Kentucky Bourbon Trail Part 16: Four Roses

I’ve driven by that sign a number of times on my way to and from Bardstown. Sunday afternoon I figured I’d answer it’s siren call and see what was down that road. I’d already sort of seen the Four Roses distillery, so this must be where the bourbon is aged.

The clock looks familiar
Welcome Center

For $5 one gets a tour of the warehouses and it turned out to be really cool. I learned more than I had expected.

Unique single story rick houses
Guard house

At one point Seagrams owned Four Roses, and while they concentrated on producing bourbon for the Asian market, they built all these single story rick houses. They have two entrances coinciding with only two aisles through each one. The a rick is always 16 barrels long, three high, and at Four Roses, the warehouse is two ricks high. So six barrels high. What are the advantages? The temperature is much more consistent, varying only a few degrees between the bottom and the top. Traditional rick houses are over 7 stories tall, and the top floors can be over 30 degrees higher than the lower levels.

Rick house

Four Roses has twenty warehouses and each holds 24,000 barrels.

What are those plugs?

I’ve heard there is a method for tasting barrels as they age, and I’ve finally seen it. Those plugs are from when holes are drilled into the barrel for sampling.

Sampled barrel

The plug in the bottom would be used during cold months, when the barrels are really cold. The bourbon has constricted out of the wood, and is really sluggish. The taster may need to drill the upper hole for air relief in order to get a sample. In the summer, when everything has expanded and pressure has risen in barrel, they may only need the top hole, and a steady hand to catch the fountain of bourbon escaping the barrel in a vessel.

Barrel filling

I love this area. It’s where production really takes place. Twice a day a tanker brings in white dog whiskey from the distillery. It takes 45 minutes to empty the tanker and they cut it to the barrel strength.

Four nozzles fill the barrels and the red machine stamps the head of the barrel. 280 barrels a day go into one of the rick houses.

After they’ve aged and been deemed ready to pour, the barrels come back to the very same area.

Dumping station
Dumping station

The pneumatic tool hanging drills out the bung. The Y shaped tubes hanging on the right and on the trash cans in the photo above are a really ingenious method to prevent the barrel from chugging. The point goes into the bung hole and the barrel is rolled over the stainless grates. The tubes vent the barrel and keep the bourbon flowing smoothly. This area is for the normal yellow labeled Four Roses bourbon. It’s filtered for debris, then stored in containers at 20 degrees F for six hours. This chill filtering process is intended to pull out the fatty acids I learned about in the Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse. The single barrel offerings don’t go through that process.


Newly emptied barrels have a ticket to see the world. They’re likely headed to Scotland to hold some single malt whisky.


We headed back to the visitor’s center for our tasting. Honestly, Four Roses shares way more about their recipe than other places, making it pretty complicated.


Four Roses combines a number of different mash bills and yeasts to get a number of different flavors. Those flavors are later blended to get the three major offerings.

Three major offerings

I finally understood what the four letter codes meant, but I can’t say I could explain it to somebody else. If you’re really interested in grasping the intricacies of Four Roses, study the codes and see what code goes in which bottle. Then explain it to me… I sometimes think that the codes are an attempt to baffle with BS.

Bourbon simplified

It always amazes me how engineers can overcomplicate something that’s quite simple. Corn, barely, and rye. Add water and distill. Everybody has their own variation on the general theme.

Parting shot

Rick houses are so cool. The potential is intriguing.

Four Roses Warehouse and Bottling Facility
624 Lotus Rd
Coxs Creek, KY 40013

Part 15 is here.

Part 17 is here.

~ Freddy


I'm an engineer, a veteran, and an avid traveler. I agree with Robert Louis Stevenson - "I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move."

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *