The Legend of Four Roses Bourbon

“Bourbon is the only spirit with a soul.”

Pictured: Master Distiller Brent Elliot

I learned that from Four Roses Bourbon Master Distiller Brent Elliott when VUE took a trip down to their property in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. Elliot taught us about the brand’s signature yeast strains and mix up of mash bills, but he also told us a story—one that stuck with me.

Some years ago in the 1800s, the founder of Four Roses Bourbon, Paul Jones, Jr., fell in love. It was with none other than a Southern belle who no matter how many times he proposed, always shot him down. Legend has it after multiple attempts at courtship, he gave her an ultimatum. When the infamous grand ball came around, she would wear a rose corsage for “Yes” or show up empty handed.

Today, the tale has two endings—neither more true or false than the other.

Version I
On the night of the ball, Paul Jones Jr. waited patiently, looking for his love to show up. When she eventually arrived, she was wearing a rose corsage with not one flower, but four bright red roses — an emphatic “Yes”. Living happily ever after, Jones Jr. later named his bourbon brand in respect to that eventful night.

Version II
Paul Jones Jr. went to the ball, expecting both him and his love to be in attendance. However, she never showed. Disheartened and swearing off romance for good, Jones Jr. created Four Roses as his legacy. The brand would live on as a bourbon that’s ever-present, constant and never one to let you down—unlike his beloved.

Whichever ending you believe, Four Roses was a bourbon born out of perseverance—a quality the brand had no choice but to uphold in the generations that followed.

four roses bourbon

Times Square Four Roses billboard behind the famous V-J Day photograph

During 1920s Prohibition, it’s safe to say the bourbon business wasn’t booming. The only way Four Roses managed to remain in operation was because of medicinal purposes. It wasn’t until later during the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s that Four Roses became the top selling bourbon in the United States under the authority of Seagram, who acquired Frankfort Distilling Co. from Paul Jones Company.

Twenty years later (1970 – 1990), bourbon experienced what some would call a recession. Suddenly, vodka and gin were the go-to spirits and bourbon sales began to plummet. Luckily, the overseas market in Europe and Asia were thriving and Four Roses still finds a great deal of their success abroad.  

Fast forward to today, bourbon hasn’t seen popularity like this since the years following Prohibition. It is an essentially “American” spirit that is currently favored over the scotches, gins and vodkas of the world. After being purchased by Kirin in 2002, Four Roses, along with the spirit itself, has made a comeback in the U.S. market. 

What makes Four Roses different than every other Kentucky bourbon, aside from their checkered past, is that they’re the only distillery blending their whiskeys from 10 different and distinct recipes. Or as Elliot likes to call it, mingling. The recipes are made up of five individual yeast strains, two separate mash bills and the Four Roses Single Barrel is available in all 10 recipes at barrel proof strength.

Half the fun is to experience a Four Roses Bourbon tasting at their Warehouse and Bottling Facility in Cox’s Creek. VUE got to taste each of their Single Barrel offerings, extracted directly from the barrel using a copper whiskey thief.

It’s also important to mention that Four Roses doesn’t include age statements on their bottles, which is surprising to bourbon enthusiasts and novices alike. For years we’ve been told that the best bourbons are chosen based on how long they’ve been in the barrel, but that’s not what Four Roses believes. “It’s ready when it’s ready,” Elliot said. All of the unique flavor comes from their blends and Four Roses goes as far as to age their bourbon in single-story warehouses, allowing them to age more evenly than traditional multi-level spaces.

Currently, their Lawrenceburg Distillery and Cox’s Creek Warehouse and Bottling Facility are undergoing an expansion, the largest in Four Roses history. The hope is that with further advancements on the horizon, the legend of Four Roses Bourbon can live on.

four roses bourbon

Four Roses mural on Whiskey Row in Louisville


While in Kentucky:
Contrary to popular belief, there is more to Kentucky than bourbon. Louisville itself is full of art, culture and plenty of places to explore. Here are a few of our favorite spots: 

The Brown Hotel
Situated in Downtown Louisville, The Brown Hotel is equally favorited by Derby-goers, visitors and locals alike. The lavish landmark features English Renaissance architecture, marble flooring, mahogany furniture and the state’s most famous dish, the hot brown. Our advice: come for the food, stay for the old world elegance and excellent hospitality.

Butchertown Grocery
Pasta might not come to mind down South, but the gnocchi at Butchertown Grocery is some of the best we’ve had (and we’ve had a lot). Set in one of Louisville’s most revitalized neighborhoods, the menu boasts “refined food in a former family market” and Butchertown Grocery itself has been voted one of the top restaurants in the nation.

Bistro 1860
Known for French-American fusion—a pairing you don’t see too often—Bistro 1860 is unique in its own right. Their extensive wine and spirit offerings rival all of Louisville and the country, and their signature à trois niveaux-style portions will leave you questioning everything you’ve come to know about fine dining. Whether you’re looking for an appetizer, entrée or something bite size, Bistro 1860 has got you covered.

Flame Run
You’ve got all this bourbon and nowhere to put it. Take a trip down to Louisville’s Flame Run where their team of glass-blowing experts will help you whip up a rocks glass of your very own. If you don’t have an inner artist, visitors can also shop the gallery or observe the studio’s hot shop from afar.

Proof on Main
Located inside the acclaimed 21c Museum Hotel, Proof on Main celebrates art, culture and culinary tradition. Their colorful decor is second only to their eclectic menu which features “hot” fried chicken and a bison burger with Jezebel sauce—two strictly Southern specialties. When we visited, it just so happened to be Repeal Day and the restaurant celebrated with an array of curated cocktails.