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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Bourbon

Four Roses Tan Label

Some products have evolved over time to be less than what they once were; Four Roses Tan Label is just the opposite. Through attention to craft and process, this phoenix has risen to new heights from the ashes. While some would snub their nose at this low-proof, bargain-shelfer, it deserves a second look.

A Rose by Any Other Name

The Four Roses name comes from its distilling founder, Paul Jones Jr. In his youth, he was captivated by the beauty of a Southern belle. When he proposed, he instructed her that if her answer was “yes”, she should wear a corsage of roses during the grand ball. When they met at the grand ball, Jones’s belle was wearing a corsage of, not one rose, but four red roses – hence the name was born. His whiskey production dated back to the 1860’s, later setting up operations along “Whiskey Row” in downtown Louisville. By 1888, he’d trademarked his Four Roses brand name.

Ownership passed to the Frankfort Distilling, and later Seagram purchased the brand in 1943. Four Roses had been a revered name throughout the 1930’s - 1950’s. As spirit sales began their long decline, Seagram moved the brand overseas to Europe and Asia. Ten years later, with the advent of “light whiskeys” in favor, Seagram began blending the bourbon with grain neutral spirits.

Through the 1970’s and 1980’s, Four Roses began its long rebirth. Today Kirin Brewery, a Japanese company, owns Four Roses. It wasn’t long before the refreshed brand and its spirits began to appear on American shelves once again.

The Tasting

Four Roses provides true transparency when it comes to the mash bills utilized in their products. Two mash bills are used: Mashbill “E” = 75% corn, 20% rye, and 5% malted barley, and Mashbill “B” = 60% corn, 35% rye, and 5% malted barley.

The two mash bills are then fermented with 5 different yeast strains:

K – spicy, full bodied

Q – slightly fruity, spicy, medium bodied

O – floral (rose petal), spicy, medium bodied

F – herbal

V – delicate fruit, spicy and creamy

The result is ten unique bourbons. Four Roses “tan label” (for years, it had a “yellow label”) is a blend of all ten bourbon recipes. While siblings Small Batch, Small Batch Select, and Single Barrel may get all the glory, it's hard to knock this 80-proof blend thought to be aged for 5 years.

Eye: Light amber or sundrenched straw.

Nose: Fruity and floral, with the smell of deeply fragrant apple and peach blossoms. There are light notes of vanilla layered gently in the background.

Palate: Soft and pleasant, true to the nose. The mouthfeel is light with flavors of apple-pear compote topped with warm vanilla whipped cream.

Finish: Medium with similar fruit notes ending with light spice.

Overall: This is a unique bourbon that I truly enjoy. It’s not going to beat some top shelf brands, but for the price point, I wouldn’t expect it to. I also feel its fruit flavor profile is unique and differentiates itself among many corn-forward or traditional vanilla-caramel offerings.

For the proof point, this may be one of the most flavorful bourbons available. I’ve used Four Roses Tan bourbon as part of several guided tasting flights. It allows me to share the story of how various mash bills and yeast strains have on the finished product. This is a bourbon that deserves a little respect as well as a spot in your cabinet; it’s capable neat, on the rocks, or in a cocktail.

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