By Richard Thomas
Having often said that one of the things I would like to see come out of the American micro-distilling scene is the development of something like what currently exists in Scotland — dozens of small and medium-sized distilleries not only making their own products, but supplying creative bottlers — word of Four Kings made me very excited indeed. Even without that private notion, the idea is exciting enough in its own right: whiskey four of the top micro-distilleries in American coming together in a single blended bourbon.
The idea was pushed by Ryan Burchett of Mississippi River Distilling and brokered by Brett Pontoni of Binny’s Beverage Depot in Chicago. Burchett’s own Iowa-based distillery, FEW Spirits of Chicago, Corsair Distilling of Kentucky and Tennessee, and Journeyman Distillery of Michigan each sent 30 gallons of whiskey (basically one small barrel apiece), all bourbon except for Corsair’s contribution, which was half bourbon and half smoked wheat whiskey. The result is a four-grain blend: corn, barley, wheat, and rye. The blend carries a “less than four years” aging statement, which is unsurprising given that much of the content is small barrel whiskey, that was married for a year and was bottled at 80 proof (40% abv).
Some questions have been raised in the internet forums whether a blend with wheat whiskey content should be labeled “bourbon,” but the bottom line on that is the product and its labeling was approved by the TTB. It’s a limited edition, so that is a done deal. This being America, croakers will continue to croak, but said grumbling overlooks the single most important issue at hand: just how good is this first major craft distillery blending collaboration?
Four Kings has a fairly middle-amber look, in that iced tea with a tinge of red vein. The nose is solid bourbon territory, with a core of corn sweetness and vanilla, a current of rye spice, a touch of rye, and a whiff of smoke coming up if you go deep. Making the nose especially pleasant is a floral citrus aspect, so overall this is a nice, reasonably sophisticated sniffer.
On the palate, the texture is a little thin, and at 80 proof I sincerely can’t imagine why anyone would want to add water to it. But that is not to say the flavor is thin, not at all. Woody dryness, a kick of rye, and the barrel char comes more to the front, elbowing in to balance out the floral sweetness and vanilla. For something that was based on a premise of “how about we each contribute a quarter?” it’s very nicely balanced stuff. The finish unrolls off of a dry and rye spot, and leaves a modest, pleasant afterglow. I sampled this out on the porch on an unseasonably warm day for Kentucky in April, and found it didn’t make me uncomfortable at all.
Four Kings will reportedly retail for about $50 a bottle.