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Rutledge on New Distillery: “I Can’t Sit Still”

Jim Rutledge describes his distillery project in a video on the distillery's web site. His Bourbon Hall of Fame still is over his left shoulder. Image courtesy J.W. Rutledge Distillery LLC.May 1, 2016 – While longtime Four Roses master distiller Jim Rutledge has nothing but good things to say about the distillery he retired from last September, he hopes the distillery that will eventually carry his name becomes his legacy to the Bourbon industry.

“I didn’t want to, and I don’t want to just retire and vegetate…that’s not me – I can’t sit still like that,” Rutledge said in a telephone interview less than 24 hours after the sudden announcement of his plans to start a crowdfunding campaign Monday for what will be called the J.W. Rutledge Distillery. Rutledge and his partners, Jon Mowry and Stephen Camisa, hope to raise nearly $2 million through an IndieGoGo campaign to provide the initial funding for the project, which Rutledge estimates will cost $25-30 million. The partners are looking at several potential sites in the Louisville area for the distillery, and hope a successful crowdfunding campaign will help them acquire a site and raise the rest of the funding needed for the project.

Rutledge says his partners first suggested the idea a couple of years ago while he was in the middle of what turned out to be lengthy retirement negotiations with Four Roses, but the proposal gained steam in February and March after Rutledge left the Lawrenceburg, Kentucky distillery that had been his home for 49 years. “We started talking about kicking it off and getting the ball rolling with a crowdfunding campaign,” Rutledge said. “I wasn’t so sure about that, but the more we talked about it, it sounded pretty interesting…so we decided to go that direction, and it appears that was the right decision,” he laughed. Initial reaction to the project on social media has been overwhelmingly positive, and Rutledge says he started receiving a flood of emails and phone calls within minutes after sending out the initial news release Thursday afternoon.

As for his former colleagues at Four Roses, the 72-year-old Rutledge says they will always have a place in his heart. “There were absolutely no animosities on either side when I left…there is not and there never will be. I have never and never will say anything negative about Four Roses…I don’t have anything negative to say.” Rutledge said he was originally asked to give the distillery five years’ notice of his retirement plans, but wound up stepping aside last September as Brent Elliott stepped into the role of master distiller. “They did want me to retire, and that was a little bit of a sore spot, but I went out with total good will on both sides…they need to get Brent Elliott as the face of the company because he is the future of the company,” Rutledge said of his hand-picked successor.

While the success of the J.W. Rutledge Distillery is dependent on financing, the Bourbon Hall of Fame inductee’s place in the history of Bourbon will remain secure. “It’s just something I really love, and that’s why I’m doing it…hopefully, I’ll leave that legacy, but that’s not why I’m doing it, I did it because I love what I do.”

The entire interview with Jim Rutledge can be heard on this week’s episode of WhiskyCast.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include a link to the IndieGoGo campaign, which went live after this story was first published. 

Links: J.W. Rutledge Distillery