Four Roses. The architecture alone at Four Roses will make it memorable. Even if you know nothing about architecture and only know the difference between “old building” and “new building”, you can tell that Four Roses is slightly out of place. I am not sure if there is classic Kentucky architecture, but this isn’t it. The distillery was built in 1910 by Joseph & Joseph Architects and is Spanish Mission Style. When Kirin, the current Japanese owners of Four Roses, wanted to expand they found that Joseph & Joseph were still in business and still specialized in this architecture. In 2015 they broke ground for a construction plan that would double their capacity. While I was visiting the construction was in full force and the new column still had just been installed. Now a bit more on Kirin. The typical Japanese name you here in the whisk(e)y world is Suntory (Beam-Suntory). Kirin is actually a powerhouse quite similar to Suntory and make everything from whisky, beer and milk. They also own the distillery Fuji Gotemba near Tokyo which I will be visiting in January. Kirin came in at a good time, because apparently when they purchased it from Seagram’s, the brand name was quite tainted and not known for quality.
Since 2002, Kirin has been building the Four Roses brand back to its current reputation. Since I couldn’t drink in the 1990’s, I didn’t realize that the brand has really come back from the grave. According to some of the long time distillery employees it was basically pumping out whiskey for Seagram’s low end blends. Speaking for myself, Four Roses has quite a decent reputation as far as I have seen. They are now not only have a large market for export, but also a huge staple in the young demographic of the States. I think they have proven this by their expansion over the last few years.
Four Roses has a unique mash bill and yeast set up. They base all of their bourbon recipes off of one of two mash bills and one of 5 yeast strands resulting in 10 specific bourbon recipes. I have inserted a picture of this recipe set up to the right. All of their yeast strands are proprietary and they use multiple variations of corn, rye and malted barley. I haven’t seen any other brand present their mash bills in this way. I think it is quite helpful and includes the consumer in the production process in a clean and simple way. Once they decide on the recipe, the grains are run through a hammer mill. The total grain cooking and mash process takes about 3.5 hours. The wort is then moved to one of their 21 wash backs/fermenters. They have a combination of red cypress, Douglass fur and stainless steel wash backs. Each fermenter holds just over 16,000 gallons of liquid and they use about 300 gallons of yeast per fermentation which lasts about 3 days. As I mentioned earlier, they were originally working off of one column still and one doubler. Their newly installed column still is upwards of 45 feet tall and 4 feet in diameter. The new make spirit is then trucked away twice a day. Each time the truck taking 6,500 gallons of the approved white dog. Their goal once construction is complete in 2018 is to be trucking 26-30,000 gallons of new make per day. They do not fill casks on site and you will see on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Map where their second facility is. The distillery is south of Lexington and the warehouse and bottling center is south of Louisville. You can take tours of both facilities.
All of Four Roses domestic core range product is chill filtered. Meaning that all of the fatty, oily acids are removed before bottling. There are a few special cases such as the Private Selection, where they do not chill filter anymore. The core range includes Single Barrel, Small Batch and Yellow. I have also been told to look for special releases of Four Roses Black Label in Japan. Apparently Kirin exports quite a different portfolio than what we get here in the states. I will definitely be reporting on that during my travels in Asia. Here are the drams I tried during my visit:
Four Roses Small Batch
Holly’s Tasting Note..
Nose: Frosting, strawberry pop-tart, berries and vanilla.
Palate: Sugar toffee, sharp raspberry and berry, some oak and grains.
Four Roses Yellow Label Bourbon
Holly’s Tasting Note..
Nose: Caramel chew, graham cracker and corn spice.
Palate: Yellow apple, burnt something, Dr. Pepper spices and honey.