The year prior we toured the Four Roses Distillery in Lawrenceburg, so when we were in Bardstown I wanted to be sure to see the other part of their operation in Cox’s Creek. Daily, big tanker trucks full of distillate make the drive from Lawrenceburg to the Warehouse and Bottling facility. The cargo is put into barrels and rolled into warehouses. When ready, those barrels are also dumped and bottled here.
Four Roses opened a new visitors center here in 2014. Most visitors check out the distillery, but there’s plenty to see out in Cox’s Creek to be worth the drive. Cox’s Creek is just a short drive up from Bardstown and a few minutes from Jim Beam. We were planning to drive up to Louisville for the day, so we were there for the opening. It was a crisp fall morning and we were the only people ready for Bourbon at 9 AM, so we got a private tour.
We jumped into a big cargo van and drove to the barreling facility. Here they both fill new barrels and dump old barrels. Work was well underway so we got plenty of time to watch a lot of barrels be emptied. At Four Roses there are two lines where Small Batch and the regular Yellow Label are dumped. Selected barrels are lined up in a row, un-bunged, rolled, and then dumped into a trough. There’s a smaller trough for single barrel selections, whether done for the Four Roses Single Barrel or the Private Selection for stores or the gift shop.
Once emptied, the Bourbon is transferred to a filtering process. While all the Bourbon is paper filtered for barrel sediment, all Four Roses Bourbon except for the Private Selection are also chill filtered. Chill filtering is the process of crashing the temperature of the Bourbon down to precipitate compounds out of solution. If this step isn’t done, the condition may happen in the glass when chilled with ice. Largely this isn’t necessary for Bourbon of more than 90-proof or so, but Four Roses processes all its standard product this way. Personally, I prefer non-chill filtered and a little haze wouldn’t bother me in the least.
From there, the bottling line is just the next room over. Four Roses is building a new bottling facility that will sit just behind this complex of buildings. The old line is very small and on the day we visited they were having issues with the labeler. From the sound and looks of things, I think everyone at Four Roses is excited for a new modern bottling line.
From the barreling and bottling area, we jumped back into the van and drove over to a warehouse. As I’ve written before, Four Roses’ warehouses are unique to other distilleries. Built by Seagram’s, the warehouses were intended to be a central hub for Bourbon made in Seagram’s various distilleries in Kentucky. The warehouses have a unique design of long single story buildings. Typically Bourbon rick houses are five or six stories high. In the Kentucky weather, each story is its own microclimate and it greatly affects the aging of Bourbon. Four Roses doesn’t have the same type of variation with a single story structure.
Still, there is a lot of variation to be found. While the warehouses are single floor, barrels are stacked six high. Even on the same floor, there are significant differences between the lower and upper barrels. With the Private Selection, you can observe this in the barrel proof with the lower barrels losing less water and resulting in lower alcohol and the upper with high alcohol content. Other changes are likely related to where barrels are stored. The warehouses are very large and central barrels likely experience less variation still than those nearer the walls.
What’s great about Four Roses is all this information is on their Single Barrel and Private Selections. You can know which warehouse by letter, the direction (north, south, east, west) the barrel’s nearest wall, which rack its on by letter and finally it’s tier 1-6. Between its 10 recipes and unique barrel aging, Four Roses says it’s happy to be so transparent because it’s confident no one can duplicate what they do.
After we had looked at enough full barrels, we got back into the van and headed to the gift shop. The tour ended with tastings of the Yellow Label, Small Batch, and Single Barrel. Along with the tasting, you keep to keep your glass, which is a nice heavy rocks glass with the Four Roses logo on the bottom. These are my favorite Bourbon glasses and you can only get one by doing the tasting.
Inside the gift shop they have the various Bourbon and Kentucky trinkets. The big draw is the Private Selection bottles available for sale. When we were there, long-time master distiller Jim Rutledge had just retired and there had been a run on barrels he picked. The distillery was sold out, but Cox’s Creek had a bunch. I picked up a bottle from Jim’s last barrel selection and one of Brent Elliot’s (the new master distiller) first picks.
I’m a Four Roses fan, so this was a must stop for me, but it’s also worth making the drive if you’re around Bardstown or checking out Jim Beam. I’ll be curious to stop by again some day to see their new bottling line and get some more glasses.
Visited September 2015