Four Roses a memorable bouquet

William M. Dowd photo
Have you ever tried not to treat yourself to a spirit you've really enjoyed but are nearly out of?

It's not always a matter of price, or even local availability. Sometimes it's a matter of liking a limited-edition spirit too much and knowing it can never be reproduced. Ever.

Or, as I did, you've found a rudimentary pleasure in the back of a dusty old liquor cabinet no one has opened literally in years.

Meet my slowly-dwindling quart bottle of Four Roses Premium American Whiskey. That's it in the picture. Take a close look at the yellow price sticker: $6.39.

I came across the bottle when my recently-widowed stepfather was closing up his house and moving to assisted living quarters. In his day, he had been known to enjoy a drop or three of bourbon, rye and blended American whiskies. He's gradually gotten out of the habit as the years went along, and what was left in his cabinet was a collection of oddities.

There's no real way to precisely date the bottle of Four Roses, except to say I know it was purchased in Maryland (the tax stamp still is on it) some time in the late 1960s.

Four Roses as a bourbon and blended whiskey entity has had an erratic lifespan. Formerly the nation's top-selling bourbon in the 1930s, '40s and '50s, the brand virtually disappeared in the '60s when then-owner Seagram began selling the bourbon exclusively overseas. Then, under new owner Kirin, the Japanese brewer, Four Roses Bourbon was returned to the U.S. in 2002 with distribution limited to Kentucky, and at the same time, the blended whiskey was discontinued to focus solely on bourbon. Then, in 2007, the brand expanded bourbon distribution to New York, New Jersey, Tennessee and Illinois with further expansion planned.

Today, Four Roses is exclusively a bourbon label, which may make the remaining half-bottle of the Premium American Whiskey I have worth at least its original retail price.

Master Distiller Jim Rutledge, already a member of the Bourbon Hall of Fame, was named a “Baron of Bourbon” by The Bourbon Review trade industry magazine for its 2008/09 issue, recognizing his expertise and notable achievements in the field. The publication qualifies a baron as someone “who possesses great power or influence in some field of activity.” It lists as of one Rutledge’s biggest accomplishments the oversight of the 2002 re-introduction of Four Roses to the U.S. domestic market, after a four-decade absence.

Since that return, Four Roses has introduced a single barrel and several small-batch bourbons, as well as a series of limited-edition commemmorative bottlings. Its Four Roses Single Barrel now is Kentucky’s top-selling bourbon in the single-barrel category.

But, back to my 40+year-old, 80-proof treasure. My day-to-day drink is a Jim Beam Bourbon Manhattan on the rocks. Since digging through that old liquor cabinet, I've been occasionally substituting the blended Four Roses for the bourbon, adding a healthy dash of angostura bitters that I don't regularly use in my Beam Manhattan, and a bit of Martini & Rossi sweet vermouth (4-to-1 ratio with the whiskey), all vigorously stirred in a big cut-glass Old Fashioned tumbler with fresh ice cubes, and garnished with a maraschino cherry.

I'm not quite sure if the pleasure I'm getting is from the quality of the drink itself, or partially from the memories of bygone years it evokes. Either way, I'm ahead of the game, and I saved $6.39.

Footnotes: The label on my old Four Roses bottle lists Baltimore, MD, and Lawrenceburg, IN, for the company. Today, it is made near Lawrenceburg, KY, in a 1910 Spanish-style distillery that is open to the public for free tours. Details here. ... Four Roses also offers a tour of its one-of-a-kind single story rick warehouse facilities in Cox’s Creek, about an hour's drive from the distillery. ... Go here for a look at a Four Roses special marking the company's 120th anniversary.

To Dowd's Wine Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Spirits Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Tasting Notes latest entry.
Back to Dowd On Drinks home page.


Jeff Krantz in Northern Virginia said...

Wow, it must be that time of year. I just found the very same bottle in my closet

My father-in-law passed in 1990 and mother-in-law in 2003. When we cleared out the house I got the liquor closet.

Curious that I found this bottle this weekend and decided to open it up and try it. So special is it that here I am on the Web surfing it up. I am a Scotch drinker and this is such an enjoyable change.

I would guess that the bottle is from about 1968 -- MD sticker, based on discussions with my wife and where the family was living at the time. 41+ years in a bottle and still excellent.

Thanks for your post. Small world.

Jeff Berning said...

I too RE-discovered Four Roses brand this year. RE because my first memory of Four Roses was seeing bottles in my great-grandfathers home, Those memories came back the instant I stepped into the Four Roses Distillery for a tour this April and saw the logo on their bottles. We did the Bourbon Trail and while ALL stops were interesting, this was above average - great locale, great guides and outstanding bourbon. Between my wife and I, we got to sample 3 varieties - the Straight, Small Batch and Single Barrel. Grandpa always had the Straight - and that was my favorite. My wife (not a bourbon drinker until this trip) fell in love with the Single barrel and we took a bottle home with us. It won't last as long as the two bottles written about in this blog.

Jeff Berning