Four Roses has only recently become available in California, and is landing with a bang. Products hitting the market are the Straight Bourbon ("yellow label") at $19.99, the Small Batch at $35.99, and Single Barrel at $41.99. The prices are not bad, and this stuff is hugely drinkable.
Rutledge told us about the brand, and why we haven't had it in the US for so long. The brand started in the 1880s in Georgia, but the state imposed a prohibition (early), so they up and moved to Kentucky. They were one of six distilleries allowed to remain open during national Prohibition from 1920-1933, you know, to make "medicine."
After Repeal, it was the largest selling bourbon in the US. Then Seagram bought the company in 1943, and launched a blended American whisky of lower quality in the States. Somewhere in there, they decided to discontinue selling the straight bourbon in the US in favor of the blended American whisky, though the bourbon was still sold overseas. The Four Roses name was largely devalued by the cheap stuff, according to Rutledge.
Then Seagram was sold in 2002, and Kirin picked up the brand after the split with the intention of bringing the bourbon back to the States. They stopped production of the American whisky and relaunched the bourbon first in Kentucky, where it won awards right out of the gate. Now it's finally getting around to other states.
The process of making this stuff is insane. They have two mash bills (recipes with different proportions of rye, corn, and barley) and five kinds of yeast that they ferment each mash with. This results in ten different flavors (my word, not theirs) of bourbon aged in individual barrels.
For the Yellow Label, they use all ten flavors to achieve a consistent flavor profile. For the Small Batch bottling, they use five of the flavors, and for the Single Barrel, they use just one (duh).
They're also launching the "Marriage" bottling that will be different each year, featuring two flavors mixed together and bottled at cask strength. The two flavors wil be different each year to come up with a new expression. Though I didn't get a chance to try this at WhiskyFest later in the week, several people said it was wonderful.
I really enjoyed this stuff and recommend putting it on your radar. Unfortunately for the rest of the country, so far it is only available in Kentucky, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Colorado, California and Tennessee.