Four Roses vs Buffalo Trace

Four Roses vs Buffalo Trace | Comparing single barrel & Buffalo Trace bourbon

The world of bourbon whiskey is vast, and two of the most popular bourbons in the market today are: Four Roses and Buffalo Trace. 

Both are well-known for their high-quality whiskey and have passionate fans who are eager to share their preferences. But which is the better choice? 

To help answer that question, it’s important to look at the history of each brand, their production methods, and the flavours they offer. From there, you can make an informed decision about which bourbon you might prefer. 

So, let’s take a look at Four Roses vs Buffalo Trace and see which is the better choice for your next bottle of whiskey.

Four Roses whisky distillery building
Four Roses whiskey distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky.

About Four Roses 

Four Roses is a brand of Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey that was first distilled in the late 1800s. The brand has a long history, peppered with several poignant milestones along the way. 

Four Roses was first created in 1888 by Paul Jones Jr., a prominent businessman in the Kentucky whiskey industry. Today it is one of the three distilleries on the National Register of Historic Places in Kentucky. 

Four Roses became one of the most popular brands of whiskey in the United States, selling more than one million cases per year. The brand was a favourite of the likes of Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Harry Truman. 

The Seagram Company bought it in 1943 and renamed it to Four Roses. Later, in 2002 it was bought by Kirin Brewery Company. 

Due to its distinctive combination of two types of bourbon and two types of rye, Four Roses has recently experienced a surge in popularity. It is a component of well-known drinks like the Old-Fashioned and the Manhattan. 

Today, Four Roses is one of the most popular brands of Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, and its popularity continues to grow. Its iconic bottle, featuring the four roses that Paul Jones Jr. named the brand after, is a beloved symbol of the brand. It is available in a variety of expressions, including single barrel, small batch, and limited edition.

Buffalo Trace whiskey distillery building
Buffalo Trace whiskey distillery, Frankfort, Kentucky | Credit: Buffalo Trace

About Buffalo Trace

Buffalo Trace Distillery, located in Frankfort, Kentucky, is one of the oldest continuously operated distilleries in the United States. The distillery was founded in 1787 by Elijah Pepper, who purchased the land along the Kentucky River. He began producing whiskey, and the distillery was later managed by his son, Col. Edmund H. Taylor, Jr., who is often referred to as the father of modern bourbon. 

Taylor sold the distillery to George T. Stagg in 1869, and it was renamed the George T. Stagg Distillery. Stagg was a prominent whiskey figure in Kentucky, and he continued to make improvements to the distillery. He increased the number of stills and warehouses, and he also began to experiment with ageing whiskey in different types of barrels. 

In 1933, the distillery was sold to the Schenley Distillery Company, which renamed it the Schenley Distillery. The name was changed once again in 1999 to what it is now, known as the Buffalo Trace Distillery.

In the early 2000s, Buffalo Trace Distillery began to gain recognition for its high-quality whiskey. In 2005, Buffalo Trace Distillery released its first single barrel bourbon, and it has since become one of the most revered bourbons in the world. 

Today, it is one of the most popular and respected distilleries in the world. It produces a wide range of whiskeys, including bourbon, rye, and wheat whiskeys. Buffalo Trace Distillery is also home to some of the most sought-after whiskeys, such as Pappy Van Winkle and Eagle Rare. The distillery is open to the public for tours and tastings, and it is a popular destination for whiskey enthusiasts.

Person holding corn rye and barley grains in their hands on top of whisky barrel lid

Making Four Roses single barrel

One of the most unique aspects of the Four Roses distillery is their use of two mash bills and five yeast strains. This produces ten different bourbon recipes which they blend in varying combinations for their range of core expressions.

For example, their signature Yellow Label bourbon blends all ten recipes whilst their Small Batch release just uses four. Their coveted Single Barrel bourbon solely uses recipe 1 which you can read more about here.

Sour mash

To make either of their two mash bills, Four Roses start by separately milling corn, rye and malted barley into separate coarse flour mixtures. 

First the corn is cooked in a large tank of hot water before adding the rye and malted barley. This heat releases their natural sugars making a sugary ‘sweet mash’ mixture.

