Four Roses 2008 Mariage Collection


SPIRIT: Bourbon

VOLUME: 750 ml


AGE: 10 years

According to Four Roses lore, the brand’s name came from the courtship between its founder, Paul Jones Jr., and a young woman whose name is, alas, lost to history. He asked her to marry him; she said she had to think about it. If she consented, she said, she would wear a rose at an upcoming ball. She showed up wearing four in her corsage; he was so happy he named his new whiskey brand after the occasion, in 1888. 

Whether the story is true or not, 120 years later the company, now owned by the Japanese drinks giant Kirin, decided to mark the anniversary with a special release. And it had more to celebrate than its own mythology. It almost hadn’t made it.

Four Roses had once been an estimable brand in the United States. But after World War II its owner, Seagram, had split its output, and reputation, in two: Domestically, it became a bottom-shelf blend, while a much better straight version went exclusively overseas, primarily to Japan and West Germany. In the mid-1990s Seagram even considered shutting it down completely. It only relented after master distiller Jim Rutledge promised to turn the brand around. He struggled for years under Seagram’s neglect, especially when the company faltered, then collapsed in the late 1990s. Ownership passed to Vivendi, then to Pernod and Diageo. Finally, in 2002, Kirin – which, being Japanese, had a much better impression of Four Roses than American executives did – stepped in to buy it, and finally to give Rutledge the support he needed.

He not only reintroduced Four Roses as a straight bourbon to the U.S. market, but began to roll out higher-premium releases. Rutledge and the distillery talked up its two mash bills and five yeast strains, which combine to create 10 distinct recipes and flavor profiles, each with its own four-letter code. Consumers, wary at first, began to come around. 

Finally, in 2008, Rutledge decided it was time for the big test: a limited-release, super-premium bourbon made with two of the ten profiles – a 13-year-old, with the code OBSV, and a 10-year, 10-month-old OESK. He called it “mariage,” with one “r,” and bottled it at cask strength, a bold move at a time when high-proof whiskey was still considered a dram too far for many whiskey fans.

The release was a huge hit among those who could find it – Rutledge only filled 3,492 bottles. His goal was to produce a new Mariage blend every year, each time combining two profiles, and in 2009 he released a second. But the name proved confusing, and after 2009 he changed the name to “limited edition small batch.” Many subsequent releases in the series, especially the 2013 130th anniversary edition, have gained legendary status among drinkers and collectors – but none more than the 2008 Mariage, whose release heralded the return of a great distillery.

Release: 2008 Four Roses Mariage Collection Barrel Strength Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Misc.: To mark the 120th anniversary, Rutledge also created a cask-strength single-barrel release, which likewise became an annual event – until 2015, when Four Roses grew so popular that it couldn’t spare the whiskey.

Collectors’ tips: There were two Mariage releases, one in 2008 and 2009. The 2009 release was widely panned by reviewers, though to be fair they were likely grading on a curve set by the spectacular 2008 edition. 

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