Four Roses is a brand of Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey that has been produced since the 1880s. The distillery uses a unique system of yeast and mashbill recipes to create a line of bourbons that is unlike any other. Though it was one of the few to operate during and survive Prohibition, this American-made whiskey was not sold in the United States for decades. Instead, it found a thriving fan base in Europe and Asia. As of 2002, Four Roses is back in the U.S. market. Its flagship "Yellow Label" bottle may have lost its colorful title but remains a favorite budget-friendly whiskey. The brand's portfolio includes top-shelf whiskeys that are a nice upgrade from the 80-proof bourbon.
- Ingredients: Corn, rye, yeast
- Proof: 80–104
- ABV: 40–52%
- Origin: Lawrenceburg, Kentucky
- Taste: Vanilla, oak, fruit
- Aged: 5 to 10 years
- Serve: shots, straight-up, on the rocks, cocktails
A Legacy Bourbon
The often romanticized story behind the Four Roses name dates to 1884. The whiskey's founder, Paul Jones Jr., started the distillery on Louisville, Kentucky's "Whiskey Row." His would-be sweetheart was said to appear at a grand ball to accept his proposal with a corsage of four red roses. In 1888, Jones trademarked the name and that date is on every label of Four Roses Bourbon.
Four Roses is seen as a legacy bourbon. The Lawrenceburg, Kentucky distillery was built in 1910 and was sold to Frankfort Distilling Company in 1922. It was one of just six distilleries in the United States allowed to produce "medicinal" whiskey during Prohibition. While countless distilleries shuttered their doors during the dry decade, those like Four Roses survived. The brand remained a top-seller in the U.S. through the 1950s.
After Seagram purchased the brand in 1943, Four Roses Bourbon was pulled from the U.S. market. Until 2002, the bourbon was only sold in European and Asian markets and became extremely popular in Japan. During those decades, drinkers in the U.S. could buy a bottle of Four Roses, though it was a blended whiskey rather than a straight bourbon. Under the leadership of master distiller Jim Rutledge, who is well-respected in the whiskey world, the bourbon was released in the U.S. again and now enjoys nationwide distribution. Rutledge retired in 2015 and Brent Elliot took over as master distiller.
What Is Four Roses Bourbon Made From?
Like all bourbon whiskeys, Four Roses must be distilled from a mashbill that is dominated by corn. What makes it unique is that the distillery uses five proprietary yeast strains and two separate mashbills to develop 10 whiskey recipes that are then blended into each bottle of bourbon. The mashbills use 60 percent to 75 percent corn; one mash is high-rye and the other uses less rye in the remaining grains.
Four Roses is aged in new charred American oak barrels; as required by law, they cannot reuse barrels. The rickhouses are located in Coxs Creek, Kentucky. Most aging warehouses are made of many floors, though Four Roses uses a single-story rickhouse that eliminates temperature variances and the need to rotate barrels as often. Depending on the expression, the bourbons are aged from 5 to 10 years (or longer) before they're blended and cut to bottling strength with water.
What Does Four Roses Bourbon Taste Like?
Though each expression is a little different, this bourbon has a floral aroma and rosy, grainy, and spicy undertones with a bit of a honey twist. The taste is crisp, smooth, and soft at the same time, marked by vanilla, pear, apple, and notes of oak that gently melt into the fruits. It finishes with a soothing smoothness that is semi-dry and holds hints of spicy orange.
The 10 bourbon recipes distilled by Four Roses are blended in unique ways to create the signature taste of each bottling:
- Four Roses 80 Proof is the brand's marque bourbon whiskey and the base of the portfolio. Formerly called "Yellow Label," for years it did have a bright yellow label though today it's tan. All 10 bourbon recipes are blended into this whiskey and they're aged for a minimum of 5 years. It's an affordable bourbon and a reliable whiskey for both sipping and mixing into cocktails. For drinkers new to bourbon, this is a great introduction to the style.
- Four Roses Small Batch is a 90 proof (45 percent ABV) bourbon whiskey. It uses four of the distillery's whiskey recipes, each of which is aged for at least seven to 10 years. This expression remains reasonably priced and is viewed as a mid-shelf bourbon.
- Four Roses Single Barrel uses only one whiskey recipe. Aged a minimum of six to seven years, the barrels are hand-selected for their high-quality taste. The whiskey is non-chill filtered and bottled at 104 proof (52 percent ABV). It is a top-shelf whiskey and only sold in a handful of states in the U.S.
- Four Roses also has a portfolio of limited edition bourbons. These are released periodically and produced at the master distiller's discretion. Pricey and sought after by whiskey collectors, they're generally bottled at barrel strength and non-chill filtered.
- Four Roses Black Label and Super Premium expressions are exclusively available in Japan.
How to Drink Four Roses Bourbon
Four Roses is a perfect bourbon to enjoy however you like. You can even use it discover your drinking preferences. The higher-end bottles are excellent sippers, either on the rocks, straight, or with a splash of water to open up the aroma and flavor. Four Roses 80 Proof is very versatile. It makes a nice straight whiskey but also a great base for any whiskey cocktail, especially simple mixed drinks like the whiskey highball where a reliable, affordable whiskey is all that's needed. When either the Small Batch or Single Barrel bourbons are in your bar, they will not disappoint in high-end cocktails such as the Manhattan.
With its signature bourbon taste, Four Roses can work very well in any bourbon cocktail. Pour it into a few of the whiskey's signature drink recipes then have fun exploring its full potential with a variety of fruits, spices, and other flavors.