September 24, 2015 – Brent Elliott has 39 years to go to catch up to his mentor, legendary Four Roses Master Distiller Jim Rutledge. Rutledge retired at the beginning of September, and Elliott was promoted to take his place — just as the distillery was starting one of its busiest months of the year. Not only did Four Roses release its annual Limited Edition Small Batch Bourbon this month, but the combination of the Kentucky Bourbon Festival and Bourbon Heritage Month mean hundreds of visitors descending on the distillery each week for tours, tastings, and bottle signings.
“It kind of amplifies the spotlight, and it’s really fantastic,” Elliott said in an interview. “It’s something that’s still sinking in…it’s such an honor that Four Roses has selected me and they entrust me with the satisfaction of all the consumers and the groundwork Jim’s laid.” Elliott joined Four Roses ten years ago this month in the distillery’s quality control department, and has been working with Rutledge on blending and barrel selection almost from his first day. However, he had no clue that he was about to be promoted until shortly before Rutledge’s retirement was announced on July 1. “It’s a dream job…it’s a wonderful industry…just to be part of this industry is dream-like enough, but to be the master distiller, it’s just indescribable, it’s really an honor.”
Listen to Mark Gillespie’s interview with Brent Elliott:
“For years, he’ll make up the Limited Edition Small Batch sample…he’ll make up a bunch of those, and I do the easy part, yes or no, approve or not approve,” Jim Rutledge said shortly after announcing his retirement. “He is very, very familiar and been very involved, whether it be the distillate that goes into the barrel or the Bourbon that comes out of the barrel…all along the way, he’s been involved. He’s a laid-back, relaxed person, easy to talk with…the employees are going to enjoy working with him.”
In addition to managing day-to-day operations at the distillery, Elliott will also have a key role in the massive expansion projects underway both at the Lawrenceburg distillery and the Four Roses maturation and bottling facility in Coxs Creek, Kentucky. Construction has already started on a new bottling hall in Coxs Creek to handle the Four Roses Yellow Label and Small Batch lines, while the plans are still being worked out for a doubling of the distillery’s production capacity. “We’re basically building the exact same distillery integrated with the same distillery we have now…it’ll be a parallel process.”
As for replacing his mentor, Elliott admits that may be the hardest part of the job. “He’s an icon,” Elliott said of Rutledge. “He’s the face of Four Roses, I’m the new guy…it’s going to be up to me to make new friends…to continue the hard work that he’s done.” Rutledge has tentatively agreed to remain a part of Four Roses as the distillery’s Master Distiller Emeritus and do promotional appearances for the brand, but acknowledged some regrets last Wednesday night when he was honored by his colleagues at the Kentucky Distillers Association’s All-Star Sampler during the Kentucky Bourbon Festival.
“I decided tonight I don’t want to retire, but I guess it’s too late.”
Links: Four Roses