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Bourbon Trail Distillery Tour Review: Four Roses

Posted on by Eric Burke

It’s getting on into late afternoon by the time we pull up to the Spanish Mission style building that is the Four Roses Distillery. We are pretty sure that we’ve missed the tour we’re aiming for, but are content to wait around until the next one. As we walk up to the building a young man opens the door for us and asks: “You guys want a tour?” Since our answer is yes, he points us over to a side room and tells us to go ahead and join the one that’s starting since the video has just started. 

As far as videos go, this one is about the same as the rest. Pretty, well made, etc. But this one shows how the barrels are fired. I’m happy as none of the rest have done that. 

After the video we are gathered around a white board where a small older lady gives us the run down on just what goes into making Four Roses Bourbon. She explains a bit of the history of the name and the distillery. And the fact that between two recipes and five strains of yeast (or was that five recipes and two strains of yeast? no, I think it was the first one) they have ten flavor profiles to play with when blending the various barrels to get the different varieties of Four Roses Bourbon whiskey.

Run down finished, we go outside. It’s a nice afternoon so we are content to linger as we allow a couple stragglers to catch up. We wander around the outside of the building next door. This is the main production floor. We go around it to see the hammer mill where they turn the grains into power on an as needed basis for fermenting. We can’t go inside since there is no telling when the hammer will start up. 

We continue our journey around the production building to check out the grain receiving facility. It’s a small building so we just peek inside to avoid disturbing the workers inside. 

Then we get to the main event. We walk back around to the entry of the production facility. As we go inside we are led to the yeast cooker. This is the only place we are allowed to see the yeast in a viable form. It sort of looks like really bubbly porridge. 

Then we get to see the fermenting vats. These are a mixture of wood vats and steel ones. Apparently each gives a slightly different flavor. I’ll have to take their word for that. Obviously. 

We walk across a catwalk, over to the stills. There are two here, a column still and a pot still. The column does most of the work of boiling off the alcohol, the pot acts as a doubler to raise the proof. As we walk across the catwalk we got to see the big steel holding tanks (almost two stories high) and all the pipes running every which way. This is either a plumbers dream or nightmare. Maybe both since at least some of those pipes are carrying white dog whiskey. 

After a look at the working still and then a peek inside a replica that is there for us to view we head back to where we started for a tasting. But can I take a moment to say just how happy I am for the replica, you get to see the perforated plates that the tour guides and videos keep talking about. And for the first time, I think I can start to get a handle on how the column still works. The guide didn’t mention it, but it may be the coolest part of the tour for me.

So then back for a tasting. We get to taste the basic Four Roses (what they call their Yellow Label), the Small Batch and the Single Barrel. The Yellow Label is ok, nothing to write home about, and the Single Barrel is hard to swallow. No that isn’t a bad thing. It literally feels like it’s stuck in your throat, but the subsequent sips are all the tastier for it. I really enjoy the Small Batch though. And that is what I end up buying. 

I buy it in the gift shop. It’s a small gift shop, but very well stocked. I also buy a very nice rocks glass, etched with their logo. The Bourbon Trail distilleries are nothing, if not classy.

I’d do this tour again in a heartbeat. Next time I might make an appointment to visit their bottling facility over near Jim Beam as well. That part looks pretty cool too.