Bourbon Bits: Four Roses’ ‘Ten,’ Meaning Of ‘Vintage,’ Maker’s BEP

Sometimes whiskey news is best broken into bits …

I’d call that a perfect 10! Four Roses line extensions are as rare as solar eclipses. In my 12 years of covering bourbon, I’ve seen only one: Small Batch Select, a dandy blend created by Brent Elliott and rolled out in 2019. Thirteen years prior to that, it was Single Barrel, one of the Jim Rutledge’s most memorable changes to the line.

Now, amid a global brand refresh, all its bottles (same glass and shape) have new labels, and with what seems a clear nod to modern skin-art zeitgeist, the cork inside every bottle is engraved with a rose cluster.

Four Roses The Ten Recipe Tasting Experience

Kentucky’s Four Roses Distillery, as it celebrates its anniversary, has debuted a special tasting kit alongside a global brand refresh, the first in nearly 20 years. (image via Four Roses)

But the real news is … there’s a new line extension! Dubbed The Ten Recipe Tasting Experience (TRTE), this handsome box contains 10 50ml samples of every unique Four Roses recipe. (2 yeast strains x 5 mashbills = 10 recipes for anyone not aware of the math.) This is terrific because the most common way to taste all 10 Four Roses recipes in one place is on a single barrel pick. There, you taste 10 barrels just to pick one—compared to most picks, at which you sample just three. Knowing so few bourbon lovers get that chance, the distillery created the TRTE to let more people do their own comparison of all 10 … at 104 proof, not at cask strength as you would on a pick.

Beginning June 30, and at a price of $129.99, you can pick up a TRTE at either Four Roses’ Kentucky visitor centers in Lawrenceburg and Cox’s Creek. In mid-July, select retailers in Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky and California will begin selling them.

A word to the shrewd: Buy one for yourself and don’t share it. Yes, I’m serious because 50ml isn’t a lot of whiskey to sample, go back, cap those bottles and do it two or three times. You need all you can get to pick up the subtle changes in each whiskey as they open up a little. If you can purchase two, do that. It’ll keep your spouse or favorite bourbon on your good side.

Is Kentucky’s opaque vintage liquor law encouraging flippers to hoard and sell? We’ve all heard of the law of unintended consequences, but this time it was an actual a law that is triggering unintended consequences. Passed in 2017, Kentucky’s vintage liquor was created to allow consumers to sell their “vintage” liquor to licensed retailers. Sellers of dusties have profited on sales of these bottles, as have retailers eager to mark them up.

Though all sounds good, this question arises: What does vintage mean? In the minds of many whiskey fans, vintage does not include highly sought modern releases such as anything Weller or under the banner of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. But those bottles are bought and sold daily, moving freely from the hands of hoarders and flippers to the shelves of retailers willing to pay for them.

Want to dive deep into this story? Click here to see the Lexington Herald-Leader’s work. It’s thoroughly researched and heavily interviewed.

When former journalists do the promoting, brand launches are fun: Brand launches are pretty predictable: Distilleries announce a new whiskey, the press assembles to hear the story of—you guessed it—some (insert historic personality) “inspired us, the light bulb went on and we immediately started blending, and here’s what came out. It’s not just unique, it’s really pricey.”

Thank God for Heather Greene’s approach. In May, the longtime whiskey journalist poured a press group a glass of her new product and started piling on the facts: The new bourbon’s name, where it was made, how she blended it, how hard it was to launch a brand during a pandemic and how the stress of that wrenched her to the floor in the fetal position. That part of the talk got the intended laugh, but her expression hinted that she was exaggerating only slightly.

Back to its name: Milam & Greene Very Small Batch Bourbon. It’s aged with French oak staves whose inner curves are stained by port wine and whose outer curves were dried facing the Texas sun. It’s a blend of M&G’s first bourbon from Bardstown Bourbon Co. with an unidentified Tennessee sourced whiskey. SRP is $69.99.

“I look at our whiskey as whiskey with a little more heart” because of its varied sources, Greene said. “It shouldn’t taste like everything else made here.”

All agreed and nodded in gratitude before toasting with the spirit: a lively, but easy sipper at 3.5 years of age and 108 proof. Think light caramel and warm biscuits at center palate and busy spice all around the periphery.

Greene, who blends M&G, views whiskey and barrel options much as a florist would assess a flower garden: From those varied wood and whiskey assets, she makes “bouquets.” The margin for flavor influence, she added, makes the task challenging.

“Each barrel really freaking counts when you’re working with a very small batch,” which, for M&G, means 75 barrels, because that’s all its blending tank will hold. “Someday, I’ll be a big girl in the whiskey industry and have more barrels. Until then, we have what we’ve got.”

Maker’s Wood Finishing Series ends on a delicious note, BEP 2023: Since 2019, Maker’s Mark has released seven iterations of its Wood Finishing Series: cask strength versions of its bourbon accented with wood staves cooked in a variety of ways to yield a variety of flavors placed into those cask for, you guessed it, a varied range of days. All were delicious while some were marvelous, such as the Star Wars bot-sounding RC6 and SE4-PR5.

The final release, which got a similarly cryptic name, BEP, was done by Beth Buckner, who became MM’s innovation manager with Jane Bowie’s 2022 departure. It’s a tasty coda for a unique endeavor that saw MM open its doors to the press to see the process firsthand and taste some projects while in the works. Though this is the last WFS release, Maker’s hinted that its experimentation streak will continue. Details weren’t disclosed.

In case you’re wondering, BEP is a classic Maker’s vanilla-spice-candy bomb detonating at center palate. It’s 108-114-proof easy-sipping goodness that I may never press into service as a cocktail. Given that it’s a nationwide release, it’s readily available, and an easy decision at $69.99.


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Steve Coomes

Steve Coomes is an award-winning journalist and book author specializing in whiskey and food. In his 30-year career, he has edited and written for national trade and consumer publications including USA Today, Southern Living, Delta Sky Magazine, Nation’s Restaurant News, Pizza Today, Restaurant Business, Bourbon + and American Whiskey magazine....