Four Roses Bourbon

The temps are dropping, I’m pulling out the jackets and boots, and it’s the time of year when my drink selection changes. Crisp white wines are replaced by deeper reds. Instead of ordering a Pimm’s Cup or Summer Sidecar at Patterson House, I’m apt to lean more toward the Bacon Old Fashioned. So it only seems fitting that I share with you a recent experience I had involving one of the key ingredients to a fall/winter bar: Bourbon.

When Master Distiller Jim Rutledge of Four Roses Bourbon came to Nashville a while back, I was fortunate enough to be invited to do a private bourbon tasting with him. As a born and bred Kentucky girl, I’ve always enjoyed a good bourbon, so obviously, I was excited to meet the man behind one of America’s favorites. I’ll admit, however, that before meeting him, I didn’t know too much about Four Roses. Rumba, Whiskey Kitchen and Patterson House, my favorite cocktail haunts here in town, use it in some of the drinks that I enjoy on occasion, but that’s about where my knowledge ended. As it turns out, the history behind it all is so completely fascinating, that I almost think a movie could be made of it. I know I’d watch…..

The full story would take too long to write, but suffice it to say there’s plenty of romance, drama and intrigue from the time the company began in 1884 until today. Even Prohibition didn’t slow these guys down. One of only six distilleries granted permission to operate for medicinal purposes during that time, Four Roses Kentucky Straight Bourbon became the #1 selling bourbon in the United States. They thrived and held that spot for the years following, until 1943, when Seagram purchased the company, and all that changed. With a desire to focus on their blended whiskeys, Seagram made the decision to discontinue sales of the Kenutcky Straight Bourbon here in the U.S. Pure craziness! At that point, Europe and Asia got what we lost- that precious Kentucky Bourbon-  and their good taste quickly shot Four Roses to the top, making it the best selling bourbon in those markets.

This is where Jim comes into the story. Master Distiller since 1995, his one greatest hope was to see Kentucky Straight Bourbon back in the U.S. market. For years, he tried everything he could to make that happen. Finally, his efforts paid off. In 2002, the Kirin Brewery Company purchased the Four Roses brand trademark, and began working to bring it back home. With more than 40 years in the business, most people would probably be retiring, but not Jim. Not now. He is watching his dream come true! The passion in which he speaks about the company and the Bourbon is like none other, and it’s contagious, which is probably why he’s spending his days traveling across the country to get the word out. This guy sitting across from me was talking chemistry, and I found myself completely spellbound. Chemistry, people. I hate chemistry. If he’d been my teacher in high school, I feel sure I would have gotten a much better grade!

So here’s a little bit of what I took away from my “lesson”: Four Roses Straight Bourbon is made very differently from other bourbon whiskeys, in that they work with two distinct mash bills and five varieties of yeast, allowing creation of ten completely different types of bourbon whiskey. In most distilleries, there is only one recipe and only one strain of yeast. If you’d like to learn more about what makes them unique (and in my opinion, better), click here.

Now the best part: sampling the goods!

Yellow Label

Created through the mingling of all 10 recipes, this Bourbon is best for creating cocktails. Hints of pear and apple compliment floral aromas and mix with a taste of honey and spice.

It’s taste is smooth and mellow with a unique, long and soft finish.

Small Batch

My personal favorite. Rich, spicy flavors along with sweet, fruity aromas and hints of sweet oak and caramel. Its finish is soft, smooth and pleasantly long.

Best enjoyed straight up, on the rocks, or with a splash.

Single Barrel

Contains hints of ripe plum and cherry tastes with fruity, spicy aromas including maple syrup and cocoa.

Drink straight up or on the rocks.


In honor of full disclosure, I did get small, free samples of the three bourbons listed above, but I purchased with my own money, the bottle of Small Batch that Jim autographed for me. And although it is a signed, dated bottle, it won’t stay tucked away in a corner as a keepsake. No, it will be consumed and thoroughly enjoyed, sooner rather than later!

If you’ve never tried Four Roses before, I urge you to give it a shot. Not literally though, as it’s much better sipped and savored!