While its population is only around 11,000, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky is home to two Kentucky Bourbon Trail distilleries, Four Roses and Wild Turkey. This post will serve as a recap for those two places.
Prior to researching the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, I had never heard of Four Roses. It shouldn’t come as that big of a surprise since for more than 40 years, Four Roses was unavailable as a straight bourbon in the United States market for more than 40 years and obviously its name would not have been as widely circulated as that of Jim Beam, for instance.
As I’ve mentioned previously, most of the bourbon distilleries are owned by larger companies. In the case of Four Roses, it’s owned by the Kirin Brewery Company of Japan. (On a side note, we learned that the biggest bourbon consumers outside of the United States are Australia and Japan; the latter especially surprised me.) The brand was established in 1888 and while there are conflicting stories as to where the Four Roses name comes from, the one we were told is as follows: The founder of Four Roses had a sweetheart who he’d asked to marry multiple times and each time was rebuffed. Finally the girlfriend relented and the Four Roses founder gave her…four roses.
My favorite part about Four Roses is its architecture. It was built in 1910 in Spanish Mission-style and is actually listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Although rural Kentucky is all around you, here is this beautiful patch of buildings that look like they belong somewhere in Latin America. The architecture definitely complemented the brand’s name.
Tours are free and are offered on the half hour. They begin with a 15 minute movie which details the bourbon making process from start to finish. I’ll admit, the movie wasn’t that interesting since obviously it’s something you could watch in a YouTube video. But our tour guide did “bring life” to the bourbon making process when we started going from building to building. She also offered information on the company and its founders which the movie hadn’t gone into.
You could Four Roses say has had a roller coaster time of it. It was the top selling brand of bourbon in the United States in the 1930s through the 1950s; however, despite its immense popularity, Seagram, (which had bought the brand in 1943) decided to discontinue the sale of Four Roses Bourbon (and all other straight bourbons within the United States) in order devote its efforts to the sales of blended whiskey there. It also shifted its marketing tactics to Europe and Asia, which were rapidly growing at the time. The fact that Four Roses was unavailable as a straight bourbon left it unpopular and unknown to many. It wasn’t until Kirin discontinued the sale of blended whiskey to focus entirely on Four Rouses Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey that it started to regain a favorable opinion once more by the bourbon drinkers of the United States.
The bourbon samplings were extremely generous and if I remember correctly, three different bourbons were offered for tasting. The fact that the tour was complimentary and the architecture unique and stunning, makes it a worthwhile place to visit, especially since its location was convenient to visiting other distilleries on the trail.
I learned that while doing the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, you need to keep a flexible schedule. Nothing can be written in stone (i.e. lightning can delay a distillery tour from starting on time). So while originally I had had plans to drive into Lexington after visiting the Woodford Reserve distillery to tour Henry Clay’s estate, after having our morning delayed by lightning at Woodford, I decided to head straight to Four Roses instead. And so a visit to Wild Turkey kinda just appeared in my head. I had given D the option of picking one of the two Lawrenceburg distilleries; he opted for Four Roses as bourbon drinking friends of his had advised it. Therefore, when I nixed the idea of more driving by going into Lexington, I thought, why not, we’ll just go to Wild Turkey and visit one more.
You can’t love them all but I really didn’t care for anything about the Wild Turkey experience. Although Four Roses was also off a country road, it gained points with its beautiful architecture. Wild Turkey was a whole lot of big corporation. The cutest thing about it was its visitor center, as that was housed in a log cabin-like structure. But visitors are bused to its facilities which are across the road and up a ways. One building was a major warehouse which looked to be from the 20th century. Although I can’t fault Wild Turkey for this since they weren’t alone, the fact that they weren’t in production only made the feeling of visiting some impersonal factory ring that much more true.
Our tour guide, though, was definitely the gem of the visit. He was on the younger side but had a slew of funny stories and other tidbits to share with the group. I don’t know whether it was Wild Turkey or just our tour guide, but he was extremely generous with the samplings. Everyone was allowed to taste two from around 10 bourbons to choose from.
If you’re anxious to visit all seven distilleries on the trail, then obviously you will still visit here. If you’re in the area then yes, it certainly makes sense. If you’re unsure about visiting here or one of the other distilleries, I’d probably say pass. But that’s just my two cents since what one person finds so so, another may love.
Tips for visiting the Kentucky Bourbon Trail