IT STARTED AS A LOVE STORY. It later became immortalized as an expertly distilled bourbon, but before that it was a young man honoring his beloved.

In the mid-nineteenth century, a gentleman by the name of Paul Jones Jr. fell deeply in love with a beautiful Southern Belle. The legend says that when Jones asked for her hand in marriage, she replied that if her answer was “yes,” she would arrive at an upcoming ball wearing a rose corsage. On the big night, Jones watched as the woman he loved entered the ballroom wearing a grand dress—and a corsage of four roses. Her answer was indeed “yes.”

Later, Jones founded his own bourbon, which he named Four Roses in honor of the night his love became his intended. Just as he was successful in winning the heart of his Southern Belle, Jones’s bourbon business was also a success. In 1884, Jones moved his operation to Louisville, Kentucky, where he set up his business on Main Street, or “Whiskey Row,” as locals called it, and trademarked the name “Four Roses.”

Since that time, the brand Four Roses has embarked on a journey very few spirits have experienced. The Paul Jones Company purchased Frankfort Distilling Company in 1922; Seagram then purchased Frankfort in 1943, in large part to obtain Four Roses. It was a sound business decision, as Four Roses had been a top-selling straight bourbon in the United States during the 1930s, 40s and 50s. “The history of Four Roses is interesting. From after prohibition to the late 1950s, Four Roses was one of the most well-known and respected Straight Bourbon Whiskies in the U.S.,” says Brent Elliott, the current Master Distiller for Four Roses Bourbon.

In the 1950s, Seagram discontinued the straight bourbon Four Roses in the U.S. and moved it exclusively to the European and Asian markets.

“In the U.S., the status of Four Roses declined as the name was transferred to a blended whiskey that lacked the character of the bourbon that had made it an iconic brand,” says Brent Elliott. “Overseas the bourbon flourished, and is still a high-profile brand that can be found all over Europe and Japan.”

Four Roses remains a strong seller in Europe and Japan to this day. But the original straight bourbon wasn’t forgotten in this country.


When he joined Seagram’s Louisville plant in the Research and Development Department in 1966, Jim Rutledge had a bright career  ahead of him. Chances are he didn’t know that one day he would be remembered as a Master Distiller with legendary status. But that’s exactly what happened. From 1975 to 1992, he worked in the New York corporate headquarters until he requested a return to Kentucky. And here the Four Roses brand comes to the forefront again.

Rutledge was intrigued with the original Four Roses straight bourbon. When he became Seagram’s Master Distiller in 1995, he began working on a dream to bring the Four Roses of yesteryear back home to the United States. His dream became a reality in 2002 when Kirin Brewery Company Ltd. purchased the Four Roses Bourbon trademark and production facilities.

“By then, [the Four Roses brand] had largely been forgotten, and those who did recognize it associated it with the blended Four Roses whiskey,” Elliott says. But determination, belief in the product and love of its quality provided a solid foundation from which to work and kept the team focused. The efforts paid off. “The fact that the team at Four Roses has returned Four Roses Bourbon from the brink of obscurity to an iconic brand in the U.S. in less than 20 years is a tremendous source of pride for the entire Four Roses Team.”

Since reintroducing the Four Roses straight bourbon to the United States, enthusiasts have embraced the formula. The idea to bring it back turned out to be the right decision. It’s paid off financially for the company, but more importantly it’s paid off for the fans who can now enjoy it.

“To say that the sales of our entire portfolio have been strong would be an understatement,” Elliott says. “The rising popularity of the brand is apparent in the numbers. We stay connected with our consumers. They seem to connect deeply with our brand, our commitment to them and to the quality of our bourbon. The feedback from them is the true measure of our success.”


Rutledge retired in 2015, a job well done. He had made a name for himself as a distiller in general, but his passion for Four Roses only furthered the mark he left on the industry. He left the operation in good hands. After Rutledge retired, Elliott stepped up as the new Master Distiller. He had worked with Rutledge for 10 years, so he was more than qualified to assume the helm.

Elliott continues to bring the high standards associated with the brand—and Rutledge before him—to the products. That legacy of quality and innovation continues. “We are currently introducing Small Batch Select to select markets,” Elliott says. “Non-chill filtered and bottled at 104 proof, Small Batch Select is the first addition to our permanent lineup since we released Small Batch in 2006. Within the next few years, it will be available in every U.S. market.

“Small Batch Select further demonstrates our ability as a Distillery to create remarkably different flavors in each of our products. At Four Roses we produce 10 distinct Bourbon recipes, each with its own flavor profile. Using unique combinations and proportions of these recipes for each of our products, we are able to  achieve a wide variety of flavors across our portfolio. Four Roses Select utilizes six of our Bourbon recipes to create its signature flavor profile.”

The effort that Four Roses and Elliott has put into the products shows. In 2020 Elliott was named Master Distiller/ Blender of the Year at Whisky Magazine’s Icons of Whisky America awards ceremony. It was a well-deserved honor for the heritage brand, and the folks who’ve given so much of themselves to it over the decades.

The dedication to Four Roses isn’t going anywhere. The brand that started with a love story continues on with a new
love story—a well-crafted spirit, pride in a company and unequalled quality