Saturday, December 17, 2011

Q&A #8 with Four Roses Master Distiller - Jim Rutledge

Q: I've been able to enjoy the various "standard" expressions -- Yellow Label, Black Label and Platinum/Superpremium -- in Japan even before the reintroduction to the States. I understand that they are made of various combinations of the 10 recipes. Did those come from Seagram's days or were they introduced under Kirin? Are the ratios fixed, or are there some batch-by-batch adjustments similar to those of a Scotch whiskey blender?

JR: Seagram introduced the black label and super premium in ~1990 to increase our Borubon market share in the major growth market in the world. We were already #1, but these news brands opened the market to various, and premium, price ranges of our brands.

Super Premium uses several of our recipes and 80% of the Bourbon must have been aged a minimum of 8 years while 20% aged 10 years or greater. Like our YL the formula can be tweaked to hit the target flavor profile as close as possilbe. Black Label uses both mashbills but only "K" yeast to create a full-bodied Bourbon with more spice. The mashbills are used at a 50:50 ratio so there is less variability and ability to tweak the formula - only different ages and different barrels.

Seagram always looked at quality as a "conformance to standard." We maintain that philosophy today. Conformance to standard is the reason Seagram started distilling and aging 10 recipes (and flavor profiles) of Kentucky Bourbon. This was started well before the time I began my career with Seagram's R&D in 1966. Since there are no two barrels a like it is impossible from bottling run to bottling run to consistently bottle the Same flavor.... The theory behind the 10 recipes was that prior to a bottling run we would sample the barrels, tweak the target formula and bottle the same flavor time after time. Well, it still wasn't possible, but the bonus behind the efforts was the variable lables we can now bottle and each will taste different because each labels blend formula will be different. For example, OBSV used for Single Barrel is not one of the four recipes used for Small Batch - OESK, OBSK, OESO AND OBSO. Note the yeast "V" yeast culture is not used in Small Batch and even a whiskey expert - that was not familar with FR - could not identify in a blind taste test that both were produced by the same distiller.

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic interview question. Rutledge's comments about how the 10 recipes came out of Seagram's attempt to make a stable of flavors that could be variably vatted to enable a more perfect conformance to standard makes a ton of sense and puts the fantastic arsenal of flavor profiles at Four Roses in a corporate historical profile. It's a great story and I'm grateful to hear it. I always wondered.