Friday, December 2, 2011

Q&A #5/6 with Four Roses Master Distiller - Jim Rutledge

Q1: A lot of folks want a FR Rye but how about a wheated FR bourbon? Have you ever experimented to see how your five yeasts would work with a wheated mash bill?

Q2: I'm not certain if Q1 is asking you to make a Straight Wheat...or using wheat as the second grain?? If you could...answer for both. Is working with wheat any different than working with rye, as the second grain? How would you change the amount of malt...if you changed from rye to wheat as the second grain?

JR: No, we have not used wheat as a small flavoring grain. We use more small flavoring grain in our mashbills than any other Bourbon. We use rye grain to generate a little more spiciness than found in Bourbon brands. Wheated Bourbons are sweeter than rye, and that's not because wheat itself is sweet. Rather it lacks flavor in comparison to rye grain; i.e., rye bread versus wheat or white bread. Sweet flavors in Bourbon are actually generated via the natural sugars present in the white oak and the flavorful rye will mask some of the sugar/sweetness that the wheat will allow to show in the finished Bourbon. That doesn't make one better than another - just different. With our unique 10 Bourbon recipes we distill and age separately we have an infinite number of blend formulas to create a different flavor with each of our labels/expressions. (The 10 recipes are created via two mashbills and 5 proprietary yeast cultures. I don't know of another distillery using more than one yeast culture.)

We have no plans of using as a small flavoring grain or as a straight wheat whiskey. If we made another straight whiskey it would be a straight rye, which I've been advocating for a number of years. Hopefully, one day my efforts will come to fruition. We'd have so many options with the 5 yeast cultures. For instance, we could replace 16% corn used in our "B" mashbill with rye and have a straight rye. Using our "K" yeast, which generates spiciness the resulting straight rye would taste like a straight rye that was made with a mashbill far greater than the minimum 51%.... We could also use a mashbill using 80% to 95% rye in combination with our "O" yeast and have a spicy straight rye with a lot of rich fruitiness. There are so many options available to Four Roses. I wish I knew the secret to be more convincing to our owners of the potential of Staight Rye....

Our regular FR Single Barrel (OBSV) averages greater than 9 years age. Most master distillers will tell you Bourbon peaks between 5 and 8 years age. There are some really good older exceptions to the norm. We don't put age claims on our labels (and never will as long as I'm around, despite pressure from marketing and sales people for obvious reasons.) We try to use our Bourbon barrels at the peak of their maturity and flavor. When the natural sugars in a white oak has been depleted the barrel needs to be used very soon else the Bourbon will begin to take on too much of a woody taste and character. We do hold barrels that are maturing slowly and creating good flavors. These barrels are used for our Limited Edition Single Barrel and Small Batch annual renderings.

Wheat has less enzymes than rye grain and is actually easier to work with than rye relative to fermentation and drying the by-product of distillation.

We would not change the amount of malted barley if we were to make a wheated bourbon or a straight wheat.

Question #7


  1. Reading Jim's comments on the options FR would have if they made a rye whiskey makes me drool like a baby. Who cares if they do a wheater!
    (Disclaimer - I happened to be enjoying some of Binny's FRSB Private Selection OBSF while reading this. My objectivity may have been clouded a little bit)

  2. Sure, a Rye or Wheat would be nice but the fact that FR has so much diversity with their recipes makes their offerings compelling and different.

  3. I'd love to see a FR Rye. You think we could band together a presentation to convince the FR owners? :)

  4. Thanks for the interview with Jim! Great questions; even better answers. Let's organize a letter writing campaign to Four Roses' management for the straight rye initiative!

    I'm also looking forward to your interview with David from High West. I've been fortunate to meet with him privately to share some old-time ryes from my collection, and he brought a bunch of off-the-wall stuff that he's playing with. You will have a blast!

  5. I love this because Jim just has so much to share. He absolutely won't make a whiskey with wheat but if he did, he wouldn't change the malt percentage. That's so Jim.