Four Roses Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky is one of the oldest and most well respected bourbon brands in the United States but it wasn’t always that way. Founded in 1888 Four Roses was one of only a handful of distilleries to survive Prohibition. During the 30s and 40s it became the top selling Kentucky Straight Bourbon in the U.S. That all changed around 1943 when Seagrams purchased what was then called the Frankfort Distilling Company and decided to discontinue the sale of Kentucky Straight Bourbon in the U.S. They continued to sell the bourbon overseas but what was sold in the U.S. was a blended whiskey and it soon became a bottom shelf whiskey.
That all changed in 2002 when Kirin Brewery Company, Ltd of Japan purchased the Four Roses brand and created what is known today at the Four Roses Distillery. Two years later in September 2004 they introduced a single barrel Four Roses Kentucky Straight Bourbon to the U.S. and the brand was reborn.
Ribbon Cutting for Four Year $55 Million Expansion
Watch the video above to hear Ryan Ashley COO & Distillery Operations Director share the details of the project.
Fast forward to today’s bourbon boom and bourbon production at the distillery can’t keep up with demand. In June 2015 Four Roses announced they were making a $34 million investment at the distillery in Lawrenceburg and $21 million at their warehousing and bottling facility in Cox’s Creek.
“It’s an exciting time at Four Roses and we are proud to celebrate the next step in our effort to provide even more Bourbon to our consumers, while maintaining a commitment to produce the same premium quality that defines the brand,” said Four Roses Chief Operating Officer Ryan Ashley. “We welcome and encourage you to make the trip to our Distillery in Lawrenceburg to experience our continued growth first-hand.”
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Four Roses Doubles Bourbon Production to 8 Million Proof Gallons
The expansion at the distillery with the installation of two new buildings, a second 40′ tall by 6′ diameter Vendome Copper & Brass Works copper column still, a second copper pot doubler, and multiple Douglas fir fermentation tanks and other related equipment have doubled capacity from 4 million to 8 million proof gallons per year.
Distilling is Part Art, Part Science, Part Superstition
Ashley went into detail about the planning and philosophy behind the $55 million expansion. When other manufacturing industries get ready to expand, they will often start by looking for more property to build another factory. That’s generally not the case when it comes to distilleries. Sure it’s part economics to not want to start another location but there’s also a common phrase that pops up that goes something like this, “Don’t screw it up!”
What makes the bourbon business different is that most of the large heritage distilleries age their spirits for four to six years. They won’t really know if what they started back it 2015 was successful until 2023 at this point. That’s why many of these expansion projects don’t jump on new technology, rather they take what they have been doing for years or even decades and they do their best to mirror or duplicate it within their existing space.
For this expansion, the duplication process started by hiring architectural firm Joseph & Joseph Architects, the same firm that designed the original distillery and Spanish mission-style structures back in 1910. Engineering services for the project including the process, heat transfer and mass balance, vessels, piping, pumps, and tie-ins which required a balance of continuous distillation operations while simultaneously expanding capacity was managed by VITOK Engineers.
“Here at the distillery through careful planning and dedicated hard work we have doubled our production capacity under one roof of the original distillery building,” said Ashley. “In addition, our fermentation room has also doubled. The fermentation room was perhaps the most critical design of the plant. Rather than build a second distillery on site or even another location we felt it essential to the quality and the consistency of the brand to grow the existing areas to accommodate our additional equipment – fermenters, stills, cookers – without changing our methods or negatively impacting our quality.”
“As you know, Four Roses prides itself on its complexity and variety of smooth and mellow flavors for each of its bourbons. Because of our five yeast strains and two mash bills, we create 10 distinctively different bourbons each year. These five yeasts are essential to our premium quality. The fermentation room is unique in that it has developed its own micro-flora or climate. It’s this reason we decided to incorporate the new fermentation space into and around the existing space. We have created a room that essentially has its own micro-climate or terroir. Much like Napa Valley capitalizes on distinguishing their varieties of grapes in subsequent wines. That means climate and the health of this new fermentation area is incredibly important and has all of the characteristics of the existing fermenting room for our premium quality bourbons.”
“In the brewing business, brewers refer to brewing as where art meets science. I like to think that distillers go a step beyond that. Sure we do employ art and science but I like to think there’s a bit of superstition as well. I think most understand the art and the science of the process but the superstition I refer to is the following of time honored traditions. What we do today, we don’t see the full effect for a minimum six years. It’s not always the most efficient or cost effective route but its value definitely shows through in our finished product.”
The project has created numerous new jobs, and Four Roses plans to continue to add new jobs in the near future.
Jim Rutledge Talks about the 40 Year Exile of Four Roses Bourbon [Video]
Paul Jones: Founder Four Roses Bourbon, Born September 6, 1840 – Died February 24, 1895
How to Read a Four Roses Single Barrel Label – It’s as Easy as OESO [Infographic]
Four Roses Distillery Expansion Photos
Click any image to enlarge.