Four Roses Distillery Single Barrel Labels

You may have heard people talk about their favorite bottle of Four Roses Bourbon and thought, “What on earth are they talking about? What’s OESO or OESK?” Well, just like a 1950s Captain Midnight decoder you get when you mail in the label off your jar of Ovaltine (video below), the answer is really quite simple once you understand the code.

In short, Four Roses uses two mash bills and 5 proprietary yeast strains. The combinations of the two make up the 10 distinctive recipes. This Infographic will teach you how to read the label and decipher exactly what makes up the spirit inside the bottle.

Before we get into the details think about how complicated this really is. If you are the master distiller or the person in charge of keeping all the barrels of bourbon in order before bottling this is pretty complicated stuff. When distilling, you have to know what batch you are making, which mash bill and which yeast strain. Once you are done with the OESK batch you have to clean everything out and start over with the OESO batch. Ok, now you have completed your next run. Time to barrel it, store it and eventually bottle, label it, mark it by hand, ship it and oh yeah, sell it. Clearly, a labor of love! And keep in mind; you are not storing it for a few days but rather for a few years or more than a decade. And you’re not storing it just anywhere; you’re recording the warehouse, the floor, the rack, the position in the rack. You get the picture. This is why you need software to manage your distillery, Excel spreadsheets are not going to cut it long term.

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How to Read a Four Roses Bourbon Label
Four Roses Bourbon Four Letters
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1st Letter Indicates the Location of the Distillery

The first letter is always the same. The “O” represents the Four Roses Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. According to Four Roses Master Distiller Brent Elliot, “The “O” is a throwback from the Seagram days when barrels had a distillery designation. “O” designated “Old Prentice” which is our current (Four Roses) distillery.” Back in their heyday, Seagram’s used to own many distilleries around the country. Here’s a 1910 photo of what Four Roses looked like when it was the Old Prentice Distillery.

Old Prentice Distillery c. 1910 - Now Four Roses Distillery
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2nd Letter Indicates the Mash Bill

Four Roses uses two mashbills.

  • E Mashbill = 75% Corn, 20% Rye and 5% Malted Barley
  • B Mashbill = 60% Corn, 35% Rye and 5% Malted Barley

Four Roses Mashbill B and E
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3rd Letter Indicates the type of Whiskey

The third letter is always the same. The “S” indicates Straight Whiskey.

4th Letter Indicates the Yeast

Four Roses uses five proprietary yeast strains identified by yeast codes. Each has its own flavor characteristics.

  • V = Light Fruitiness, Light Vanilla, Caramel and Creamy
  • K = Light Slight Spice, Light Caramel and Full Bodied
  • O = Rich Fruitiness, Light Vanilla, Caramel and Full Bodied
  • Q = Essences of Floral
  • F = Essences of Herbal Aromas

The Four Roses Production Process Explained
How to Read a Four Roses Bourbon Small Batch Label 2016
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The Four Roses 10 Bourbon Recipes

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Read the labels carefully. The Limited Edition bourbons are the ones that allow you to choose down to this detail. Now that you know how to read the label, go forward and start tasting!

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1950’s Vintage Captain Midnight Decoder Ring TV Commercial


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