I'm a wine guy. Ok; girl. Some would say that is a minor technicality. But not in the world of bourbon. You either swing one way or another. There's straight whiskey and there's blended whiskey. Yet, Four Roses has been both.
It didn't have a choice.
Sam Bronfman, owner of Seagrams, purchased the brand in 1943 and turned it into something that it was not. At the time of purchase, it was the No. 1 selling straight bourbon whiskey in the USA. There were distilleries in both Kentucky and Maryland.
We Marylanders owned a piece of its proud history. In its glory days.
When Sam Bronfman made the purchase, there were 20 million gallons of straight whiskey in the offing. A small portion of that was sold as straight whiskey overseas to Japan and Europe during the Seagram occupation, and the rest was blended into the lesser product that Four Roses was to become in the United States over the years.
Straight bourbon whiskey is 100 percent distilled spirit that is barrel-aged to achieve is mellow flavor and amber coloring. It is primarily crafted from corn, although wheat and rye can be, and often is, incorporated.
Blended whiskey starts with a 100 percent whiskey base, then cuts it with neutral grain spirit and coloring.
In a true prince-to-pauper story, Master Distiller Jim Rutledge championed the historic brand, hoping to make it royal again in its own market.
"There's rot gut with our name on it. When are you going to let us bring it home?" he told Seagrams, hoping to re-introduce Four Roses as a straight whiskey in the USA.
It was a battle he won. And for such tenacity, and for the quality product he now once again proudly puts into the bottle and sells on American shores, he was inducted into the Bourbon Hall of Fame.
There is a beautiful love story that is involved in the Four Roses name that happened at a time when messages were sent by way of specific flowers, their number and their color. But that story also dates back to the glory days.
Fortunately, the bloom is back on the rose.
The Kentucky Derby just finished its 138th run. Against 15-1 odds, "I'll Have Another" took it home.
Fix your good selves a Four Roses mint julep and enjoy both days in a nod to the good 'ole days that have gratefully swung back around. You too will be saying, "I'll Have Another."
Four Roses mint julep
2-3 ounces Four Roses bourbon
2 teaspoons sugar
12 mint leaves
Garnish: Mint sprigs and orange slice
Gently crush mint leaves in a cool tall glass. (Lightly muddle the mint and sugar with a splash of soda water in a mixing glass.) Fill the glass with cracked ice. Add Four Roses, club soda and stir well. Garnish with a slice of orange and a few sprigs of mint, and serve.
Four Roses Single Barrel 2004, Straight Bourbon Whiskey ($40)…high notes of cardamom and flowers, deep notes of spice.
Four Roses Small Batch, Straight Bourbon Whiskey ($25)…smooth and rich with notes of honey, orange, apricot and spice.
Four Roses Yellow Label, Straight Bourbon Whiskey ($20)…mellow, again smooth…all spiced pear, vanilla and basswood honey.