Not many people say they can’t wait to arrive at work each day, but Jim Rutledge, master distiller for Four Roses Bourbon, can. That doesn’t mean, however, that Rutledge rests on his – well – roses when he’s on the job.
“Maintaining consistency is the toughest part of what I do,” he says.
Whether Rutledge is making the international best-selling Yellow Label brand, or one of the single-barrel or small-batch premium bourbons the company is known for (and you’re welcome to taste on a tour of the distillery), he’s grateful for a few tools that help him turn out the same flavor Four Roses customers have come to expect.
“Technology has brought the industry light years ahead of where it used to be as far as helping with consistency,” says Rutledge – but so do the 10 bourbon recipes Rutledge adheres to when making each batch. The recipes provide a guide to help Rutledge hit the Four Roses flavor profile again and again.
There is a level of art involved as well, though. After all, when dealing with natural products like yeast and grain, there will always be variables – and that’s what Rutledge nudges and tweaks until everything falls more or less in line.
Still, Rutledge suggests wine drinkers, who are familiar with “terroir,” try an experiment. Look for the code numbers on Four Roses bourbon bottles. If you spot ones that are different from each other, pick them up. Collect a few, then open the bottles and perform a taste test. The profiles will be similar, but there will be slight differences between batches. And if you’re new to bourbon, steer clear of the flavored varieties, says Rutledge. He’s not a fan. Instead, add ice, maybe a splash of water. Then go ahead. Take a sip. No matter how you take your bourbon, what you’ll taste is pure Kentucky heritage.