Many drinkers, upon trying their first Islay malt, wonder what the appeal is. Even most Islay lovers would agree that whiskeys from that island assault the senses like no others, with flavors and aromas not ordinarily considered appealing. The pleasure in those drams is when they combine their discordant pieces into a harmonious whole. A pact is forged between drink and drinker to struggle past the repellant first impression to find the bliss beyond.
Few Scottish whiskeys attempt this high wire act, even fewer do from other lands. Some Americans do it with advanced age. Something like the 18-year-old Sazerac Rye poses a similar challenge. So have a few limited-edition releases from other distilleries, including several of the annual limited edition single barrels from Four Roses, like the new one for 2011.
For those of you who know the code, it's a 12-year-old OBSQ. (For those who don't, go to the web site for an explanation. Look for the tab that says '10 recipes.')
Like an Islay malt, this bourbon throws down the gauntlet right away. It has a strong bitter herb note that a grappa drinker might recognize. The balance comes from sweetness and an enveloping, scone-like body. When you've acclimated it presents more as caraway seed and horehound candy. There is nothing subtle about any of it.
This bourbon will not be for everyone which is just as well since these Four Roses Single Barrel Limited Edition releases always sell out fast anyway. You'll either love it or hate it. I totally get it, I think it's a great whiskey, but I don't love it.