LAWRENCEBURG —Al Young first applied to Four Roses in 1967, "planning to stay a year or two to get experience," he says. He's since worked in almost every area of operations, including distillery manager.
In 2008, rather than lose him to retirement, the company created yet another fun job like those of his taste-testing and production colleagues Brent Elliott and Ryan Ashley. He became brand ambassador.
In his new position, he responds to requests for information, conducts tastings and travels around the country to promote the brand and its 10 unique bourbon recipes. Now the former English major has written a book, Four Roses: The Return of a Whiskey Legend, about the brand's past, present and future. A book launch party will be held Thursday in Lexington at the Hunt-Morgan House.
The company dates from the 1880s in Louisville and later made bourbon out of the Frankfort Distilling Co. Young has total recall of all of Four Roses' important dates, numbers, formulas and lore after having been immersed in the company for four decades. He also serves as archivist, collecting and caring for the company artifacts.
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During Prohibition, he says, it was one of only six brands that obtained a license to be sold legally as medicinal whiskey. He has a 1924 bottle in his office from a drug store in Sparks, Nev., that has directions on the label to "take 2 ozs. in hot water."
His book was written to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the unusual (for Kentucky) Spanish Mission-style building on Bonds Mill Road that serves as the distillery's home.
As Young tells it, Four Roses took a major detour when Seagram's bought Frankfort Distilling Co. and all its resources in 1943. After the war, all of its bourbon was sent overseas, while its blended whiskey was the only Four Roses product sold in the United States. But in 2000, Seagram's was broken up and sold, and in 2002 Four Roses was purchased by Kirin Brewery, "who wanted to restore it to its former glory," says Young.
Since its course correction, the distillery has won numerous accolades for its 80 proof yellow label, 90 proof small batch, 100 proof single barrel and limited editions. It's Four Roses' goal to turn everyone who tastes its bourbon into an unofficial brand ambassador.