical-sherry-cask-finish/).  Most lists have Booker’s Rye on their top 5, and although it is a good whiskey, it’s just too hot and expensive and does not deserve to make it in my very humble opinion (https://newbourbondrinker.wordpress.com/2016/08/23/bookers-rye/).  PHC 10yr was also hotly debated, and I thought it was extremely good, but given the price, just not quite worthy vs the Garrison or the WFE (https://newbourbondrinker.wordpress.com/2016/09/19/phc10-parkers-heritage-collection-10-24yr-bourbon/).

I’ll have my top five disappointments in the world of bourbon coming up soon… thanks again for a great 2016 to everyone who reads this blog.  Readership has gone up 5x and I hope to continue that trend into 2017.  I’d love to hear what your top 5 of the year were?  Happy New Year!

http://www.barrellbourbon.com/  http://www.garrisonbros.com/  http://www.kentuckybourbonwhiskey.com/  http://fourrosesbourbon.com/  https://www.buffalotracedistillery.com/

FRSBLE2016…big shoes to fill from the 2015…

Four Roses Small Batch Limited Edition 2015 was my favorite bourbon of last year… it’s almost impossible to follow that up, as expectations are aggressively high.  The Elliot’s Select, out early this year, was one of my favorites, so I was very excited to get one of these bottles.  The bottle I am rating is 262/9258 which I bought on bottle-spot, but was lucky to get one for $119.99 a few weeks later from one of the liquor stores I go to a lot (thanks for keeping one aside for me).

Last year was a blend of four, this year is only three and is a 12yr OESO, 12yr OBSV and a 16yr OESK.  The bottles looks the same as last year, just with a 2016 instead of a 2015 and this year comes in with an sbv that is 1.3% higher to 55.6%.  The colors are basically the same.

The nose is good, very sweet, butterscotch, candied popcorn, cinnamon sticks, canned dark fruits and bbq grill ash.  The depth of the nose isn’t quite as complex and deep as last year’s.  Very little heat.

The bourbon on the tongue goes down smoothly.  The mouthfeel is enjoyable with just enough grip to let you know that it isn’t chill filtered, and is warmer than expected.  The taste is better than the nose with additional complexity coming through as the finish is very long, much longer than expected.

The lack of complexity on the nose was cause for concern, but the taste on the palate and the fun mouthfeel come through in the end.  This is a bourbon with a long finish and although is not nearly as good as last year’s release, is still a very good bourbon and one of my favorites of the year.  If you can find it at retail, it’s a steal, but don’t chase this one like I am still chasing the 2015 release.  94/100.

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Four Roses Elliott’s Select

While the huge media chatter of Jim Rutledge “retiring” and then quickly going online to kickstart his own distillery has dominated the news, Brent Elliott has quietly taken over as Master Distiller at Four Roses Distillery, continuing to make great whiskey.  The newest special release from Four Roses is the Elliott’s Select 2016 Limited Edition Single Barrel.

This review is from bottle number 4473/10224, a 52.9% abv, 14 year aged, OESK from warehouse QN from barrel 47-1L.

Golden brown color.

The nose has butterscotch, anise, brown sugar, smoked maple bacon, dry hay and candied apple.

The palate is phenomenal, good oils, moderate tannins, sweet fruits and candied apples engulf the mouth.  The finish is long and complex, thick and juicy.

This is clearly one of the standouts of 2016; hits all the right notes, is complex and enjoyable.  Too bad it’s one of those hard to find bourbons for a reasonable price… I’ve seen it listed on bottle-spot.com for low 200s, and at that price it’s reasonable. 97/100

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Bourbon @ The New York Shaving Company Barbershop

The company I work for has an annual charity auction where employees both donate events/items/experiences and also bid on other people’s donations.  This year I decided to work with the New York Shaving Company to donate a great bro’s event: Bourbon at the Barbershop.  Everyone who won the event was treated to an old school barber’s shave and as much amazing bourbon as they could drink.  John Scala, owner and operator of The New York Shaving Company, was an amazing host for our event and I provided the incredible selection of Bourbon.

The lineup for the event was:

  • Old Rip Van Winkle 10yr
  • Blade & Bow 22yr
  • Willett Family Estate Bourbon bottle #438
  • Thomas H. Handy BTAC 2014
  • Elijah Craig 18
  • Elijah Craig 23
  • Barrell Bourbon Batch 002
  • Barrell Bourbon Batch 005
  • Barrell Bourbon Batch 006
  • Barrell Whiskey Batch 002 Sherry Cask Finish
  • Four Roses Small Batch Limited Edition 2014
  • Four Roses Small Batch Limited Edition 2015
  • Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection Rediscovered Barrels 17yr
  • Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection Rediscovered Barrels 19yr
  • Michter’s 10 Bourbon
  • Buffalo Trace Single Oak Project
  • Elmer T. Lee
  • Weller Special Reserve

We raised a lot of money for charity and everyone had a great time–the hangovers were proof.  Thanks again to John and the great people at the NY Shaving Company and to everyone who bid high to win tickets to the event.  It was also a great way to finish off a bunch of heels from my collection.  18 bottles gone, which means I can take 18 more out of the bunker 🙂

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2016 Whisky Jewbilee and Event Tasting Strategy

The 5th Annual Whisky Jewbilee was my first time attending this cool New York City event… I brought a few clients and friends with me to enjoy the fun.  As part of any large tasting, you need to have a game plan ahead of time—know where the rare bottles are and hit them first.

