by Mike Sula
Through the 30s, 40s, and 50s Four Roses was the most popular bourbon in the U.S., and judging by its recent cameo in Rocky Balboa, it remained something of an iconic spirit after that, despite the unfortunate circumstance that until recently you couldn't buy it anymore. Seagrams bought the brand in 1943 and eventually pulled it from the domestic market, using the familiar yellow label with red roses to launch a blended whiskey that wasn't a bourbon. (Technically Four Roses bourbon is a blend too, of ten different formulas, according to Chuck Cowdery author of Bourbon Straight.)
Known for its balance and marketed for its "mellowness," Four Roses was a top seller in Europe and Japan throughout its long absence, and in 2002 it was bought by the Kirin Brewing Company. Master distiller Jim Rutledge at the Four Roses distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky then persuaded the new owners to reintroduce the stuff domestically, first in its home state and then last year in New York.
Now it's our turn. Beginning in mid-November a 100 proof Four Roses Single Barrel and a recently introduced 90 proof small batch expression will show up on liquor store shelves in Chicago. The latter is a blend of just four of the aforementioned bourbons the distillery uses in the 80 proof yellow label, which will arrive some time in early 2008. If you can't wait to taste what the distillery is capable of you can pick up a bottle of Bulleit bourbon, which it produces for Diageo--but that ain't anything like Four Roses.