As we rolled down the driveway leaving Willett we were on cloud nine. The only drawback from the experience was that the distillery was not operating that day. It had been a long time since I had seen an operating distillery (Maker’s Mark in the early 2000s) so I was hoping our next stop would bring some fortune in this category. We would soon find out as we jumped on the Bluegrass Parkway and headed east. We made our way towards the iconic Spanish Villa nestled among the trees along the Salt River where Four Roses Distillery makes its home.
FOUR ROSES DISTILLERY
As we pulled off the parkway and onto 127 everyone was getting a little hungry. However, we were pushing our time limits as the last tour at Four Roses was to start in less than an hour and a half. So, I decided to call to make sure we could get in. Sure enough there was room left but the spots were going fast. So, we swung by the distillery, picked up our tickets, and headed out to lunch.
We finished lunch with plenty of time to get back to Four Roses and peruse the gift shop before the tour headed out. I always make it my goal to pick up something rare or limited when I am at a distillery. So, I walked throughout the gift shop looking for their private selection options of their single barrel bourbons. I found two that day: a OBSK hand-picked by Jim Rutledge for the gift shop and a OBSQ hand-picked by Jim Rutledge for the Bourbon Affair (which occurred a few weeks earlier) which you can find a good write-up on by my friend over at Sipp’n Corn. It was too tough of a choice to make in the moment so I let the pros and cons linger in my head as we made our way over to the start of the tour.
While Willett, as you can read in a few of my previous posts, has a very personal, intimate, and down-to-earth tour, Four Roses has succumb to the hype of whiskey and has created a cookie-cutter tour. While that is not all bad and it does afford them the opportunity to crank out tours with massive numbers of people (the parking lot was packed and there were people everywhere), it limits the personal nature of the whole process, cuts down on the ability to ask good questions, and takes a drink which should be shared with friends and puts the experience of its production on a shelf which cannot be reached. If that makes any sense? Okay, moving on.
The tour started in the back of the gift shop where Four Roses has a theater of sorts. It is a room with a projection screen and about 40 or so chairs. Our tour guide, whose name I cannot remember for the life of me, introduced the Four Roses story about the man who wanted the girl and decided to give her four roses (blah, blah, blah) and their mash bills. While this may have been news to some of the participants in the tour, it was old news to me. I wanted more.
For those of you that don’t know, I will share what I “learned.” Four Roses has 10 different recipes. They center around “O_S_” The “O” represents “Four Roses” and the “S” represents “Straight” whiskey (I love the fact that they only produce straight whiskeys). The second letter is either “E” or “B” with the “B” representing their high rye mash bill (60% corn, 35% rye, 5% malted barley) and the “E” representing their low rye mash bill (75% corn, 20% rye, 5% malted barley). The fourth letter is either F, K, O, V, or Q. These five letters represent the distinct yeasts which Four Roses uses to give each of their mash bills different flavors: “F” a herbal taste, “K” a slight spice, “O” a rich fruitiness, “Q” a floral essence, and “V” a delicate fruitiness. The yeasts were created by Four Roses to mimic the distinct flavors they had from the yeasts they used back when they were owned by Seagram’s.
After this introduction we watched a video about the “uniqueness” and “special nature” of Four Roses. It was pretty much a PSA for Four Roses and by the time two minutes had passed I was bored and started thinking back on which bottle I was going to purchase…OBSK or OBSQ?
While in mid-thought, the film ended and our tour guide asked us to put on our headsets. Not being a germophobe I wasn’t concerned about the fact that they may or may not have been swabbed down with rubbing alcohol after the last tourists used them. And, I wasn’t even put off by the fact that they detracted from the ability to ask good questions from our tour guide. With the number of people on the tour I knew it was going to be hard to ask questions. In fact, I was glad to have the headset since they were in operation that day and it was loud. I would not have heard a word our tour guide said if it were not for the headset. So, we put on our headsets and we were off.
The tour guide described some of the buildings along the way…
We stood in front of the iconic Spanish arches and bell as she described how Four Roses uses one story rickhouses, produces 130,000 gallons of distillate per day, and pumps in over 40 million gallons of water from the nearby Salt River to feed their operations on a daily basis!
From there it was on to the Grain Quality Laboratory (a tiny building with a big name) where we learned that Four Roses uses non-GMO grains. Their corn comes from Indiana, rye from Montana, and barley from Denmark.
It was then on to the Control Room where everything is monitored and maintained through the use of computers and high-tech machinery to make sure nothing is missed or goes array.
From there we walked up the steps to the Fermentation Room. The smell was tasty (if that is a thing). The massive fermentation tanks, holding well over 10,000 gallons a piece, were bubbling and popping as the yeast devoured the sugars creating beer. We got to sample the mash and taste how it was sweet in the newly filled tanks and sour in the tanks which were close to finished.
Next we walked by the boilers and stills as they pumped, bubbled, boiled, and steamed. It was hot in the room.
As we walked by the tailbox we got to see fresh distillate coming off the still.
From there the tour ended with a tasting. The Tasting Room was adorned with beautiful dark wood cabinets lined with fancy bottles of new, old, and rare Four Roses Bourbon.
There was even a bottle from Prohibition!
We tasted their Yellow Label (which is a combination of all 10 mash bills), their Small Batch, and their traditional 100 Proof Single Barrel (OBSV). I had them all before and my favorite was still the Single Barrel. My wife preferred the Small Batch. Not a bad choice in any right and I am excited to see how this trip has started to open up the bourbon portion of her heart.
We took our free glasses and walked back out to the gift shop. It was time to choose. The OBSK or the OBSQ?
Most people wouldn’t hesitate at picking the OBSK. It is classically good even though it varies from batch-to-batch.
However, I was intrigued by the Bourbon Affair OBSQ even though I already had a Private Label OBSQ at home.
OBSQ it was.
We shall see how it is. Expect a review in the future after I finish off my other one.
A good day was coming to end. But, it wasn’t over quite yet.
When we return we will discuss the sites, sounds, smells, and tastes of the Kentucky Bourbon House in Bardstown, Kentucky where we wined (bourboned), dined, and chatted with the Kentucky Colonel and his wife.