Published on April 22nd, 2019 | by Darren Paltrowitz0
Four Roses Bourbon’s Al Young Talks Whiskey History, Ohio Valley Pride, J.D. Shellburne & More
The Kentucky Derby is one of the most exciting horse races in the world. It is also an excuse to drink bourbon and mark the day with derby parties from coast to coast. And in the spirit of that concept is the almighty Four Roses Bourbon, a long-time staple of the whiskey industry.
Four Roses Bourbon Senior Brand Ambassador Al Young has a wealth of Bourbon industry knowledge and experience that spans five decades. On June 5, 2017, he celebrated his 50th anniversary working for Four Roses. Prior to that in 2011, Young was inducted into the prestigious Kentucky Bourbon Hall Of Fame. In addition, in 2015, Young was inducted into the Whiskey Magazine Hall Of Fame. Furthermore, Young was a previous honoree of Whiskey Magazine as “Highly Commended American Whiskey Ambassador Of The Year” within its “Icons Of Whiskey” edition.
In his current role as Senior Brand Ambassador, Young’s primary function is to travel the country, tell the story of Four Roses, and promote the brand. He leads VIP tours and is the company’s liaison for numerous charitable events. He fosters relationships with key influencers and retail accounts across the country while also serving as the resident historian for Four Roses. In turn, he was the author of the 2010 book about the history of Four Roses titled Four Roses: The Return Of A Whiskey Legend.
I had the pleasure of doing Q&A with Al Young himself about the past, present and future of Four Roses Bourbon. More on Young and Four Roses can be found online at www.fourrosesbourbon.com.
How did you wind up in the spirits industry?
Al Young: I went to work in the spirits industry in order to get a good paying job in order to support a beautiful, intelligent wife and to eventually raise and educate our son and two daughters. Initially, it was a far cry from the English teacher and theater administration training I received in undergraduate and graduate collegiate studies that proved to be helpful in later years.
And how exactly did you wind up at Four Roses?
Al Young: My work with Seagram’s included various management positions in their Kentucky plants in Louisville and Lawrenceburg as well as one in Lawrenceburg, Indiana and surrounding company holdings in Ohio. When the plant in Louisville closed in 1983, I was working in Lawrenceburg and was given the opportunity to stay on with the company by relocating to Indiana. After seven years, I learned of a management vacancy at what is now the present-day Four Roses Distillery and applied for it. I soon became distillery manager under Seagram’s and continued in that position after the Kirin purchase in 2002 until 2007. At that time, I was asked to stay on as first, Brand Ambassador and now as Senior Brand Ambassador/Brand Historia.
You are known as being the resident historian for Four Roses beyond being its Senior Brand Ambassador. When did it first become apparent that you were the default historian there, as opposed to just being passionate about the brand?
Al Young: From when I first started working at distillery in 1983, I became interested in the history of both the distillery and the brand. When I returned in 1990, as distillery manager, I was tasked — in addition to managing day to day distillery operations — to put the brand’s history together and to establish the foundation for a comprehensive archive collection to be used for future marketing and tourism possibilities with the fledgling Kentucky Bourbon Trail.
When the ownership of Four Roses changed hands from Seagram’s to The Kirin Brewery, my job duties were increased to help market the brand through educational programs, write the brand’s history and oversee the collection/preservation of the archive collection. In 2010, part of work culminated when my book, Four Roses: The Return Of A Whiskey Legend was first published. It has been revised and reprinted at least three times since then.
Is there anything that you feel people have wrong about the life of a brand ambassador for a popular spirit?
Al Young: Some people may have the impression that brand ambassadors have it pretty easy. They only see isolated snapshots of them at various events or in bars and retail stores all over the country. The unseen hours spent on emails, phone calls, miles driven and before-dawn plane flights don’t get noticed as do the number of family occasions that get side-tracked to make public deadlines. It takes a strong family bond to make it happen time and again.
What is your favorite part of your job?
Al Young: Doing brand educational programs and Four Roses tastings affords me the opportunity to use previously acquired teacher training talents to get the brand’s message out to the public. I like working with people and watching their reactions to how the different expressions of Four Roses Bourbon taste. Amazing!
What is coming up for Four Roses in the coming months?
Al Young: We have just launched a new, sustainable, expression of our bourbon called, Four Roses Small Batch Select. It is made up of six different recipes that are combined for the first time to produce a non-chill filtered, 104 Proof, addition which is truly the fourth rose in the Four Roses Bourbon family.
What is it that keeps you loyal to the Ohio Valley, Kentucky adjacent area all these years later?
Al Young: I was born in Louisville, Kentucky, near the banks of the Ohio River. My family and I are third generation Kentuckians and although we have traveled to many places around the globe, we all really like living here. It has to be the sense of place and the people that make it so appealing.
What are some of your favorite spots to visit in the Lexington area near Four Roses headquarters?
Al Young: The Beaumont Inn and Shaker Town near Harrodsburg, Kentucky. Keeneland and Red Mile Race Tracks plus Kroger Field at the University of Kentucky in Lexington.
What was the last concert you attended for fun?
Al Young: J.D. Shelburne, country musical artist. Catch one of his albums, either Two Lane Town, Between Here & The Stars or Farmtown and you’ll see what I mean.
Finally, Al, any last words for the kids?
Al Young: Along with education, be confident in yourself and your talents to take on new responsibilities to find your place in this world. You can do it!