Four Roses is the seventh most popular a brand of bourbon whiskey in the world and the second most popular brand in Japan behind only Jim Beam. The Four Roses Distillery is located in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky and produces 5 brands, labels and variations of Bourbon. Four Roses is owned by Kirin Brewing Company which is headquartered in Tokyo, Japan.
The Four Roses Distillery's history starts with how the company found its name. The company's founder, Paul Jones, Jr. was born in 1840 in Lynchburg, Virginia in a very affluent family. In a romantic story for the ages, he really threw his heart out on a limb after he fell in love with a beautiful southern girl. It is said that "it was love at first sight" and Paul fell head over heels quickly. It was in Atlanta, Georgia before the Civil War in about in about 1860 when Jones took his gamble. During the first spring, only months after meeting this Southern Belle, Atlanta was staging its annual Grand Ball in which all the members of upper society attended. As was the custom at the time, Jones sent her a marriage proposal in writing by personal carrier. In upper society, they used a Victorian tradition that they called "flower language" to communicate. In the letter, he wrote, "when you show up at the ball, if you are wearing a corsage that has three roses I will consider it a rejection of my proposal. But if you wear a corsage with four roses it will clearly state your intention to accept my proposal of marriage." After over an hour of an agonizing wait, she showed up wearing Four Red Roses. He was so happy that he decided to apply the same passion that he had toward her to his craft and named his new whiskey after this indelible occasion. So the name "Four Roses" was born.
Between 1863-1865 Paul Jones fought in the U. S. Civil War as a Confederate lieutenant. In 1864, Union General Sherman threatened Atlanta he and his older brother Warner were called to General Robert E. Lee's command to help defend the city. Warner was killed in that campaign and a year later the south surrendered. Upon returning to Virginia Jones "found his home in ruins and the family destitute." Paul Jr., joined by his father and subsequently relocated to Atlanta. The Joneses began producing whiskey and cigars, but to supplement his income, Jr. also went to work as a salesman for Rufus Rose, a Georgia distiller. In 1882-1885 the Temperance Movement was really picking up steam in Georgia and the legislature passed a law prohibiting the sale of alcohol.
Jones decided to move his company and distillery to "Whiskey Row" in Louisville, Kentucky in 1884 but could not find enough room to his liking. In 1889 he bought the J. G. Mattingly distillery for $125,000 at auction ($3,460,000.00 in today's dollars). Included in the purchase were a mill, a fermenting house, a boiler house, a distillery building and a cattle barn. The property included held five warehouses that were brick with slate roofs. The new venture was one of the largest spirit producing companies in America. His brands included; "Four Roses," “Paul Jones,” "Jones Four Star,” "Old Cabinet,” "Old Cabinet Rye,” "Small Grain,” and "West End.” At the time Jones' Distillery had no business offices and he conducted his business out of the "Galt House Hotel." Later in life, Jones suffered from a kidney ailment known as “Bright’s Disease” and died of its complications in 1905. With no children of his own, his older brother Warner's son inherited the business.
In 1910, the company moved its distillery and headquarters to Lawrenceburg, Kentucky on the banks of the Salt River. They built the distillery with Spanish-mission style architecture rarely seen in Kentucky and it is now listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. When prohibition started in 1919, they were granted one of only six licenses to distill whiskey for medicinal proposes.
In 1943 the decedents of the Jones family sold the distillery and the entire business to the Seagram's Company. Four Roses was the most popular bourbon in the world during the decades of the 1930's, 1940's and 1950's. At the time Seagram's was the largest spirit maker in the world and had seven distilleries including five in Kentucky, one in Maryland and one in Canada. In late 50's, despite the popularity of the brand of Bourbon, the company decides to convert to a cheaper Blended American Whiskey and market its internationally discontinuing it sales in the United States. Charles L. Beam (1922-2007), a grandnephew of Jim Beam (and Cousin to Booker Noe) was hired as at Four Roses in 1962 and named only the fourth Master Distiller at Four Roses in 1968. In 1966 Jim Rutledge joined Seagram's at the Louisville Plant in R&D. In 1975 he was transferred to the New York City. Al Young was hired the next year in 1967 in the Quality Control lab at Seagram’s Calvert Distillery by Four Roses. Under Beam's tenure as Master Distiller, Four Roses introduced the Bourbon brands of Benchmark Bourbon in 1969 and Eagle Rare in 1975. Charles Beam retired in 1982 and both brands were sold to the Sazerac Company in 1989 where they continued to be made by the Buffalo Trace Distillery. Beam was inducted posthumously into the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame in 2010. Four Roses appointed Ova Haney as the company's fifth Master Distiller between 1992 and 1995.
Four Roses named Jim Rutledge as Master Distiller in 1995 and served for the next twenty years. In 2001, Rutledge was inducted into the inaugural class of the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame. In 2002, Japanese beer maker Kirin bought Four Roses, and Rutledge begged them to "let us go back to bourbon and also bring Four Roses back home and start selling into the U.S. again" Kirin agreed, they started recalling and destroying all the bottles of bargain-basement blended whiskey. The distillery reintroduced a Four Roses Bourbon in 2002 and released its first Four Roses Single-barrel Bourbon in 2004 in Kentucky. Rutledge and his team worked hard to dust off and polish Four Roses and turn it into a top-shelf brand in the span of about six or seven years. For these accomplishments Rutledge earned his nickname became “Mr. Four Roses.” Al Young was promoted to Plant Manager from 1990-2007 and worked side by side with Rutledge on the day to day operation of the distillery. One time someone asked him if Four Roses would ever jump on a trend, like creating flavored whiskey. Rutledge replied by asking them to leave the room and preferably even leave the state of Kentucky. In 2007 the company expanded to introduce the Four Roses Small Batch brand.
Four Roses is also unique in their recipes. Usually, a distillery will stick to a limited one or two mash bills for specific products and often a single yeast strain. Four Roses uses five different yeasts and the company produces two different mash bills. Both are high rye ranging from at 25% and 40% rye contents. Using the different yeasts and mash bill recipes allows Four Roses to obtain a bunch of unique character across its barrels of 10 different recipes. In 2010 Al Young was promoted to Brand Ambassador, in his time at Four Roses he compiled the archived history of the company. In 2011 Al Young was inducted into the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame. In August 2015 Jim Rutledge retires from Four Roses. After working ten years side by side with Rutledge, Owensboro, Kentucky native Brent Elliott was named the sixth Master Distiller in September 2015.
Click On first Slide to see all of Four Rose's North American Whiskies
All photos of Four Roses is provided by Four Roses Distillery