The mash is then transferred to a second tank where one of five yeast strains are added to initiate the fermentation process. Along with the yeast, a small portion of previously distilled grain is added to the tank – known as ‘sour’. This helps acidify the new mash’s PH level during fermentation, avoiding any unwanted bacteria that could taint the taste.

After 5 days, fermentation has converted the mash’s sugars to an 8% ABV distillers beer, known as the ‘wash’.

Double Distillation

The fermented wash is transferred to Four Roses’ 20 foot tall Vendome column still which is then slowly heated. The alcohol within the wash evaporates, creating an alcoholic vapour which gets progressively stronger as it rises through the column still, until it exits the top.

This vapour is gathered and cooled in a condenser, resulting in a fairly pure spirit of 66% ABV. However, to remove any remaining impurities, the spirit is re-distilled using a small spirit still called a doubler. Again, the alcohol evaporates, exits the doubler and recondenses into 70% ABV “new make spirit”.


The use of the double-distillation process and the ageing in a single oak barrels is what gives this bourbon its unique flavour. 

The bourbon is then aged for a minimum of four years and then bottled at a minimum of 100 proof (50% ABV). The spirit is then tested for quality and consistency before being released for sale.

Four Roses has long been a favourite of whiskey drinkers and was chosen as the official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby in 2002. Their Lawrencburg distillery is also a popular tourist destination, offering tours and tastings.

Oak barrels of Buffalo Trace whiskey stacked inside rickhouse

Making Buffalo Trace bourbon

Like many other bourbons, Buffalo Trace uses a mashbill of corn, rye and malted barley. And similar to the Four Roses distillery, Buffalo Trace also uses two primary mash bills to make their whiskeys – Mash bill #1 and Mash bill #2 which both contain differing ratios of corn, rye and malted barley.

To start, the corn is cooked in a steam generated pressure cooker for about 1 hour at 115°C. The rye is also cooked (separately) before being combined with the corn and malted barley to make a hot sugary liquid known as ‘sweet mash’.

Once cooled, the sweet mash is then pumped into a large tank where yeast and a small portion of previously used ‘spent grain’ is added. Often referred to as sour mash, this kick-starts the fermentation process and after about five days, it produces an 7.5% ABV ‘whiskey beer’.


As column stills go, the four-storey high monster at the Buffalo Trace distillery is truly something to behold. Once the fermentation is complete, the whiskey beer enters the top of the towering column still.

Heated from the bottom, the alcohol hits the heated base of the still and evaporates upwards through a series of perforated plates becoming increasingly pure. Once the vapourised spirit reaches the top of the column still, it then recondenses into  the distillery’s 148 proof new make spirit – aptly called “white dog”. The white dog is diluted to 125 proof in the storage tanks before being poured into the barrels.


Buffalo Trace Bourbon is a low rye bourbon that is typically matured between six and eight years. However, it’s labelled without an age statement, thus it could include whiskey as young as four years old. During the ageing process, the whiskey absorbs the colour and flavour of the oak barrel, while the charred interior filters out any impurities. The end product is a smooth and flavourful whiskey that has been enjoyed for generations.

Buffalo Trace is renowned for its high-quality products, and its whiskeys won numerous awards. The distillery has earned the title of “Distiller of the Year” from Whiskey Magazine and has been recognized by the American Distilling Institute as one of the “World’s Best Bourbon Distilleries”. Its whiskeys are highly sought after by whiskey connoisseurs and collectors around the world.

Four Roses vs Buffalo Trace

Bottle of Four Roses bourbon sitting on wooden table top

Four Roses Single Barrel Tasting Notes

Single Barrel tasting notes

Nose: Rich, fruity aroma with hints of vanilla, toffee, chocolate, and spices.

Palate: Prunes, cocoa, spices, morello cherries, vanilla, sour stone fruits, and cocoa.

Finish: Oak, butterscotch and chocolate. 

Price: $43 / £36

Four Roses bourbon review

The Single Barrel is a premium, single-barrel bourbon whiskey produced by the Four Roses Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. It has a unique flavour profile, thanks to the combination of two mash bills and five proprietary yeast strains used in its production. The five yeast strains give the whiskey its distinct character, with each contributing different flavour notes. 

