Earlier this week, we were delighted to be invited to a Four Roses bourbon dinner - an exclusive event that formed part of the current London Cocktail Week. The guest of honour was Jim Rutledge, the Master Distiller at the Four Roses distillery. He has worked at the distillery for an amazing 44 years and is known as "Mr. Four Roses" as a result. He is also the man who is regarded as saving the brand when it was struggling under previous ownership a decade ago.
The event was held at Bodean's - an American themed grill house that is carnivore heaven (and Karen's vegetarian version of hell!), serving large American-sized portions of animal cooked in a charcoal pit - in London's Tower Hill area. In attendance were a mix of London's spirit and cocktail bloggers, as well as Dan Priesman - the UK's Four Roses Brand Ambassador. We thank Jim and Dan for making it such an informative and great night.
Four Roses is an American whiskey distillery that is located in the town of Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. The state of Kentucky is the famous home of the American whiskey industry with seven companies currently operating and producing numerous brands of whiskey and bourbon. Four Roses was first produced in 1888 and moved to the current Lawrenceburg site in 1910. The distillery is currently owned by the Kirin Brewery Company from Japan and is one of Kentucky's largest distilleries, producing eight million litres of whiskey a year. Much of this is released under the Four Roses name although, as with the other Kentucky distilleries, they also release whiskies and bourbons under different names. The most well known such example made at Four Roses is Bulleit bourbon.
Jim spoke to us and told us many stories and facts about the Four Roses distillery and his experiences there. Our favourite was the story of how Four Roses got its name. It is said to originate from a love story involving the distillery's founder Paul Jones Jnr. and a local woman. Jones Jnr. proposed to her and she stated that she needed time to decide and that she would give him the answer at a forthcoming ball. If she wore a corsage of red roses, then her answer would be 'yes'. At the ball, she turned up wearing a corsage of four red roses and they went on to be married. Jones Jnr. then decided to call his new bourbon 'Four Roses' in her honour and as a sign of his love for her.
In between these stories and facts, we sampled each of the Four Roses bourbons that are available on the UK market - the Yellow Label, Small Batch and Single Barrel. He explained in detail the difference between each of these bourbons. We learnt that Four Roses is unique amongst bourbon producers in that they use two different grain recipes (one with a recipe mix of 75% corn, 20% rye and 5% malted barley and the other with a mix of 60% corn, 35% rye and 5% malted barley) and five different strains of yeast for production. The result of this is that they end up with 10 different versions of Four Roses, as each grain recipe is exposed to one of the five yeast strains and each of the resulting 10 bourbons have differing characteristics from the next one. To make each final bourbon in the range, they use different combinations of the 10. The regular and best selling Yellow Label has some of all 10 included, the Small Batch uses just four of them and the Single Barrel uses just one which is specially selected for its supreme quality. Below are our basic tasting notes, with links to our full previous reviews.
Four Roses Yellow Label
This is the biggest selling whiskey in the Four Roses range and is approximately six years of age. The colour is yellow brown and the nose is light with a lovely delicate freshness. It has vanilla, oak, sweet cereal grains (think of corn/maize) and a lemon zest citrus note. On the palate, this offers heaps of vanilla and fresh coconut. It has a refreshing body that also has those cereal and citrus elements from the nose, plus delicate honey. The finish is short but balanced, having an interesting woody bitterness that counteracts the previous sweetness well. For our full review of the Yellow Label - click here.
Four Roses Small Batch
The colour is deep golden amber and the nose is expressive and fragrant. There are prominent aromas of vanilla, coconut, slightly bitter cereal grains (imagine rye bread) and candied orange peel, with subtle nutmeg and cinnamon wood spices and nuts in the background. On the palate the vanilla, cereal grains and the almond-like nuttiness give a creamy mouth coating feeling , with a lovely combination of coconut, honey, cinnamon and nutmeg spice and bitter oranges. The finish has initial sweetness before turning drier and spicier (that cinnamon again). For our full review of Small Batch - click here.
Four Roses Single Barrel
The colour is golden amber and the nose is very intense. A warm spiciness hits first, before plenty of woody and vanilla notes kick in - think of fresh oak shavings, sandalwood and coconut. It is fresh and vibrant with other aromas coming through like caramel and orange oil. On the palate, this is intense - there are plenty of fresh oak and coconut husks. This has a pleasant bitter edge before softer, sweeter notes appear - caramel, brown sugar, cereal grains and vanilla. Additional spices (imagine nutmeg, cinnamon) combine to give depth. The finish is very long and warm with spiciness and woodiness, in addition to a burnt orange note. For our full review of Single Barrel - click here.
What was our favourite? Well, when tasted side by side you really get to feel the quality of the three products - the Yellow Label is soft, light and fresh, the Small Batch is richer and sweeter and the Single Barrel is richer still with plenty of lovely wood spices. On the night, the Single Barrel was our (and most other people's) favourite, however that could all change next time!