A huge mistake rookies make is trying to be very polite and going through the whole vertical.  I totally understand being polite, going through each one and hearing why the 10yr is so great.  But… there will be time for that at the end of the evening if you really care.  There were about 6 Scotches that were 25yrs or older and they were all gone within the first 30 minutes, so if you didn’t hit them first, you missed out.  Fortunately for me and my friends, I had them all mapped out and we were able to try them all.  To be honest though, a the selection of 25yr Scotch didn’t really excite me…

I’m much more of a bourbon fan than scotch, so I was hoping for something special underneath the tables, that wasn’t on the original tasting list.  There were three tables that really stepped it up in my opinion:

Skinner Auctions brought a bunch of dusties including a 1970s Stitzel-Weller Cabin Still decanter.  Only a 4-5yr bourbon, but so incredibly smooth.  And to get the chance to try anything from Stitzel-Weller is welcomed.  I went back for five pours, which probably was overkill, but almost no one was hitting this table, so it was a hidden gem.

For all the negative things I have written about Balcones over the years, they actually stepped it up at this tasting.  I tried their normal products, and again, I really didn’t like them.  I had never tried their Brimstone, and I think that might be my least favorite one of theirs of all time—just horrible.  However… when I asked if they had anything under the table, I was very pleasantly surprised.  Winston Edwards (the brand ambassador) pulled a new product, the Balcones Texas Rum Special Release 63.9% abv.  He said it was mostly a 3.5yr rum blended with some younger ones.  This product blew me away.  Great mouthfeel, such rich notes, just a tremendous amount of complexity and length.  This was so good I bought two bottles online and can’t wait to try it at home and do a proper tasting.  Stay tuned in the coming weeks for a full review on this rum.

The other favorite table was Barrell Bourbon.  Joe Beatrice brought both whiskey batches, including the sherry cask Batch 002, which was a top 5 of the night as well as Batch 006 and Batch 007.  They also has a special Batch 007b, which apparently was the same barrels from Batch 007, but bottled a few months later, so a little more age, and slightly different proof, but everything else the same.  Very tasty.  I love when the presenters have a little something special under the table if you ask nicely–thank you Joe!

I was very disappointed by a lot of the other bourbon tables, especially Four Roses, Bookers, Basil Hayden, Bakers, etc… they just brought their normal bottles.  Four Roses should have at least brought the Elliot’s Select, but just brought their normal ones.  For a tasting, they should have stepped up their game a little bit.  If I wanted a glass of Basil Hayden, I could just go to any bar, their performance was not exciting.  For next year, hopefully the larger brands lose the attitude and bring something a little special.

At the end of the evening, my clients and friends had a great time, we all drank quite a bit of very good whiskey and I even got to meet Mark Gillespie from WhiskyCast which was a treat.  Because it wasn’t in a proper tasting setting, I am not going to give any grades but the top drams of the night, not in any order were: Stitzel-Weller Cabin Still 1970’s dusty, Barrell Bourbon Batch 006, Barrell Whiskey Batch 002, Balcones Texas Rum Special Release, Balvenie 25.

 

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My Top 5 Drams of the Year

#1 Four Roses Small Batch Limited Edition 2015 (98 points, bottle-spot $425)

#2 William Larue Weller 2015 (99 points, bottle-spot $600)

#3 Barrell Bourbon Batch 006 (96 points, MSRP $90)

#4 Garrison Brothers Cowboy (96 points, $200 MSRP)

#5 Bourbon County Brand Regal Rye Stout 2015 (99 points, bottle-spot $75)

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How did I pick the order my top 5?  Honestly, you could put these in any order and it would be fine by me… I’m honored to have tried every one of these and to still have them all in my bunker.

In terms of cracking the top 5, these were by far the best I had this year, so it wasn’t even close.  George T. Stagg 2015 was up there, but just didn’t come close to the Weller, and for the value the Thomas Handy was the other BTAC that was nearest to making the list.  If there was a 6-10, you would have seen the THH, Stagg Jr, Pikesville and a couple others crack it, but the differentiation between 1-5 and 6-10 was extremely significant.

For bottles you can get at the store or online at MSRP I put those prices, for ones that are impossible to find I listed the approximate bottle-spot.com going rates.

For the money it’s clear that Barrell Bourbon is the best buy of the list here (and you can still find it online for the MSRP still!!  https://www.caskers.com/barrell-kentucky-straight-bourbon-whiskey-batch-006/  http://www.barrellbourbon.com/), while if money is no object, this year’s Weller is out of this world.  Jim Rutledge’s final LESB was the winner, as he saved his best for last.  Cowboy bourbon is a totally unique product and I absolutely recommend everyone pick up a bottle, or if $200 is too much, pick up their 2yr which is also excellent (https://www.caskers.com/garrison-brothers-texas-straight-bourbon-whiskey/).  I did throw a beer in here, but if you haven’t had it, don’t judge: it’s just as complex and enjoyable as the others on the list here.  If you have a smaller budget, my $30 and under best buys of the year are Old Grand-Dad 114 (https://www.caskers.com/spirits/old-grand-dad-114-bourbon-whiskey/) and Elmer T Lee (if you can find them at those prices).  Here’s to a great 2016!