A Stop on the Bourbon Trail: Four Roses

September 13, 2016

four roses distillery

The Kentucky Bourbon Trail consists of nine distilleries. There are A LOT more distilleries in Kentucky (after all, we are responsible for 95% of the world’s bourbon), and there is even another trail that is called the Kentucky Bourbon Craft Trail, which consists of eleven other distilleries. Liquor Barn is the largest retailer of beer, spirits, and wine in Kentucky. The Liquor Barn in Hamburg (for those non-Kentuckians, I’m NOT referring to Germany – it’s a part of Lexington) is approximately 53,000 square feet (it’s freaking massive!) and they sell over 200 different bourbons (yes, OVER TWO HUNDRED) and NO, that isn’t even including whiskey (which is NOT bourbon). There are special bottles that are only available at that Liquor Barn, and other releases that are only available in Central Kentucky. Sometimes for certain bottles, people line up over night to get one of the coveted bottles, because they WILL sell out!

So far, we have visited seven distilleries on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, none on the Kentucky Bourbon Craft Trail, and we have visited a distillery that isn’t on any trail (I’ll be blogging about that one later this week!). For each trail, the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and the Kentucky Bourbon Craft Trail, you are given a passport. When you visit a trail in the passport, make sure to get it stamped while you are there. Upon completion of your passport, you receive a gift. If you complete the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, you receive a t-shirt (which the design changes every year), and for the Kentucky Bourbon Craft Trail, you receive a classic Kentucky julep cup.


Last week, we decided to do two distillery tours that we hadn’t been to before. We went to Four Roses, which is located in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. You may remember me mentioning earlier this month that September 1st marked the beginning on Bourbon Heritage Month? Since Bourbon Heritage Month was going on, and since they are in the middle of doing a $34 million expansion, July through September was routine shutdown for them. What does that mean? You can’t tour the distillery, but you can still do a tasting, which they offered to us for free. We are hoping to go back again and visit the distillery!

Note: Four Roses Warehouse and Bottling Facility is in a separate location (Cox’s Creek) from their distillery in Lawrenceburg. If you want to tour the Warehouse and Bottling Facility, you can bring your distillery ticket within 60 days for no extra charge.


The Legend:

“It began when Paul Jones, Jr., the founder of Four Roses Bourbon, became smitten by the beauty of a Southern belle. It is said that he sent a proposal to her, and she replied that if her answer were “Yes,” she would wear a corsage of roses on her gown to the upcoming grand ball. Paul Jones waited for her answer excitedly on that night of the grand ball…when she arrived in her beautiful gown, she wore a corsage of four red roses. He later named his Bourbon “Four Roses” as a symbol of his devout passion for the lovely belle, a passion he thereafter transferred to making his beloved Four Roses Bourbon.”

About the Distillery:

The distillery was built in 1910 and it features unique Spanish Mission-Style architecture. This type of design in rarely seen in Kentucky. It is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places and operates continuously, except for summer months, typically July through early September (via).

About the Warehouses (We didn’t get to see those, since they are at a different location):

Four Roses Bourbon is the only distillery using single-story rack warehouses. This is to minimize temperature variations, which provides a gentle, undisturbed and more stable aging process, as well as bourbon with more consistent flavors, body and aromas (via).



“Artistry such as this is how we survived Prohibition, The Great Depression, Two World Wars, and 40 years of exile from the US, only to be named American Whisky Distiller of the Year for 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2015 – four times in the last five years – by Whisky Magazine.”

{shirt: blue originals / sunglasses: quay x desi perkins}

The History of Four Roses:

In 1884, Paul Jones Jr., moved his thriving business to Louisville, Kentucky, where he opened an office on Whiskey Row, which is a section of historic Main Street. Four years later, he trademarked the name Four Roses claiming production and sales back to the 1860s. In 1922, the Paul Jones Company purchased the Frankfort Distilling Company.

In 1943, Seagram purchased the Frankfort Distilling Company mostly to acquire the most recognizable name in the business at that time, which was Four Roses Kentucky Straight Bourbon. Four Roses was the top selling Bourbon in the United States in the 30s, 40s, and 50s. However, Seagram made the decision to discontinue the sale of Kentucky Straight Bourbon here in the United States. Instead it was moved to European and Asian markets, where the markets were rapidly growing, and it became a top-selling Bourbon there. Even today, it still remains as a top-selling Bourbon in both Europe and Japan.

