What the heck does OESK mean? Is it the initials of some obscure government agency? A small town in Russia? A typo? And what is it doing on a bottle of bourbon?
Dyed-in-the-wool Four Roses fans know straightaway that it’s a bourbon made with a low-rye mash bill (“E”) and a spicy, full-bodied yeast strain (“K”). The “O” means it was distilled at the Four Roses distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, and the “S” means it’s a straight bourbon, having aged in wood for more than 2 years.
Four Roses uses two different mash bills to make its bourbon—one with a higher percentage of rye to give it a bolder, spicier flavor, and one with less rye and more corn for sweeter, smoother results—as well as five different yeast strains, all of which impart different flavors in the final product. Master distiller Brent Elliott tinkers with the recipes and the aging time for every limited-edition bottling the brand releases.
The Four Roses Limited Edition 2017 Small Batch Bourbon ($130) marks the first blend that’s all low-rye; it’s a combination of 15-year-old OESK, 13-year-old OESK, and 12-year-old OESV (the “V” yeast strain makes for a fruity, buttery bourbon).
Thankfully, it’s not necessary to understand yeast strains and mash bills to appreciate this bourbon. It has a creamy, velvety mouthfeel, with tart cherries, ripe raspberries, and creamy vanilla on both the nose and the palate. It stays sweet through the long, spicy finish, with dark plum notes bringing up the rear. It’s bottled at barrel strength, which in this case is 107.3 proof—but no water is needed to appreciate a whiskey this well-crafted. What is required, however, is speed; Four Roses’ limited editions sell out quickly, and this one, limited to 13,800 bottles worldwide, will be no exception.