By Kurt Maitland
In 1992, Jim asked to return home to Kentucky to help with the Four Roses brand (then owned by Seagram). Seagram had taken the once popular brand off of the market and replaced it with a cheap blend, using the actual bourbon for export only.
In 1995, Rutledge became Four Roses’ Master Distiller, and constantly worked to return Four Roses to its former glory.
In 2002, Kirin Brewery Company, Ltd. purchased the Four Roses brand trademark, and Jim convinced them to ditch the blended whiskey and to bring the real Four Roses back to the US. His goal was to remake Four Roses into the great brand it once was.
Judging from the slew of awards and popular acclaim garnered by the distillery since then, Jim Rutledge has more than succeeded.
On September 1st, Jim Rutledge retired as Master Distiller, and Brent Elliott, who worked alongside Jim for 10 years, became the company’s new Master Distiller.
This year’s limited edition Four Roses Small Batch is the one of the last Four Roses releases worked on by Jim Rutledge. This barrel strength bourbon (my sample was 107.7 proof, or 53.85% abv) is a blend of several bourbon recipes like the 16-year-old OBSK, 15-year-old OESK, 14-year-old OESK and an 11-year-old OBSV.
Color: Dark Copper
Nose: Honey, vanilla, apricots, baked apple and cooking spices.
Taste: Complex from the get go, with a mouthfeel that is slightly dry at the start, but quickly gets drier and slightly astringent as you get to the finish. A pause between each sip gives me a different aspect of this release. The first sip is wonderfully fruity, while the second taste shows off some of the rye of this release. Later on in my dram a bit of Sweet Tarts and floral notes show up as well.
A little water pulls out some of the astringency and makes it a little sweeter. I’m torn, as I tend to prefer my drinks neat. I’m finding this release to be amazing neat, but might be a little better with a few drops of water.
Finish: Long, chewy finish with the fruit and the pepper notes fighting for the lead role in your mouth
Quite a mouthful in every way and an amazing bourbon for Jim Rutledge to go out on. This is definitely not a “one note” bourbon but a masterclass of what bourbon can be.
This release is priced at $119 US. It won’t be on the shelves long so you need to keep an eye out.