Four Roses wins top distillery award

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By Ben Carlson

Four Roses is on a fast track back to its halcyon days and its master distiller couldn’t be happier.

“Everything that is happening right now is like a dream come true,” said Jim Rutledge, reacting to news that the Four Roses won Malt Advocate Magazine’s 2008 Distillery of the Year award last month during the annual “WhiskyFest celebration” in New York City. “This means a lot to me personally, and this award is one for the entire distillery. It needs to be dedicated to every single employee. Without everybody here, we couldn’t win a thing.”

Four Roses was one of the most popular bourbons in America in the 1930s, 40s and 50s, but Seagram’s, which owned the brand, turned it into an export-only product in 1960. It gained remarkable popularity in Asian markets but became relatively unknown in America.

Since his arrival in 1994, Rutledge has contended that Four Roses needed to return to its roots and be distributed in the United States.

He got his wish in 2001, when Seagram’s got out of the alcohol beverage business and new owners acquired the Four Roses brand.

Rutledge convinced those new owners to begin distribution in Kentucky, and now has the product in 18 states with two more states on the way. The product got a significant boost last year when it was shown during the latest of Sylvester Stallone’s “Rocky” movies.

“I had no doubt that if given the opportunity, we could make a success out of Four Roses in the U.S.,” Rutledge said Monday morning in a phone interview. “When Seagram’s went out in 2001, it opened the doors and I realized that the quality of our bourbon wasn’t just in my imagination.”

Indeed. Since its domestic re-release, Four Roses has won a bevy of awards. It’s rapid growth of barrel inventories reach the capacity to introduce a single barrel bourbon in 2004, followed by a small batch product in 2006. It also led to three limited edition bottlings, the most recent being the first in a series of annual small batch barrel-strength bottlings, called Mariage Collection.

The distillery of the year award was one Rutledge had an inkling Four Roses might be in the running for.

“I felt confident,” he said. “I spoke with the publisher and owner of the magazine before and during the event. The award was given due to our ability to distill and age separately 10 different recipes, and our ability to do things different from the norm. Every time we bring a limited edition, it’s totally different by formula and design, and the magazine wanted to give recognition to what we do in this area.”

Four Roses is the only brand to produce 10 distinct Bourbon recipes, each with their own unique character, spiciness, and rich, fruity flavors, he said.

For that, Rutledge credits the distillery’s 50-plus employees.

“I’ve never seen or worked with a group of people who are more hard-working, passionate and dedicated towards a brand,” he said. “Everyone at the Four Roses Distillery has so much heart – from the distillery and warehouse employees to the folks in our marketing department – we’re a cohesive group of people motivated by success and opportunity, and for that, we’re proud to accept this award.”

E-mail Ben Carlson at bcarlson@theandersonnews.com.