Preparing to shoot a few segments of Big Jon in 5 for BEER2WHISKEY in our upstairs studio at Barley's Taproom in downtown Greenville. That's owner Josh Beebe preparing for his closeup.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Getting Our Bourbon On: Touring Four Roses and Wild Turkey

I'm not the kind of guy who turns down the opportunity to visit a bourbon distillery or two.

During my Louisville visits the past two or three years, we've taken advantage of idle Saturdays to head east toward Frankfort and the scrum of bourbon distilleries huddled around the limestone waterways in the Frankfort/Lexington area.

This year we set our sights on the Four Roses and Wild Turkey distilleries. They are in or around Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. 

Always eager to learn something new about my favorite spirit, I was all for the excursion despite the fact that Four Roses doesn't have a boutique label. That Wild Turkey makes one of my favorite boutique bourbons – Forgiven – and the thought of getting to sample it after the Wild Turkey tour, was sufficient to raise my interest level to the point of devoting the better part of a day to some bourbon discovery.

Bourbon is called bourbon because, while Kentucky was still a part of Virginia, a lot of the magical elixir was being distilled in Bourbon County and shipped south on the Ohio River in barrels stamped with the words “Made in Bourbon County.” So Bourbon it was and still is.

Here are a couple of things I didn't know about Four Roses that I learned on our 20-minute tour of the mission-style facility:

  • Four Roses got its name after the distillery founder proposed to his future wife. She didn't answer on the spot, but told him that if her answer was “yes,” she would wear a corsage of roses to an upcoming party. The owner arrived to find his gal wearing an arrangement of four roses.
  • Until Seagram purchased Four Roses in the 1950s and bastardized the brand, it was the No. 1 selling bourbon in the U.S. Seagram chose to continue making Four Roses bourbon, but exported every drop. What appeared in Four Roses-labeled bottles here, was a thinly disguised rotgut Seagram's blend that all but killed the domestic market. This is the Four Roses I remember and the reason I was only moderately enthusiastic about visiting the distillery. Four Roses changed hands three or four times beginning in 2002, winding up under the umbrella of Kirin. It was Kirin that decided to reestablish Four Roses as a pure bourbon brand.
  • Four Roses was one of a handful of bourbons that continued distilling during the prohibition as a medicine.
Good for what ails ya. A medicinal bottle of Four Roses.

 Although I can't name one person I know who regularly orders, buys or drinks a Wild Turkey label, it is one of the biggest selling bourbons in the U.S. Its single distillery produces more bourbon than any other single distillery. At any time there are more than 500,000 barrels of bourbon aging in its warehouses. Let's see, 52 gallons times 500,000 the 1; wow, that's a lot of bourbon!

Wild Turkey is a little more potent than my tastes allow. There is a lot of alcohol burn and spice on the finish, but as our tour guide pointed out: It's Wild Turkey not Mild Turkey. All rightee then.

Most of the facilities we toured at Wild Turkey look as though they were built in the last six months. Everything seems pretty new. This is just the opposite of some other distilleries like Buffalo Trace. Purchasing the distillery in 2009, the Campari Group has been pouring a lot of dough into this facility and it is apparent.

View from Wild Turkey's tasting room.
 Brand new, the visitor center is a gorgeous facility. It's tasting room has a spectacular view.

Sadly, Forgiven wasn't among the bourbons available to taste after the tour. I sucked up my disappointment and enjoyed a healthy sip of Russell 10-year old and some Wild Turkey Rare Breed.

The free Four Roses tour was a rather intensive experience that included a number of the campus facilities. Wild Turkey charges $5 for its abbreviated tour. Although our guide was both knowledgeable and funny, the shuttle ride to and from the single facility we entered took longer than the tour itself.

Four Roses tour guide.
I wasn't swayed by either experience. These aren't bourbons in which I will voluntarily indulge, but I mentally filed the information I gained and enjoyed the day.

We have pretty much run the course, visiting nearly all the bourbon distilleries to the east of Louisville. Next time we'll start on some of the distilleries west of Louisville in the Bardstown area.

Our work is not yet done.


  1. Don't quit your day job, stick with writing about cars...

  2. Hey! Did Bardstown move? DG: Like me, Russ really doesn't have a day job! But some of us like to read stuff other than cars. If you don't, then skip over it.