Curtis McMillan
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When Four Roses ruled the world

20th November, 2012 by Curtis McMillan

Let’s travel back in time to 1930 when Four Roses was just as big as Beam, Daniel’s, or any industrial bourbon

A few years ago I was looking to buy a new home in the Boston area. I had looked at many fine new homes, but I was never much of a fan of cookie cutter buildings. I’m a big fan of modern architecture and was looking for something like Frank Lloyd Wright’s falling water. If you’re unfamiliar with this property it’s worth taking a second to look it up on Google.

So I started the absurd task of looking for a property that potentially did not exist. I randomly stumbled upon a home in utter dilapidation that was designed by the head of the modern art college in Boston. Every brick and beam had style and pizzazz that showcase a once glorious home. I could see the potential because I had the right eyes. I could see the finished project in my mind. I missed this opportunity due to the bank, but this act of seeing with the right eyes is the focus of today’s bourbon review.

Let’s travel back in time to 1930 when Four Roses was just as big as Beam, Daniel’s, or any industrial bourbon. It’s hard to believe but its roots and history make this bourbon a pillar of what made Kentucky. I should be able to say Four Roses in any bar in the world and have it poured for me without question in the same way I can get a Beam or a Daniel’s.

But alas this Rose wilted in the 1940’s. The trend of cheap blended bourbon took over the market and the new owners Seagram’s drove this powerhouse right into the ground. Just like any dilapidated home it could have vanished into the overgrowth and been lost forever if it were not for the right kind of eyes.

In 2002 things where looking good for the whiskey market in Japan and domestic product whiskey and imported whiskey were up. The major issue with the Japanese importers where too few bourbons to meet the demand. They had almost no use for the vintage  packaging and desperately wanted premium bourbon that, at the time, did not exist. So Kirin decided to take matters into its own hands and purchased Four Roses with the goal of rebuilding the brand and sending all the bourbon to just Japan.

Kirin did not care about the foul image Four Roses had made for itself in the United States and looked at this rebuilding with new eyes. Much like my view of the modern art gallery home. Like any good home remodel you need to have a good contractor with the same vision as yourself. Kirin found that in Jim Rutledge, the head of yeast at Seagram’s. Now Jim is a good guy, and many of us look up to Jim. I can say that his kindness has helped me grow as a distiller and his vision not only sets Four Roses apart from other brands but makes it better.

One of the major things that sets Four Roses apart is they have wholly embraced single barrel bottlings. They also understand that mashbills and barrels keep them attached to their competition, but yeast is an area that almost no other bourbon distillery has mastered in the same way as Jim.  To help you decode the very sexy Four Roses Single Barrel bottle I have made you a little cheat sheet.

On the bottle of each Single Barrel bottle you will find a code such as OBSO or OESO

This is the meaning
O = Designates its Four Roses.
E = The mashbill that is 75% corn, 20% rye, 5% malted barley.
B = The mashbill that is 60% corn, 35% rye, 5% malted barley.
S = Designates straight whiskey distillation.

Type of Yeast used and how it acts.

V/Delicate Fruit, Fresh, Creamy
K/Spicy, Full body
O/ Medium body
Q/Floral, Banana, Fresh, Medium body
F/ Mint, Fruity, Full Body

I hope this review helps you to find a deeper appreciation for looking at things with new eyes. I think as you sip on some lovely Four Roses bourbon it will help to remember without the great people at Kirin this could have gone away. Don’t overlook something that could be rebuilt like a car you have parked away, or a home that looks like too much work. Four Roses is the realisation that great things come out of hard work.

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