Last week, several other Boston spirits writers and I were invited to an evening with Al Young, Four Roses’ brand ambassador and historian. It was a wonderful and informative evening, especially for me as a historian (not necessarily of bourbon). I went from knowing very little about Four Roses distillery and just loving their bourbon as a drinker to loving their bourbon even more from knowing a lot more about the distillery. This post is only a few highlights from the evening, and not nearly as much as I could write about the history of Four Roses. If you are interested in learning more about the history of the distillery, I highly recommend adding Al Young’s book, Four Roses: The Return of a Whiskey Legend, to your home library.
One of the questions inevitably asked of Mr. Young was one of those questions that always seems to pop up in American whiskey circles: Why doesn’t Four Roses make a rye whiskey? Al Young’s answer was simple; Four Roses is pretty damn good at making bourbon. Period. I really liked this answer because all too often distilleries are too concerned with being the hottest new thing, which would certainly involve getting in on the rye craze. But, as Mr. Young pointed out, who knows if rye would still be popular in the next ten years? Or, more importantly, how do we know that Four Roses would make a good rye, being that rye is a difficult and fickle grain to distill?
Under the direction of Jim Rutledge (Four Roses’ Master Distiller since 1995), Four Roses has become one of the finest distilleries in the world. Whisky Magazine has named Four Roses their American Distillery of the Year for three years running. Their standard bourbon releases are all very good, and their limited releases are some of the best bourbons released every year. Last year’s Limited Edition Small Batch is still my favorite bourbon to date (named American Whiskey of the Year by Whisky Advocate Magazine). My point (echoing Mr. Young) is that Four Roses makes great bourbon, and they are a distillery that wants to stand for quality, not trends, and I am a huge fan of that philosophy.
One of the other questions that often comes up in whiskey conversations is about sourced whiskey, and how much Four Roses is distilling for themselves and how much is being shipped out under contract to other bottlers. I was excited to hear that Four Roses is intending to phase out their sourcing contracts. By the end of 2014, Four Roses expects to be making exclusively Four Roses bourbon. While it might seem like a bad thing because Four Roses would have no place to send the whiskey they did not want under their own label, I think Four Roses takes such great pride in their bourbon that they will continue to bottle the very best bourbons on the market, and hopefully the future will yield more of it for Four Roses’ consumers to enjoy.
My last two highlights of the evening both showcase one of my mottos here at Bargain Bourbon – bourbon is all in personal taste and preference. First, I was somewhat surprised when Mr. Young enjoyed himself a Manhattan with Four Roses Small Batch. He said it was his favorite way to drink his favorite Four Roses bourbon, which leads me to my second point. Al Young said his favorite bourbon was Four Roses Small Batch because of the red fruit notes and subtle spiciness to the bourbon. In his opinion, this gives Four Roses Small Batch more versatility than the other bourbons in the lineup, making it great neat, on the rocks, with a splash of water, or in a cocktail. For the record, I like my bourbon neat, and I love Four Roses Single Barrel for its soft sweetness and balanced approach between sweet, woody, and spicy. It just goes to show that everybody has their own opinion, and that’s what makes bourbon and Four Roses so enjoyable to drink.
Al Young drinks his Four Roses Small Batch in a Manhattan, and I drink my Four Roses Single Barrel neat. What’s your favorite Four Roses bourbon and your favorite way to drink it? Comment here, or hit me up at my Facebook page or on Twitter. In the meantime, drink your bourbon and let it ride!