In 1966, Jim Rutledge, who would later become one of the world’s most legendary Master Distillers, joined Seagram in the Louisville’s Plant’s Research and Development Department. In 1975, he was transferred to Corporate Headquarters in New York until 1992. Jim then returned home to Kentucky to help out with the Four Roses brand. He replaced Ova Haney as the Master Distiller in 1995. For the next decade, he worked tirelessly to return Four Roses back to the States.

In the United States, during this period, the Four Roses name was used on a blended whiskey made mostly of neutral grain spirits and was commonly seen as a sub-par brand. Four Roses continued to be unavailable as a straight bourbon in the U.S. market for more than forty years until the brand changed ownership in 2002. In 2002, Seagram was purchased by Vivendi, which then sold most of its brands to Diageo, who then sold the Four Roses brand to Kirin, who discontinued the sale of blended whiskey to focus exclusively on Four Roses Kentucky straight bourbon.

At the beginning of 2004, Four Roses was once again sold in the United States and quickly earned a reputation as one of the finest names in the Bourbon world.

In August 2015, Jim Rutledge retired as Master Distiller, and the new Master Distiller became Brent Elliot, who had worked alongside Jim for 10 years (via).


About the Tasting:

During the tasting, we got a brief history of Four Roses, and we got to try three of their bourbons. Like I mentioned earlier, they weren’t offering tours when we went. If you want to go to this distillery or any other distillery, and you want it to be more in depth, regarding the history and the process, I would do a full-length tour (full-length tours include a tasting). Many distilleries offer various types of tours, and those would be posted on their website.

We got to try Four Roses Yellow Label, Four Roses Small Batch, and Four Roses Single Barrel. Each of these have a different taste (just like any other distillery that makes several products). It’s all about the length of which the barrel was aged, the mashbill, where it was in the warehouse, etc.

Let me explain, Four Roses’s process…


Four Roses is the ONLY distillery that uses two mashbills and five proprietary yeast strains to produce ten distinct recipes. Each of the ten bourbon recipes has its own unique recipe.

Each bourbon recipe has four letter designations. The first letter and third letter will always stay the same (The first letter indicates that is was produced at the distillery in Lawrenceburg. The third letter designates straight bourbon distillation). The second letter and fourth letter will change depending on the mash bill and yeast strain used.

The two mashbills (the second letter):

Mashbill E: 75% corn, 20% rye, and 5% malted barley
Mashbill B: 60% corn, 35% rye, and 5% malted barley

The five proprietary yeast strains (the fourth letter):

V: Light fruitiness, light vanilla, caramel, and creamy
K: Light spiciness, light caramel, and full-bodied
O: Rich fruitiness, light vanilla, caramel, and full-bodied
Q: Essences of floral aromas
F: Essences of herbal aromas

The Ten Bourbon Recipes:

  • OESK
  • OESQ
  • OESO
  • OESF
  • OESV
  • OBSK
  • OBSQ
  • OBSO
  • OBSF
  • OBSV

So, now they we have that out of the way. For those that have never had Four Roses, I bet you are wondering how the ones at the tasting can be described? And did you know there is a right way to taste bourbon? Yes, there is actually a technique that you must use. If you do it wrong, you won’t be able to taste anything that I have mentioned above. I plan on doing an upcoming post for those that are interested and curious in trying bourbon.

Yellow Label is 80 proof (40% ABV). Recipe: All 10. Nose: Balance of subtle fruits and spices. Palate: Crisp fruit, caramel, and vibrant spice. Finish: Mellow, long, and pleasant.

Small Batch is 90 proof (45% ABV). Recipe: OBSO, OBSK, OESO, OESK. Nose: Rich fruit, hints of oak, and caramel. Palate: Rich, creamy, ripened red berries. Finish: More Fruit, Smooth, Long Finish.

Single Barrel is 100 proof (50% ABV). Recipe: OBSV. Nose: Dried Spice, pear, coco, maple syrup. Palate: Hints of ripe plum and cherries, robust. Finish: Smooth, rich finish.

And to think the flavor of bourbon came only from comes from the mashbill (the combination of grain ingredients), the oak wood of the barrel (it is white oak and usually at a level four char), and the combination of time and temperature in the rick house (the warehouse in which barrels are aged). There are no additives in bourbon. This is how it essentially gets it flavor (the only thing that can be added to bourbon is water or it isn’t considered a bourbon anymore). Crazy, huh? I’ll go more depth in the future about the process of making bourbon and the strict regulations that it must adhere to, to be considered a bourbon.

Happy Tuesday!

  • Terri Steffes September 13, 2016 at 2:04 pm

    I love the story behind the label! My husband and I want to do the bourbon trail this fall. We are running out of weekends!

