Whisky Magazine Issue 73
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As most American whiskeys look overseas for new drinkers, Four Roses finds its growth back home. Charles Cowdery investigates.
Some whiskey snobs criticise American producers for being too industrial. They call our distilleries “whiskey refineries.” This particular snobbery, like most, is born of ignorance. But if anyone doubts that American makers care deeply about whiskey quality and flavour, in all of its subtlety and complexity, they need look no further than Four Roses in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky.
Except for its Spanish Mission architecture, there is nothing outward that suggests Four Roses is different from any other distillery in Kentucky or Tennessee and, in fact, it's not. It's neither the smallest nor the largest, and it uses the same basic technology as everybody else, including a continuous beer still and a pot still doubler.
The particular uniqueness of Four Roses, which recently has enabled it to release a string of exceptional, award-winning whiskeys, comes in part from its peculiar history.
Both the distillery and the brand are very old by American standards, almost 200 years for the distillery and more than 100 for the brand.
The first iteration of the distillery was on Gilbert's Creek, a few dozen yards from the current plant. It was known as Old Joe and founded in 1818 by “Old Joe” Payton.
Legend has it he lived in a tent until the distillery got going, then set about building a house.
The distillery changed owners many times. Usually some member of the Hawkins or Ripy family was involved. In 1855, the Hawkins built a second distillery next door, where the present Four ...