We asked our friend and journalist, Sara Havens, to be a guest blogger for Straight Up in April. Sara used this opportunity to catch up with our Master Distiller, Brent Elliott. If you’d like to read more from Sara, and we recommend you do, check out Insider Louisville or her blog at barbelleblog.com. You can catch more of her nightlife tips on Twitter @TheBarBelle.
Q&A with Master Distiller Brent Elliott
By Sara Havens
When Brent Elliott took over the reins at Four Roses Bourbon in September of 2015, he had some mighty big shoes to fill. Jim Rutledge retired from his position as Master Distiller, leaving the responsibility of crafting quality Bourbon to Brent, who had worked with the company for 10 years, most recently as Director, Quality.
Rutledge had much faith in Brent and was quoted as saying, “I have every confidence the growth of Four Roses Bourbons will continue under Brent’s leadership,” in a press release that announced the news.
Turns out Rutledge was right, and Four Roses has continued to blossom under his leadership. I recently caught up with Brent to talk about his first eight months on the job, and what the future holds for the award-winning Bourbon.
Q: What’s been the biggest surprise of being Master Distiller so far?
A: This wasn’t so surprising, but the most pleasant part of the transition has been the overwhelmingly positive welcome I have received from the fans of Four Roses. To follow in the footsteps of an industry icon like Jim Rutledge, it’s really nice to have the support and encouragement I have gotten from people. I really appreciate it.
Q: What’s one of the most important things you learned from Jim Rutledge?
A: That’s easy. As much as I learned from his experience here at the distillery, I think the most valuable thing I learned from Jim is the importance of the consumer. He has so much passion and appreciation for Four Roses fans that he always makes our consumers his priority. If you’ve ever seen Jim with fans of Four Roses, you will understand what I’m talking about. He loves people, and he loves talking about Four Roses.
Q: It seems like you split your time between being the face of Four Roses and being at the distillery monitoring the process. Is there one aspect you prefer over the other?
A: Not really. I have to manage the two sides of this job differently from a time perspective, but when I’m working, it all feels the same because I genuinely love all aspects of my job.
Q: Will you be creating any new Four Roses expressions? Like maybe a rye whiskey?
A: We are running at 100 percent … and then some. We’re so busy keeping up with demand for our current products, that a new expression isn’t in the immediate plans. I personally like rye whiskey very much … and anyone familiar with Four Roses knows we really like the flavors rye imparts to our Bourbon. It is in both of our mash bills at high levels. We aren’t making any promises, but the idea of a Four Roses Rye sounds exciting.
Q: What’s your favorite way of drinking Bourbon?
A: Either neat or on the rocks — if it is a higher proof. With higher proof Bourbons, it’s not that I don’t enjoy them at full strength … it’s that I like to taste them change as the ice melts and new flavors emerge with the dilution.
Q: If you could be stuck in a rick house with anyone from the Bourbon industry — past or present — who would it be?
A: Definitely someone from the past. As much as I’d like to ask questions of Elijah Craig, Jacob Spears or any one of the many important figures from history, I think I would choose Paul Jones Jr., the founder of Four Roses. I think we would have a lot to talk about.