When you’ve been in business as long as Four Roses has, it takes something big to get the designation “historic.”
But after 130 years, the bourbon distillery is preparing to reopen later this month after a three-month shutdown and a $55-million expansion that will virtually double its distilling capacity.
The brand, which is now owned by Kirin of Japan, knew that as its popularity in the U.S. increased it would need to make more bourbon to meet demand. And in June 2015 Four Roses launched plans to add another still.
To maintain high quality, the distillery decided to “twin” the entire operation, with side-by-side stills, doublers and cookers for mash, said Brent Elliott, now Four Roses master distiller.
“The scale-up couldn’t just be a bigger still or a supplemental,” he said. “We had to do exactly the same thing we’re doing now, just double it.”
And because the distillery is also a historic site, they couldn’t just push out a wall here or there.
The distillery now will have so much distilling capacity, it doesn’t even need it all yet. Plans call for doubling the original 24 fermenting tanks, too, but for now, an additional eight are all that are needed.
The goal is to make the quality so consistent that fans will never be able to tell if a particular batch came off of one still or another, Elliott said.
More warehouses are being built at the Cox’s Creek location, too, where the increased volume of bourbon will go to age.
In 2015, then master distillery Jim Rutledge said that when he came to the plant 20 years before, he expected owner Seagram would shut it down. Instead, Seagram went into bankruptcy and bourbon began to boom. New owner Kirin agreed to let Rutledge bring Four Roses back to the U.S. as a straight bourbon rather than a blended whiskey and sales took off.
Now, the distillery will be able to produce enough bourbon to fill more than 200,000 barrels a year, enough to keep the Four Roses Bourbon, Four Roses Single-Barrel and Four Roses Small Batch labels afloat.
To celebrate the iconic 130th anniversary, Four Roses is releasing a very special limited edition small batch bourbon.
The 130th anniversary release, selected by Elliott from four different recipes and batches, will go on sale Sept. 15 in the distillery gift shop in Lawrenceburg and at the Cox’s Creek bottle plant’s visitors’ center, just in time for the annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival in Bardstown, which draws thousands of visitors to the distilleries.
It will hit store shelves in Kentucky in September and stores around the country soon after. But there will be only about 13,140 bottles of the bourbon, which has a proof of 108.3. Suggested retail price is $140 a bottle.
The anniversary bourbon is a unique blend of a 10-year-old OBSV recipe, a 13-year-old OBSF, a 14-year-old OESV and a 16-year-old OESK. Four Roses is unique among Kentucky bourbons in that it uses two different grain recipes and five yeast strains to achieve myriad flavors.
The lettering refers to the particular mix of grains used to make the bourbon. O signifies that it was produced at Four Roses. E means the mash was 75 percent corn, 20 percent rye and 5 percent malted barley. The B means there’s less corn and more rye. S is always the third letter and designates straight whiskey distillation. The fourth letter refers to the strain of yeast used.
Each of the four bourbons that went into the 130th Anniversary Small Batch contributed different flavor notes, Elliott said. The OBSV delivered spice and delicate fruits; the OBSF brought in grapey notes, he said. The OESV “is what we are when we’re at our best,” and the OESK was left over from the Elliott Select released as his first pick after being named master distiller.
“The final product combines the best of each sample,” Elliott said. “It all comes together, with fruit, caramel, and spice but it’s very smooth. ... We’re proud of this one and hope everyone enjoys it.”