markets, where it became a top seller. Americans were offered only a blended whiskey calledFour Roses American, whose components were made in such far flung places as Baltimore,Maryland and Lawrenceburg, Indiana. To make matters worse, by the mid-1960s the quality of this blend was degraded from a Seagram’s “A” blend made from 100% whiskey, to a “B” blendwith 65% grain neutral spirits. This “rotgut” blended product proceeded to tarnish the name of Four Roses in its native country.
Kirin Steps In
The business side of the story remained unchanged until December 2000, when Seagram’smerged with a French media company. Seagram’s many liquor holdings were put up for sale andeventually dismantled by several competing liquor conglomerates. Suddenly, the Four Roses brand and distillery was on the market. The purchase was ultimately completed by Kirin inFebruary 2002, in part to retain distribution rights in Japan. In fact, the sale consummated anideal marriage.According to Four Roses CEO Teruyuki “Terry” Daino, “In principle, Kirin is a manufacturer.Kirin’s main business has always been marketing our business.” “The Kirin way,” unlike someother large liquor companies, is to act not merely as a brand builder, but as a producer. They takegreat pride in making quality products, first as a brewer but later as a distiller. In 1972 Kirin partnered with Seagram’s to produce Japanese whisky, and built a large distillery at the foot of Japan’s iconic Mount Fuji. With years of experience as Four Roses’ Japanese distributor, andlong exposure to Seagram’s quality-oriented culture, Kirin was perhaps uniquely qualified totake a hands-on approach to owning the distillery.Soon after their purchase, Kirin went about repairing the image of Four Roses in America. The blended whiskey was eliminated, and Four Roses Yellow Label returned to its rightful status as afine Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey. A Single Barrel bourbon was released in 2004,followed by the Small Batch in 2006. Says Jim Rutledge, “Everything is very thought out. Wespent a year on package design for the Single Barrel. Now it’s the top selling Single Barrel inKentucky, after just two years on the market. We’re building for the future, where we’ll be in 15to 20 years, not two to three.”Today, Mr. Rutledge, Distillery Manager Al Young, and other veterans of the Seagram’s daysare having the time of their lives, creating mouthwatering new whiskeys and putting right thename of Four Roses in America. Jim has been in the bourbon industry 41 years, starting withSeagram’s in 1966. The renaissance of Four Roses is literally a dream come true for Jim. “Ihated to see Seagram’s go out of business; I spent 35 years with that company,” he confides.“But the silver lining is we’re doing things now that I could only dream of. I wouldn’t trade my40 years for anything…but I wish I’d started when I was five years old!”Al Young, who has a background in English literature and theater, formed part of Seagram’sdistilling brain trust. “Seagram’s had a top R&D department since the 1930s,” says Al. “Theyhad done massive studies on alcohol production and distillery practices, covering all kinds of beverage production.” Seagram’s exhaustive research would wind up providing for the future of Four Roses, and unwittingly create Kentucky’s most unique distillery. In meeting Jim and Al, itis apparent they are consumed with a passion for their jobs and for fine bourbon whiskey. Their feet must scarcely touch the ground as they lead tours and tastings and teach and distill