A Toast to Sir Moses
A review of the 1848 Winery Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 and the Four Roses 2011 Limited Edition Single Barrel 12 year old Bourbon.
By Joshua E. London and Louis Marmon
Washington Jewish Week October 12, 2011
The birth of the modern Israeli wine industry can be traced to Sir Moses Montefiore, the noted British philanthropist. Born in 1784, Montefiore gained great personal wealth as a businessman, ultimately retiring in 1924 to spend the rest of his life supporting various charities, including projects devoted to improving the lives of the Jews in the Holy Land. He established the first modern Jewish communities outside of Jerusalem, encouraging residents to pursue agriculture, including vineyard-tending.
In 1848 Rabbi Yitzhak Shor followed Sir Moses’ advice and founded the country’s first commercial winery. The family is now in its ninth generation as wine-makers and as owners of the Zion, Arza and Hacormim wineries located at Mishor Adumim outside Jerusalem. Brothers Yossi and Tzvika Shor recently released wines from their latest project, the 1848 Winery.
Their experience and access to superior grapes is reflected in the quality of their initial efforts, which are offered as either Reserve or Special Reserve. An example is the very enjoyable, full-bodied 1848 Winery Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 ($39). Starting with slightly smoky dark berry and red cherry aromas, it flows smoothly into raspberry, currant and blackberry flavors with some pepper and cedar in the long finish.
Spirits-wise, we thought we’d turn again to Kentucky and taste the Four Roses 2011 Limited Edition Single Barrel, 12-year-old bourbon ($90). The Four Roses Distillery produces some of the most interesting bourbon on the market today, and has made a substantial comeback in the U.S.
The distillery was built in 1910, just south of Lawrenceburg, in an unlikely Spanish Mission-style suggesting locales south of the Rio Grande, or at least west of it. The distillery is on the National Register of Historic Places. Another unusual aspect of Four Roses is that none of the straight bourbon whiskeys regularly produced there from the late 1950s were available for purchase in the United States until 2002. In fact, for much of this period, the bulk of this distillery’s output was shipped in bulk to Scotland and bottled there for distribution to Europe and Asia. After Prohibition destroyed the legal distilled spirits trade in the U.S., the Four Roses brand was re-introduced by the Frankfort Distilling Co. and was a huge brand in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s.
The Seagram Company, owned by the Bronfman family of Montreal, bought Four Roses in 1943, and in the mid 1950s Seagram decided to end its domestic straight bourbon operations and focus on the growing European and Asian markets. Seagram’s decision to focus on blends for its U.S. holdings, meant that the Four Roses brand was only vaguely kept alive domestically via the cheap rot-gut blend Four Roses American, where its popularity soared among the Skid Row set. Seagram’s was the largest distiller of alcoholic beverages in the world until it sold off its beverage division in 2000.
In 2002, Four Roses was sold to its primary Asian distributor, the Kirin Brewing Company of Japan. Kirin immediately and mercifully killed the cheap Four Roses American label. Kirin then reintroduced the Four Roses Straight Bourbon Whiskey to the United States where it was being brilliantly made for all those decades.
Kirin not only unleashed the creative energies of master distiller Jim Rutledge and his team, it increased production and greatly improved distribution. Four Roses is easy to find in the Washington area.
Most bourbon producers use a variety of grain formulas known as “mash bills” (grains that are fermented to produce the beer that will be distilled into bourbon) to produce variation in their product line.
Intriguingly, Four Roses has only two different mash bills which it then combines with five yeast strains to produce 10 distinctive whiskey recipes. Thus, Four Roses can quickly mix and match flavors to develop its whiskies. A visit to the company’s website (www.fourroses.us/) not only explains all the wonderful whiskey-geek details, but provides the key to knowing which recipe forms the base of whichever of their whiskies you purchase.
Since 2002, Four Roses has produced its flagship bourbon, “Yellow Label,” a “Single Barrel” bourbon, a “Small Batch” bourbon, two Japan-only expressions (“Super Premium” and “Black“), two “Barrel-Strength” anniversary editions, and a constantly changing blend of some or all of its 10 recipes called the “Marriage Collection.” All of these are interesting and brilliantly made bourbons.
The Four Roses 2011 Limited Edition Single Barrel, 12-year-old bourbon, is a sophisticated whiskey that offers something of a challenge – a roaring challenge. The nose is floral, fragrant and pleasant with a hint of heat, and on the palate it hits with a strong bitter herb and rye grain note that is balanced by sweetness (notes of poached pear, apple tart, maple syrup, baked cinnamon apples) and an enveloping pastry/scone-like palate (biscuits, pancakes), which gives way to strong caraway seed and slight taste of root beer mixed with ginger ale, with maybe a hint of nutmeg and cocoa. Big, bold, a little bizarre, yet complex, balanced and delicious. L’chaim.