I grew up in the shadow of Kentucky’s greatest bourbon distilleries – and never heard of the Four Roses label until a couple of years ago. The brand had been battered and abused –and farmed out to Asian markets for decades.
The Lawrenceville, Ky., distillery became the nation’s most beloved brand following Prohibition and up to its purchase by Seagram in 1943. Its success continued until Canadian–based Seagram made the strategic decision to only sell blended whiskies in the states.
Four Roses, Kentucky straight bourbon, was relegated to shelves overseas. And while European and Asian markets have been kind to this more than 120–year–old brand, the soaring interest in bourbon has heralded the brand’s return to U.S. soil.
Bourbon can be made anywhere in the U.S. But 90 percent originates in Kentucky. Mandates like 51 percent corn, new charred oak barrels and bans on additions of flavoring or color make the Kentucky straight whiskey of today as true to its origins as possible.
And that’s what I found tasting through three of the 10 whiskies in the Four Roses stable.
Four Roses Yellow is an 80 proof whiskey that possesses a nose of fruit and spice. On the palate, hints of pear & apple lend balance. It finishes, as one would hope for an 80 proof, very smooth.
I was intrigued by the color of Four Roses Small Batch, a blend of four bourbons, It is lighter in color than Yellow Label and shows a progressively smoother presentation, despite being slightly higher in alcohol at 90 proof. The nose is more complex, too. Whiffs of spice, oak and caramel begin to appear and the palate is moderately sweet – with a hint of red cherry.
The real sipper for me is Four Roses Single Barrel, a limited production whiskey that is bottled from single barrel selections. It is amazingly smooth, much darker in color and silky in the mouth. In fact, my first impression was of honey – without excessive sweetness. In this whiskey, complexity is at its peak. Fruit, spice and even cocoa emerge in the nose while flavors of plums and cherries accentuate its full bodied texture. Like its siblings, this whiskey finishes smooth and provides a long finish that belies its 100 proof character.
Yellow Label sells for around $19, Small Batch is about $10 more and Single Barrel is just under $40.
I last visited with Four Roses internationally renowned distiller Jim Rutledge two years. He’s a consummate storyteller and the perfect brand ambassador – who else knows these spirits as well as Rutledge?
You can meet him, and sample the bourbons, during a dinner at Ruth’s Chris Steak House on March 9, 6:30 p.m. Call (912) 721-4800.tails or reservations, call the restaurant, 721/4800.