Bourbon magic with yeast

Four Roses bourbon staged a tasting event at Louisville’s Nanz & Kraft florist in St. Matthews in celebration of Valentine’s Day. Think about it, Four Roses and a dozen roses. For a five-dollar donation that benefited Louisville’s Brightside beautification program, everyone had the chance to sample three different bourbons from the Four Roses brand.

The second floor of the floral shop was packed. The crowd was elbow to elbow. It was like a happy hour from 5:30 to 7:30 that included a table of hors d’oeuvres.

But getting down to business of the bourbon. There were three products offered for tasting: Four Roses – Yellow Label, Single Barrel and Small Batch.

The three had a fruity aroma and went down easy. The Single Barrel product brought with it a little more spice, but not a overpowering. I would have never guessed all three spirits use rye as the other major grain beside the required corn.

The interesting conversation I had about the products was with the master distiller, Jim Rutledge.  Since the event was celebrating Valentine’s Day, it’s not inappropriate to talk about passion. Rutledge has passion for bourbon. But to be more precise, he is really passionate about yeast — that mysterious microbe that turns starch and sugar into alcohol that gets distilled into a drinkable product.

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Follow along in the video as he explains the 10 different alcohol products they create using 5 different yeasts.

I learned that, yes, rye mixed with corn can certainly bring a richer, spicier character to the finished bourbon – think of the difference between rye bread and whole wheat bread. But Rutledge says that through Four Roses’ use of their different yeast strains, in combination with the grain mixture of the two mash bills, they can mold their products by mixing the the 10 different spirits, except the single barrel product.

It is art and science.

Hearing Rutledge talk, I was certain his background was in the sciences — certainly chemistry. He’s been in the whiskey business since 1966. He jokingly says he doesn’t remember the academic details of his University of Louisville degree. His degree is technically in business, but has an almost equal mix of science.

On another business note, I struck up a conversation with Matt Jamie, president of Bourbon Barrel Foods, of Louisville.  This is a guy with passion for not only his products, but also his production process. More on him later.


About Kim Kolarik

Exploring bourbon one sip at a time and sharing the experience.© Contact me at I've followed the original bourbon trail from my native Pennsylvania, where the whiskey rebellion erupted to Louisville, Kentucky, my current home. Bourbon is now in a revolution of expansion. I'll be bringing you news, information and tasting notes of bourbon from Kentucky and the emerging craft distillers from around the United States. I am photographer, designer and editor. --Kim D. Kolarik
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