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With bourbon you’re never sure what is true and that is the case here. By some accounts the founder is Rufus Mathewson Rose who was New London, Connecticut. He established the now famous brand in 1888 likely named in honor of him, his brother Origen, and the two sons. The current owners Kirin Brewery do not mention Rufus M. Rose in its version of the history, and refers instead to Paul Jones Jr. as the founder of the brand. The company says the brand name was trademarked in 1888 by Jones, who claimed it had been produced and sold as early as the 1860s and there is a romantic story of Paul’s future wife Mary letting him know that she would marry him by carrying four roses.
What about the distillery itself? Who built the Spanish style distillery and why. While beautiful it does not seem to fit the Kentucky Country side perched about the Salt River. It looks like would almost be a winery on the California Coast. It was originally called the Old Prentice distillery and was bought by J.T.S. Brown in 1894. Under J.T.S. Brown & Sons, the distillery was rebuilt with a Spanish Mission style of architecture popular in Southern California. Creel Brown, one of the sons in J.T.S. Brown & Sons, experienced this style of architecture in his travels to California. Due to Prohibition the distillery closed. After Prohibition it was owned briefly by Julius Kessler Distilling Company before being purchased by Joseph E. Seagrams & Sons in 1942.
Seagrams changed the name to the Calvert Distilling Company, one of their subsidiary companies, and eventually to Four Roses Distillery. What about the bourbon itself? Around the end of the 1950s, Seagrams discontinued the sale of Four Roses bourbon within the United States in order to focus on sales of blended whiskey, although it introduced other brands of straight bourbons in the 1960s and 1970s, such as Benchmark and Eagle Rare.
Four Roses Kentucky straight bourbon marketing was shifted to Europe and Asia, which were rapidly growing markets at the time. In the United States during this period, the Four Roses name was used on a blended whiskey, made mostly of neutral grain spirits and commonly seen as a sub-par brand. In 2002 Kirin relaunched the brand in the United State and focused exclusively on Four Roses Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey. Under Master Distiller Jim Rutledge the brand came back to life, rising from the bottom shelf to become a sought after bourbon that almost all whiskey drinkers love.
Since 2015 Master Distiller Brent Elliott has continued to push the brand even further with his launch of the Small Batch Select in 2019 which was the first permanent addition to the distillery’s bourbon lineup in 12 years. If you think people aren’t paying attention, just ask a Four Roses fan what their favorite recipe is and they will kindly point you to one of the two mash bills and one of the five yeast strains that make up 10 different recipes. Yes even I have my favorite which is OESV. This gives you that delicate fruit and caramel that wheat drinkers like me love.
So if you see me in a liquor store and pulling Four Roses bottles off the shelf to study them you know exactly what I’m looking for. Even better is, if you see me skipping off like a little school girl with a bottle in my hand you will know that I have hit the jackpot.
With this grab a bottle of your favorite Four Roses, a glass and listen as I take you 20 miles down The Bourbon Road through Lawrenceburg Kentucky to the banks of the Salt River to sip some Four Roses Bourbon with Brent Elliott and my buddy Steve. Cheers
Mike (Big Chief)