Four Roses Distillery is located in Lawrencebug, Kentucky, almost right in the center of the state (in case you're ever on a road trip and want to swing by for a dram). No one is really sure when Four Roses first started distilling, it was somewhere between 1860-1880, and was one of a handful of distilleries that remained open during the prohibition for "medicinal purposes."
By the 1930s, Four Roses was the most popular bourbon sold in the U.S., a position it held through the 1950s. At the height of its popularity in 1943, Four Roses was bought by Seagram, the largest distilling company in the world at the time. Seagram apparently bought Four Roses for the name. In the 1960s, they slapped the Four Roses label on some grain neutral blended whiskeys they were making at their Lawrenceburg, Indiana distillery. At the same time, Seagram began marketing this new blended product overseas in Japan and Europe and pulled Four Roses straight bourbon from U.S. markets. Interestingly, Seagram kept the original Kentucky distillery in operation making straight Kentucky bourbon under different labels, which were also only available overseas.
Seagram dissolved in 2002 and Four Roses was acquired by the Kirin Brewing Company of Japan. Kirin reversed trajectory and Four Roses again became a Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey. And under their watchful eye, Four Roses Distillery won distillery of the year from Whiskey Magazine four out of the last five years.
I've seen this bourbon as low as $15.99 for a 750ml bottle, making it quite affordable.
Now here's why I wanted to taste Four Roses and Bulleit side-by-side: Bulleit bourbon is actually made at the Four Roses distillery in Kentucky (side not: Bulleit rye whiskey... the one with the green label... is made at the old Seagram distillery in Indiana). Would there be a similarity since both whiskeys were coming from the same distillery? That's what we're here to find out.
The Bulleit brand began in the 1830s when Augustus Bulleit started making his own whiskey, but production stopped in the 1860s when Augustus died. It wasn't until 1987 that Bulleit bourbon came to life again under the founder's great-great-grandson, who created this whiskey's modern recipe. In 1997, Bulleit was bought by Seagram, who began distilling it at the Four Roses distillery in Kentucky. When Seagram dissolved, Bulleit was bought by Diageo, and production remained at the Four Roses distillery.
As one of the fastest growing whiskey brands in the U.S., currently, Diageo is scheduled to open its own Bulleit distillery in Shelbyville, Kentucky in 2016.
Nose: Alcohol overwhelms any notes at first sniff. After letting my glass sit for a few minutes, a rich honey emerges. The aroma gets deeper, sweeter and darker the longer it breathes.
Taste: Lightly sweet and simple with a pleasant aftertaste.
Recommendation: For $15.99 on sale, go for it!
Bulleit Bourbon: on sale for $16.99 normally $22.99
Nose: Less initial alcohol on the nose than Four Roses, the first thing that hits me is the smell of fresh cut grass, with hints of warm caramel.
Taste: Darker and smokier than Four Roses.
Recommendation: For $16.99 on sale (normally $22.99), it's worth a try!