Last week Jim Rutledge, Master Distiller of Four Roses Bourbon, visited Dallas as part of a Texas tour. He stopped into Chamberlain's Fish Market on Friday to talk whiskey, offer some historical anecdotes and provide a tasting of the Four Roses lineup.
Four Roses claims production and sales dating back to the 1860s, and it was one of only six distilleries granted permission to operate through prohibition, producing bourbon for medicinal purposes. In 1943, Seagram purchased the company, and even though Four Roses was the top selling bourbon in the country at the time, Seagram discontinued the sale of Four Roses bourbon in the U.S. and moved it to the burgeoning European and Asian markets. In its place, Seagram began producing a cheap blended whiskey under the Four Roses name.
The Kirin Brewing Company purchased the Four Roses brand in 2002 and eventually returned the bourbon to American markets. Now back in the U.S. after a lengthy absence, Four Roses is repairing its reputation and reestablishing itself as one of the country's better bourbons.
Rutledge brought three bottles for sampling: Four Roses Yellow Label, Small Batch and Single Barrel. At roughly 6.5 years old and 80 proof, or 40 percent alcohol, the Yellow Label is the workhorse of the lineup. It's soft and smooth, offering up notes of honey, fruits and gentle spice. The Small Batch weights in at 90 proof and averages 7.5 years old. It's got more pronounced wood characteristics, like vanilla and maple, plus hints of spiced fruits. The Four Roses Single Barrel is rich and spicy with lots of creamy caramel. At 100 proof it's surprisingly mellow and easy to hold on the tongue. The finish is long and warm.
Four Roses also puts out a limited edition bourbon each year. These whiskeys are bottled at barrel strength and not chill filtered. They're produced in very limited quantities, so if you find one, snatch it up before it's gone.
Four Roses bourbons are available at most Dallas-area liquor stores, including Sigel's, Goody Goody and Majestic.