  • Brittany Muddamalle September 13, 2016 at 3:03 pm

    Wow it looks beautiful! My husband and I were just talking about going somewhere like this. We would love to be able to drop the kids off for a weekend and explore a beautiful distillery like this!

    • Whitney @ Fabulous in Fayette September 14, 2016 at 11:10 pm

      It was so different than the other distilleries we have visited. We really didn’t get to go inside all of the buildings, except the visitor’s center, since the distillery was in shutdown! But I think the architecture and Spanish influences is cool!

  • Christine Cox September 13, 2016 at 3:47 pm

    It is a dream of my husband’s to go to the Kentucky Derby someday so this would be an awesome stop to make during our travels.

    • Whitney @ Fabulous in Fayette September 14, 2016 at 11:11 pm

      You should! This one in particular is a little over an hour from Louisville. But there are two distilleries (on the trail) and other distilleries that you can visit!

  • Katriza Luna September 13, 2016 at 9:29 pm

    Wow that looks great! It looks beautiful on the inside!

    • Whitney @ Fabulous in Fayette September 14, 2016 at 11:12 pm

      That was just the visitor’s center, since they weren’t allowing tours to be done due to shutdown!

  • Rebecca Bryant September 13, 2016 at 9:31 pm

    What a great stop. the whole trip has sounded wonderful. My husband would love this.

  • Amanda Love September 13, 2016 at 10:22 pm

    That sounds like a lot of fun and something that you can do with close friends! I love trails like this because you get to learn a lot from the product and its history — in this case, about Four Roses!

    • Whitney @ Fabulous in Fayette September 14, 2016 at 11:12 pm

      We have been to some of the distilleries by ourselves, but others we have visited with some friends!

  • PennyPincherJenny September 14, 2016 at 9:25 am

    This looks like so much fun to visit!! I love the history and stories that distilleries have to them.

    • Whitney @ Fabulous in Fayette September 14, 2016 at 11:13 pm

      There is so much history, because they have been around for hundreds and hundreds of years!

  • Wendy Polisi September 14, 2016 at 10:16 am

    What a great place to visit. This looks like such a fun time. I would love to check this out someday.

  • Positively Stacey September 14, 2016 at 12:59 pm

    My husband would love to take a trip down bourbon trail! I love learning about the history behind distilleries.

  • Kristin & Megan September 14, 2016 at 8:08 pm

    We make it a habit to try to visit the local craft breweries in whatever town we visit, but we’ve never done the bourbon trail! What fun!

    • Whitney @ Fabulous in Fayette September 14, 2016 at 11:14 pm

      We have lots of craft breweries here in my city, along with wineries, and micro-distilleries for bourbon. Of course, the Bourbon Trail too! We have two more to visit and we have completed it!

  • Whitney @ Fabulous in Fayette September 14, 2016 at 11:13 pm

    I think it’s always cool to hear how the bourbon got its name!

  • Maria - Tough Cookie Mommy September 17, 2016 at 3:15 pm

    My husband loves dark liquor so I know he would get a kick out of sampling different types of Bourbon. I’ll definitely be sharing this with him.

  • Theresa September 18, 2016 at 11:19 am

    What a beautiful location! It looks as pretty as it does interesting and fun. I’d stop by here if I was in the area!

  • Becca Wilson September 19, 2016 at 2:18 pm

    This looks like it was a beautiful place to visit! I am not a huge drinker but I would love to see where it was made.

  • Taylor Smith September 20, 2016 at 1:54 am

    My husband and I don’t drink but it looks BEAUTIFUL! I love the green grass and that cute swinging little bench! 🙂

  • Reesa Lewandowski September 20, 2016 at 9:06 am

    I have never had bourbon, could you believe that? This looks like a fun tour to visit!!

  • Keri Herndon-Brown September 26, 2016 at 9:09 am

    I’m not a bourbon drinker but recently had a groom who requested this brand. He’s a huge fan of bourbon so him plus you co-signing would make me try this brand too. Great article.

  • […] you saw my post, when I visited the Four Roses Distillery, you would have seen me mention that Four Roses combines two mashbills with five proprietary yeast […]

  • About Me

    About Me

    Hi, y'all!

    Hey y'all! My name is Whitney, and I'm the founder of Fabulous in Fayette. I've been living in Lexington since 2008. I'm in love with my city of Lexington and love all the amazing local businesses and restaurants. It's seriously one of the best places to live!

    Not to be confused with Fayetteville, North Carolina. Fabulous in Fayette celebrates the fabulous city of Lexington, the great state of Kentucky, and Southern Living. In case you are not from here, Fayette refers to the county where Lexington is located!

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