To be precise, Four Roses Bourbon was never really “lost.” Seagram’s, in its infinite wisdom, decided to pull the product off the U.S. market in the 1950s to concentrate on selling blended whiskey here. Four Roses went from America’s most popular Bourbon to the best-selling Bourbon in Asia, while a Four Roses blended whiskey of dubious quality was sold in the U.S. for the next forty years.
Then, a curious thing happened: Seagram’s was sold in 2002, and after several ownership changes the Bourbon ended up being bought by Kirin. The Japanese came full circle and returned Four Roses Bourbon to the American market. By that point, it had developed a cult following—nothing stimulates the imagination more than a product that consumers can’t buy.
Four Roses is made in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, as it has been since 1910; the master distiller is Jim Rutledge, a veteran of four decades in the industry. He makes ten different Bourbons with five separate yeast strains, but most bear a family resemblance to each other. They are racy and spicy, leaner in texture than some other Kentucky Bourbons, and tend to have a long and resonant finish. The entry-level whiskey is Yellow Label ($25), which has hints of menthol and sweet corn on the nose. It is high-strung and vibrant in the mouth, with a slight astringency reminiscent of Scotch. This is a Bourbon you would want to mix into a cocktail, rather than sip.
The Small Batch ($40) is sweet and mellow on the nose. It is unctuous and mouth-coating on entry, but carries a spicy kick in the mid palate; the finish has echoes of vanilla, stewed corn, menthol and anise. Good as it is, it pales next to the Single Barrel ($50), which has a floral nose with scents of vanilla and caramel. It is ripe and complex on the palate, with a rush of spice and pepper that contrasts beautifully with the richness of the spirit. The finish is long and harmonious.
In 2010, Four Roses released a Limited Edition Single Barrel ($90) to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Lawrenceburg distillery, bottled at cask strength of 110 proof. The finely focused, floral nose reveals whiffs of caramel and mocha. It is richly concentrated in the mouth, almost candied, with a ripe and generous texture despite almost lip-numbing levels of alcohol. It has an intensely packed mid palate of exotic fruits that carries onto the silky finish with flavors of melon, mango and guava. This is a singular and spectacular Bourbon, the epitome of the Four Roses style.