...where distraction is the main attraction.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

NOT Single Malt Report: Taste Off! Maker's Mark vs. Four Roses Single Barrel

Quote of the day: "Tell me this doesn't smell like farty maple syrup!"

* * * * *

I just sighed deeply as I began this Report.  I'm still such a bourbon novice and this writeup may not do anything to strengthen anyone's opinion of my American whiskey knowledge.

But let's do it!

Here are the players:

DistilleryFour Roses
Type: Kentucky Straight Bourbon (Single Barrel)
Region: Lawrenceberg, Kentucky
Age: over 7 years, probably 8 to 12 years
Mashbill: 60% corn, 35% rye, and 5% malted barley (source)
Maturation: charred white oak barrels
Alcohol by Volume: 50%


DistilleryMaker's Mark
OwnershipBeam Global
Type: Kentucky Straight Wheated Bourbon
Region: Loretto, Kentucky
Age: minimum 2 years, likely 6 to 8 years
Mashbill: 70% corn, 16% soft red winter wheat, and 14% malted barley (source)
Maturation: charred white oak barrels
Alcohol by Volume: 45%

The Maker's Mark is from a 375mL bottle.  The Four Roses Single Barrel is from a 50mL mini I found at Hi Time Wine Cellars.  The bottles themselves are great.  Maker's has its distinctive shape and the dipped wax phallus at the top.  And the Four Roses had the heaviest sturdiest glass mini bottle I've ever bought (and I've bought a few).

The biggest difference (to me) between these two are the mashbills.  Maker's Mark uses wheat instead of rye in their mix and is heavily corn-ed.  Four Roses Single Barrel also has a bit of corn (51% is the minimum allowed for bourbons) but has a large balance of rye in there as well.  A second difference is that the Four Roses is, per the label, from one barrel while the Maker's is from a combination of a large number of barrels.

I really had no idea what to expect.  I'd never tried any Four Roses product previously, though I've been reading many raves about them.  I had bought the Maker's to perfect my citrusy boubon old fashioned recipe, but hadn't spent much time with it neat.  So, I thought trying them side by side would be a good way to sort out the nuances.

Just before I did the taste off, I read The Coopered Tot's six-part blind Canadian rye tasting.  It inspired me to do my mini taster blind as well.

As if trying to figure out two bourbons wasn't enough for me, I was about to set myself up for the embarrassment of not being about to tell these two very different bourbons apart.  Awesome!

But I did it anyway.  Kristen did the one ounce pours and labeled the glasses A and B.

After allowing the whiskies a 15-minute adjustment period, I dug in.  Here are my results:

Bourbon A
Color - Reddish copper
Nose - Black cherry syrup, milk chocolate, cocoa powder, the inside of the oak barrel, Cool Whip
Palate - Old school Robotussin, treacle, maple syrup, a little hot, a little aspartame
Finish - Long and warm, whipped cream, but more of that sticky aspartame thing

Comments - It's a little busy but enjoyable, though I could do without the aspartame notes.  After the first couple of sips I said aloud, "Oh no, I think I like Maker's Mark."  That means I kinda liked this bourbon and I guessed it was Maker's.

Bourbon B
Color - Clove honey
Nose - French oak-type pencil shavings, sweet oranges, cherry lolipops, gassy, maple syrup, frosting
Palate - Pencils, root vegetables, very sweet at first then mellows out, vanilla, sugar cookies, but ultimately very tame
Finish - A good length, more ethyl, floral and vanilla, marshmallows

Comments - Mild and tame, the sweetness would work better than A for mixing.  I thought that the mellowness meant that it was Four Roses.  So that was my guess.

Well, first thing's first.  My guesses were wrong.

A = Four Roses Single Barrel
B = Maker's Mark

I hadn't looked up the Four Roses mashbill beforehand.  Had I done so, I would have seen the good dose of rye.  My brain should have recognized the black cherry, cough syrup, and cocoa notes as the rye elements I like.  I knew Maker's had no rye.  I based my guesses on the mellowness of 'B' and the aspartame notes in 'A'.  So my guesses were silly.

Secondly, blindly tasted, I liked the Four Roses better.  (Do I get to keep any of my street cred?)  It was a little hectic, not necessarily messy but active.  The diet coke artificial sweetener note was odd though. It kept showing up with every sip.  Without that, it would have challenged Blanton's for my favorite bourbon.

Maker's is still quite the sweetie.  I don't mind having it around as a mixer.  Though I don't foresee myself jonesing for a glass neat nor on the rocks, it's still better than most cheap scotch blends.

Kristen seemed to prefer the Four Roses a little more too.  But neither swayed her opinion of bourbon in general.

After the taste off was done, I blended the last 0.5oz of Four Roses with 0.5oz of Maker's Mark (creating a fake mashbill of 65% corn, 17.5% rye, 9.5% malted barley, 8% red winter wheat).

It was wrong.  It was so bad that I rushed the glass over to Kristen, exclaiming, "Tell me this doesn't smell like farty maple syrup!"  For some reason she refused to smell it.

I buried that bad blend underneath an Old Fashioned and was much happier with that result.

The bourbon journey continues.

Maker's Mark
Availability - Everywhere
Pricing - $19 to $24
Rating - 77

Four Roses Single Barrel
Availability - Some US liquor specialists
Pricing - $40 to $45
Rating - 82