Four Kings Bourbon Review


By Richard Thomas

Rating: B

Four Kings Bourbon

Four Kings Bourbon

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?

The Bourbon
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.

The Price
Four Kings will reportedly retail for about $50 a bottle.

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  1. The professionals at the TTB also recently approved a 70 proof, rootbeer flavored BiB bourbon. Sure. They know their stuff. This is NOT bourbon.

    • And you could do better? It’s soooo easy to be an anonymous jerk standing outside and p*ssing on the tent.

      The Feds make questionable calls, but their mandate trumps your opinion. End of story.

  2. What I find so funny about this trivial whine-fest over whether Four Kings is bourbon or not is this: I’ve seen the posts, and most of the same guys doing the griping are the ones who insisted for years that there was no such thing as Tennessee whiskey, because Federal law said so.

    What they really mean is what Federal law says counts only when they agree.

  3. What, more bitching about whiskey?

    Here’s my rule: anyone who cares 100% about the label and not at all about what’s in the bottle is a douchebag, and I don’t waste my time with douchebags.

  4. I think what Corsair, Journeyman, and MS River do are pretty good, so this is very exciting.

  5. Have you seen what’s going on over at StraightBourbon? It’s half a dozen ignorant losers doing their best to ignore Cowdery while they scratch each other on the back. Keep preaching to each other guys…

    • I avoid most forums as a rule, whiskey or no. Most are snakepits dominated by a small clique of people who have hours a day to spend on them, and I think that speaks for itself.

      Insofar as the issue goes, I think calling it a blended bourbon or some variation therein might have been more appropriate, but I recognize this is an unusual product with a very small production run. Furthermore, since all four contributors are right there on the label, nothing is really being hidden from the consumer. At the end of the day, I’m far more excited by the concept than I am concerned about a very minor quibble over titling, and I think anyone focused entirely on the latter is not only not going to try Four Kings, but probably isn’t very interested in craft whiskey in the first place.

    • They have a term for that sort of thing: circle jerk.

    • Hey, “Gadfly”, if that is your real name.glad you’re enjoying the discussion. Why don’t you stop by there and join it? We could use some more voices in the conversation.

    • Hey “Josh,” have you noticed how THIS conversation has more people involved in it? And that doesn’t count how many are involved over on Facebook. Why would I want to join a bunch of haters? Hater = loser.

    • It’s funny that you mention Cowdery on this. You may want to lurk on through the thread again to check his opinion on the labeling. His response will probably surprise you.

      All in all, this may be the most wonderful liquid ever to have crossed into the human digestive tract, but it’s not bourbon. Blended bourbon perhaps, but not bourbon. And that’s the point of the thread that you’re talking about.

      I also find it funny that someone named Gadfly is criticizing others for being anonymous.

  6. I want to know how questioning the labels accuracy equals being an anonymous jerk whizzing on a tent? I would have to be really personally invested in the actual label to be offended by someone pointing out a possible error.

    Whether the label is accurate and whether the stuff in the bottle is any good are two separate conversations. I see no reason why someone can’t point out they are using an incorrect label, but making a great product. An in depth discussion of label accuracy isn’t really my thing, but I do not see any reason to bash people for doing so.

    If the label is actually correct, I would be interested in seeing an explanation regarding the apparent discrepancy. None of this is going to stop me from trying to purchase a bottle, but I would still like to know.

    • I think you have a reasonable attitude there.

      And I’m glad I’m at my desk this morning, so I can approve on the spot!

  7. This thread points straight to the reason I stopped fiddling with Straightbourbon years ago – I do not care for naysayers.

    Do I think this should be called plain bourbon? Nope, but I’ll tell you what really bothers me. It’s that I don’t live in Michigan, Iowa, Illinois, or Kentucky, so I probably won’t be able to try any!

  8. Well I live in Chicago, and I think this is great idea. I hope it works out as a great whiskey, and I don’t think what some bitter geeks think matters a bit.

  9. Since my basic philosophy is if you are more focused on the label than what’s in the bottle you are missing the point, I one hundred percent agree with the folks who are saying that while the “bourbon” title bothers me some, it don’t bother me enough to not think this is a very cool idea.

  10. No, the point of the threat I’m talking about is to do the following: 1) show they don’t know what the TTB does by thinking somehow Four Kings was shipped without TTB approval, 2) prove how pure they can be by telling everyone how they won’t drink the whiskey, not that they were ever interested in it in the first place, 3) make empty, lazy threats about filing complaints and taking legal action.

    It seems to me that Cowdery agrees with THIS website (if you’ve read the comments here, the editor has said much the same thing as him) — that this is a cool idea, the labeling is probably somewhat off, but it’s a done deal and that is that. And you guys are STILL ignoring him.

  11. Based on what I’ve seen on my usual forum (NOT SB!!) and on Twitter, it looks like a bunch of these are already gone, and there were only 600 in the first place.

  12. Anyone who would take a minor labeling mistake (even Cowdery wants a single word, “blended,” added, and that is all) and turn it into a huge Watergate transparency thing is a tool. Just a plain and total tool.

  13. Driven away from here, those SB “croakers” have taken their poison to The Whisky Advocate. Thankfully, nobody has taken up their SB BS on any other forum I have seen. The response has been mostly positive, and contrary to what those liars are spewing, bunches of people have bought Four Kings.

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