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Issue 121 - One Man's Yeast Quest

Whisky Magazine Issue 121
July 2014


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One Man's Yeast Quest

The story of Four Roses' master distiller and his beloved yeast strains

Standing over five unique Four Roses bourbon samples, a photographer wandering around him, master distiller Jim Rutledge caresses the edge of a single glass and silently reflects about the whiskey. This man's passion for this bourbon, his bourbon, exceeds just about every other Kentucky distiller's. And for good reason.

A long-time Seagram's employee, Rutledge made Four Roses bourbon for other countries. Liquor giant Seagram's took Four Roses off of American shelves in the late 1950s and focused on foreign markets, giving its sexier Crown Royal a King's treatment in American liquor stores. Rutledge tried to bring his beloved Four Roses bourbon back, while the rotgut Four Roses blended whiskey demolished the legendary bourbon name. Rutledge even attempted to buy Four Roses himself, but as he says, “we didn't get to first base.”

Then, in 2001, Seagram's folded and Four Roses' current parent company, Kirin, purchased Four Roses. Since then, Four Roses has been a beacon of old school bourbon hope, creating mind-blowing whiskies that sweep magazine and competition awards. Rutledge has spent much of his time talking about Seagram's snafu, but it's time to move on from that story.

Four Roses is no longer the brand that Seagram's forgot; it's the brand Rutledge and Four Roses ambassador Al Young have built.

Ironically, Four Roses' unique flavour profiles all hinge upon Seagram's incredible yeast library, an Ecuadorian named Jose Pueblo and Seagram's theories on meetin...

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