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The Bourbon Trail runs through Anderson County

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Posted at 7:00 PM, Jan 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-28 19:31:35-05

LAWRENCEBURG, Ky. (LEX 18) — The population of Lawrenceburg is just more than 10,000. It's easy to assume the small town is much bigger because hundreds of thousands pass through every year, many during their Bourbon Trail pilgrimage.

America's native spirit can be distilled anywhere across the country, but most bourbon is produced in Kentucky.

"Every distillery has its own uniqueness, its own story," said Brent Elliott, master distiller of Four Roses.

Anderson County is home to not one, but two stops on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail: Four Roses and Wild Turkey.

The story of Four Roses dates back to 1888 and its founder Paul Jones, Jr.

"He was smitten by a lovely southern belle and he proposed marriage to her. And she said, 'If my answer's yes, I will wear a corsage of four red roses to the upcoming grand ball.' And of course, fortunately for us, she did."

The distillery has evolved over time, but the modern era began in 2002. That's when, after decades of being export-only to overseas markets, a new owner came in intending to reclaim the bourbon's once-sterling reputation in the United States.

The Four Roses Bourbon was later joined by three other products, Small Batch, Single Barrel, and Small Batch Select, on shelves across the country.

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"Those four products, that's really an example of our best foot forward in each case," said Elliott. "And now we're one of the most respected straight bourbon whiskeys here in the US."

Elliott came to the Lawrenceburg distiller in 2006 and has overseen tremendous growth in 16 years.

The most recent expansion doubled the number of fermenters, and that's growth that coincides with the increase in visitors.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of bourbon enthusiasts pass through downtown on their way to Four Roses to take a tour and try their four products.

"They're kind of created in a unique way because we produce ten different recipes and then we take those recipes together in different combinations to create truly unique products across our entire portfolio," said Elliott.

If you're looking to visit Four Roses for the first time or make a return trip, you can now experience a new visitor center complete with new tasting rooms, an expanded bar to sip on a cocktail, and the Al Young Archive Room.

Of course, you can't tell the story of bourbon in Kentucky without mentioning Wild Turkey, an institution in Anderson County for decades. The Russell family name is synonymous with the product and is known across the world.

Bruce Russell says what makes the distillery unique is the people.

"We're connected. Everybody that works there is from Lawrenceburg. Everyone went to Anderson County High School, it's a small community," said Russell.

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Everyone in town knows Bruce's grandfather, legendary master distiller Jimmy Russell.

"Nobody has anybody like him. Jimmy's the longest-tenured master distiller in the history of spirits. He's been our distiller for almost 70 years now," said Bruce.

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Jimmy Russell (left) started at Wild Turkey in 1954. His son, Eddie, is now master distiller and joined the business in 1981.

The visitor center, reminiscent of an old tobacco barn overlooking the Kentucky River, is actually closed at the moment for needed improvements.

Russell says this is temporary, that within a month, they're hoping to welcome bourbon enthusiasts back to visit. If you come, there's a chance you'll meet Jimmy, who is still a very active presence in Tyrone as he nears 90 years old.

"I'm so glad that people around the entire world now recognize the amazing whiskey that we've been making in Kentucky for hundreds of years," said Russell.

Bruce says he hopes to follow in his grandfather and father Eddie's footsteps as master distiller. He wants to build on his family's legacy, which was born in Anderson County.