Long, long ago, in a market not so far from where I now live, Four Roses was a commonplace whiskey brand. I can still recall seeing it on the bar shelves at the homes of family friends, and pictures of it in magazines and on bulletin boards.
Even today, Four Roses print ads and posters are popular with ephemera collectors and auction house regulars.
This particular Kentucky bourbon wasn't of interest in my household, where Dad was a strict Jim Beam and I.W. Harper man, but it was available in enough places for me to sample a sip or two in my maturing years.
But Four Roses, although made in Lawrenceburg, Ky., had not been sold domestically in decades and wasn't re-introduced to Kentucky's limited retail market until five years ago. Its primary market was Japan — fittingly enough since it is owned by Japan's Kirin Brewery Co., which bought it in October 2001 — and Europe.
This past spring, Four Roses came back to the New York metro area, where I first encountered it lo those many years ago with its familiar yellow label. That, as it turns out, was but a step in its return to the U.S. bourbon wars, where popularity of that particular spirit is at an all-time high and there is more and more money to be made.
When you have an enthusiastic audience, you might as well bring out your best. So, in conjunction with the annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival going on this week, Four Roses will unveil its newest product Friday, Sept. 13, to commemorate master distiller Jim Rutledge's 40 years in the industry.
The lengthily-titled Four Roses Barrel Strength Limited Edition Single Barrel Bourbon Whiskey then will be available in retail outlets in Kentucky and metro New York. At the same time, the company will unveil new packaging and a redesign for its flagship Yellow Label.
The distillery is producing approximately 1,700 hand-numbered bottles containing 13-year-old, uncut bourbon. So straight-from-the-barrel that sediment might remain in it.
"It's a bourbon-lover's bourbon," Rutledge said. "Four Roses fans and bourbon connoisseurs alike will enjoy its uncommon character, smooth textures and mellow taste."
The line was a top-selling bourbon here from the 1930s through the late '50s, when then-owner Seagram switched it to overseas markets only. When Kirin bought the company it embarked, at Rutledge's urging, on a program to reintroduce it here. Four Roses Small Batch was released in 2006 and quickly sold out of its first bottling run, forcing a second run.
Last April, Four Roses became available in metro New York. The company plans to launch it in New Jersey, Illinois and Tennessee later this year.
Gold medals went to 28 entries in the first Ministry of Rum Sugar Cane Spirits Competition, held recently in New Orleans. They were: Araku Rum and Coffee Liqueur, Barcelo Imperial, Brinley Gold Coffee Rum, Castries Rum Cream, Clement X.O. Rum, Cockspur Bajan Crafted Rum 12, Diplomatico Reserva, Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva, El Dorado 12 Year Old Rum, EL Dorado Rum Cream, J.M. Eleve Sous Bois, J.M. Rhum Agri?cole Vieux VSOP, La Favorite Rhum Agricole Blanc, Macuro Ron Anejo Ultra Premium, Mount Gay Extra Old Barbados Rum, Neisson Reserve Speciale, Neisson Rhum Agricole Blanc, New Or?leans White Rum, Prichard's Crystal Rum, Pyrat 1623, Ron Abuelo 7 Anos Reserva Superior, Rum Jumbie Liqueur, Santa Teresa 1796, Temptryst Cherrywood Rum, Temptryst Maplewood Rum, Temptryst Tropical Light Rum, Tortuga 5 year old Rum, Vizcaya VXOP Cuban Style Rum.
Judging, arranged by Edward Hamilton, owner of the Ministry of Rum, took place at historic Arnaud's Restaurant in New Orleans. Sugar cane spirits were judged for their aroma, initial taste, body and finish on a scale of 1-25 for each attribute.
c.2007 Albany Times Union