four roses has had it's ups and downs over the last 130 years. it's founder, paul jones, purportedly began production since the 1860's near atlanta but did not officially trademark the name until the 1880's when his business was moved lousiville. the official legend behind the name four roses is that the founder, paul jones, had asked a lovely young southern woman to marry him. she replied that if her answer was yes, that she would wear a corsage of roses to the ball that night. much to his delight she wore four roses on her dress when she arrived to the dance. in real life however, there is no evidence there ever was a young woman, a ball, or a corsage. paul was never married, or at least no record of a marriage survives.
another legend has it that the brand was began by the rose family of atlanta. when tee-totalers began to make their rounds, the family had to pack up and move north to tennessee. from there the legend gets foggy and paul jones enters the picture buying the successful brand from the son of the retired rose. however, since the trademark on the name predates when the family would have been able to sell the business to jones it is thought that this legend is improbable (but those in atlanta hold to the tale as much as louisville holds on to theirs about paul). it does seem that paul jones may have gotten his start in atlanta though so perhaps there is a lost connection to the rose family?
documented history tells us that by prohibition, the brand was being made at frankfort distillers although not the frankfort distillers you recognize from from our local elkhorn creek. the original frankfort distillers began as national distillers in 1869. at one point the distillery was called old grand-dad distillery. later the baker/hinde family built a bigger distillery at the location and renamed it frankfort distillery. in the 1920's a fire razed the rackhouses and this particular location stopped being used for anything other than storage. the property was later sold and the family built a new operation in louisville continuing to use the name frankfort distillery. the louisville distillery was commonly known as four roses.
in the post prohibition world, the brand fell victim to the consolidation. along with the new ownership came a decline in quality for the product. four roses had been the highest selling brand at the end of world war II but through the series of trades by the 1960s segrams decided to discontinue domestic sales. it wasn’t until the late 1990s that jim rutledge was able to push for the product to return home. Kirin brewery company, ltd. finally began turning the product around and selling stateside in the early 2000s.
currently four roses is produced in lawrenceburg. the site was originally a small distillery started by 'old joe' payton in 1818. when segrams acquired the brand and payton’s distillery around world war II, they relocated the brand there. in 2001 everything was sold to kirin brewery of japan who maintains it today.
four roses is famous for their use of different combinations of corn, rye, malt and active yeast cultures. they are also one of very few distilleries (especially at their level of production) that use single story rackhouses, also called flathouses. Because the storage of the barrels is so similar from location to location, there are less microclimates acting on the bourbon giving the distillers more control over the product.
other brands with japanese control include jim beam, maker’s mark, knob creek, basil haydens. other foreign controlled brands include bulleit, wild turkey, and angel’s envy… just to name a few. The only two distilleries that are completely family owned and operated from distillation through bottling are heaven hill and willett (aka kentucky distillers).
four roses from time to time helps fellow brands out by allowing their product to be sourced. It is commonly acknowledged that bulliet bourbon is made for deigo by four roses. If you enjoy four roses products, give bulliet a try and see what you think.
in 2015, four roses promoted their director of quality to master distiller. brent elliott had spent ten years with the company evaluating bourbons, selecting special bottlings and studying under master distiller jim rutledge. when brent isn't hosting events worldwide, you will occasionally find him sipping four roses right here in frankfort since the distillery is less than 30 minutes away.
sweet and spicy throughout. lots of berries, vanilla, caramel, pears, and spices. probably more tobacco, leather, dried fruits than the other two brands by four roses.