Making up bourbon ground
There are plenty of things to do in Kentucky, but I don’t see how it’s possible to visit without indulging in at least a little bourbon. Oh, wait… that’s right. I was pregnant back in 2006, which meant my first bourbon country experience was bourbon-less.
So, let’s just say that I had a lot of ground to make up during a recent trip hosted by Four Roses Bourbon. We drank Manhattans at Proof, Seelbachs at the hotel, half a dozen cocktails at a gala hosted by eight distilleries and countless sips and tastes in between.
We talked bourbon, too. Four Roses master distiller Jim Rutledge explained every aspect of their production, from yeast strains to grain prices, while a fortuitous lunch with Bourbon Hall of Fame inductee and brand ambassador Al Young added more insight. Touring the distillery, wandering the bourbon festival, hanging out with other spirits writers—everywhere, it was bourbon.
But the highlight? Tasting straight from eight barrels at the Four Roses warehouse. They didn’t roll ’em out just for the media. Rather, we were on-hand as a handful of retailers and distributors selected their favorites as part of Four Roses’ private barrel program.
I’m glad I didn’t have money riding on it. Each bourbon was 7 to 8 years old, made with Four Roses “OBSV” recipe—60% corn, 35% rye and 5% malted barley. I liked barrel #8 for its bold bite, sweet roundness and full finish. The others were variously smoother, grainier, fruitier, drier or sharper, courtesy who knows how many minute differences in wood, grain, fermentation or warehouse placement.
No two were exactly alike. For that matter, no two barrels among Four Roses’ 360,000-barrel inventory are alike, Rutledge says. Yet the distillery produces bourbons recognizably their own, year on year. Do I fully understand how they do it? No. Which is a good thing. It means I’ll just have to go back.