The nose of this whiskey is sweet and fruity, with notes of caramel, vanilla, honey, and oak. On the palate, it is smooth and creamy, with flavours of toasted oak, butterscotch, and toffee. There are also hints of citrus, cinnamon, and dried fruit. The finish is long and smooth, with lingering notes of spice and oak. 

It is an excellent sipping whiskey, but it also makes an excellent addition to any cocktail. It is a great choice for any whiskey lover, whether they are a beginner or a connoisseur. Its flavour profile is complex and inviting, making it an ideal choice for any occasion.

The rich, complex flavours of this bourbon pair perfectly with a variety of meats, cheeses, and pickles. Serve with a selection of cured meats, artisanal cheeses, and pickles for a delicious pairing. It is also a great match for a juicy grilled steak. Enjoy your steak with a splash of bourbon and a side of potatoes.

Thanks to the robust flavours of the Single Barrel Bourbon, it’s a great match for a roasted chicken. Serve with a side of roasted vegetables and a splash of bourbon for a delicious and satisfying meal.

Bottle of Buffalo Trace bourbon on wood table

Buffalo Trace Bourbon tasting notes

Nose: Sweet and spicy. Eclairs made of caramel and creamy toffee with hints of cinnamon, rum flavour, and cereal sweetness.

Palate: Custard, oily espresso beans, a hint of chocolate-covered raisins, toffee apple, sweet oak, brown sugar, and toasty wood.

Finish: Lengthy with toffee, cinnamon gum, and sweet spices.

Price: $30 / £25

Buffalo Trace bourbon review

The Buffalo Trace Bourbon is full of complexity and depth. The nose is intensely sweet and fragrant, with notes of caramel, vanilla, and oak. On the palate, the whiskey is smooth, with a sweet and spicy taste that lingers on the tongue. There are notes of toasted nuts, cinnamon, and dried fruit that give the whiskey a warm and inviting flavour. The finish is full-bodied and warm, with a faint hint of smokiness. The warming sensation of the alcohol is balanced by a subtle sweetness that lingers on the tongue. The finish is long and smooth, with hints of vanilla and oak.

Try pairing it with a robust blue cheese, a creamy brie, or a sharp cheddar. The sweetness of the whiskey will help to offset the sharpness of the cheese, while the rich flavour of the bourbon will enhance the flavour of the cheese.

Buffalo Trace is an excellent pairing for a variety of meats. Try it with a savoury beef dish such as beef tenderloin or steak. The sweetness will bring out the natural flavours of the beef, while the spicy finish will help to balance out the richness of the dish. You can also pair Buffalo Trace with pork, lamb, and game meats. It also makes a great pairing with seafood, such as grilled salmon or shrimp.

4R Single BarrelBuffalo Trace Bourbon
ColourAmberBurnished gold
NoseRich, fruity aroma with hints of vanilla, toffee, chocolate, and spices.Sweet and spicy. Eclairs made of caramel and creamy toffee with hints of cinnamon, rum flavour, and cereal sweetness.
PalatePrunes, cocoa, spices, morello cherries, vanilla, sour stone fruits, and cocoa.Custard, oily espresso beans, a hint of chocolate-covered raisins, toffee apple, sweet oak, brown sugar, and toasty wood.
FinishOak, butterscotch and chocolate.Lengthy with toffee, cinnamon gum, and sweet spices.
AgeUsually, 8-9 yearsUsually, 4-8 years
ClassificationStraight BourbonKentucky Straight Bourbon
CaskAmerican white oakAmerican oak
Chill filteredYesYes
Price (USD/GBP)$43 / £36$30 / £25

Final thoughts on Four Roses vs Buffalo Trace

Four Roses and Buffalo Trace are two of the most popular and widely available bourbon brands in the US. Both offer a unique flavour profile and character, with Four Roses leaning towards the sweeter side and Buffalo Trace offering a more robust and smoky flavour. Both are high-quality, award-winning bourbons that are sure to please whiskey connoisseurs and casual drinkers alike.

While both are excellent options for bourbon drinkers, the choice between the two ultimately comes down to your personal preference. The best way to decide which one is right for you is to try them both and decide which flavour profile you like best. 

No matter which you choose, you’ll be sure to find a delicious and satisfying bourbon.

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