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Issue 93 - Bringing Bourbon Back Home

Whisky Magazine Issue 93
January 2011

 

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Bringing Bourbon Back Home

Four Roses is in its ascendancy, Marcin Miller finds out why and Dave Broom looks at the technical side that sets this brand apart

A boxed, one pint Prohibition era bottle of Four Roses is on display at the distillery; on the faded back label the directions for use read ‘take two teaspoons' without any reference to when, how often or for what ailments. Available from drugstores for ‘medicinal purposes' during the Noble Experiment, from 1920 to 1933, Four Roses accounted for one in six bottles of whiskey sold in the USA.

Visitors aren't allowed to taste it so Jim Rutledge, master distiller, was asked for his opinion. His answer was, as always, typically candid; “I tried a sample a couple years ago and I did not like it at all.

It wouldn't come close to making it into a bottle today. Most people don't like saying something like that, but I tell people that with today's technologies, instruments and equipment, if we're not better than we were 10 years ago I'm not doing my job and should be replaced.” In that response you have an idea of the measure of Rutledge, a restless perfectionist in pursuit of quality.

Jim's high standards notwithstanding, Four Roses continued to be the market leading bourbon in the US into the 1950s. One of the first neon signs in Times Square in the late 1930s was a Four Roses advertisement; it provided the backdrop for Alfred Eisenstaedt's celebrated photograph of a de-mobbed US sailor kissing his girlfriend on V–J day in 1945.

The story of Four Roses is one of love and frustration which culminates, ultimately, in the rebirth of a great bourbon. Our tale begins with i...

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