The coming of fall signifies cooler weather, the beginning of the winter season, and—most importantly—the release of the Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch bottling. This remarkable Bourbon first appeared in 2010, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Four Roses distillery in Lawrenceville, Kentucky.
There’s still a bit of confusion in the minds of consumers about the Four Roses brand. The product was pulled off the U.S. market in the 1950s by Seagram’s, in order 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.
This year’s release marks the swan song for Master Distiller Jim Rutledge, who retired last month after working at Four Roses since 1969. Rutledge was one of the giants of Kentucky Bourbon, the wizard who supervised the production of ten different mashbill recipes and blended them into a whisky that is as elegant as it is distinctive. I had the pleasure of spending a day at the distillery several years ago during the Kentucky Bourbon Festival, and attended a two-hour seminar by Rutledge on the intricacies of producing the state’s most famous product.
The 2015 Limited Edition Small Batch is a blend of whiskies between 11 and 16 years of age, with a suggested retail price of $120; it was bottled at barrel strength, a whopping 108 proof/54% alcohol. The captivating nose offers scents of honey, vanilla, tapioca and rose petals. It enters the mouth smoothly, but the power of the spirit quickly becomes evident in the mid palate, as flavors of butterscotch, white pepper and stewed stone fruit expand and reverberate. The finish is long and floral, without a trace of heat. It’s a beautiful whiskey to sip on its own, but also makes the Manhattan of your dreams.
Want to know the kind of guy Jim Rutledge is? When asked if Four Roses would ever release a flavored whiskey, he said this:
“If someone wants a blackberry-flavored Bourbon drink, ask your bartender to make you one.”
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History (Lyons Press, 2012) and Moonshine Nation (Lyons Press, 2014); his first novel, Friend of the Devil, is forthcoming from Black Opal Books in Spring 2016. For more information, go to amazon.com