Four Roses and Wild Turkey Bourbons Only Non-GMO Corn Users

By on January 6, 2012

Making Whiskey with Non-GMO Corn

Four Roses Yellow Label

Perhaps nowhere is the difference in the American world view and the European more stark than in the whiskey wars.

Yes, Bourbon and Tennessee whiskies are authentic American contributions to the spirits pantheon around the world.  Yes, the thirst for American whiskeys is growing in Europe and Asia.

But here is where the rubber meets the road.  While the American world view says until you prove something is bad for me, I’m doing it, and the European world view, ever more cautious, says until you can prove that something is NOT bad for me, I’m not having it.  This value difference plays out in whiskeys.

European Countries and Asians routinely reject any food or drink concoctions based on GMO ingredients.  Americans routinely embrace the cheaper GMO corn and other products that go into making industrial style whiskies.

So what are the American marketers to do?  They want to satisfy the ever growing overseas thirst for American whiskey.  They know they have to offer non GMO products.

Where can they go?  Only two American whiskies are made with guaranteed non GMO corn.  Four Roses, which was originally a part of the Seagram’s Company, has had a long term relationship with Midwestern farmers who produce non GMO corn.  All of their product are made with non GMO corn.

As Master Distillers told Grist Magazine:

“European and Asian markets won’t buy whiskey made with GMO corn,” says Jim Rutledge, 45 year veteran distiller at Four Roses. “But due to cross-pollination, even farmers not using non GMO corn will end up with it eventually. I don’t know how many years we can continue like this.”

Wild Turkey master distiller, Jimmy Russell, takes the conservative view that the only way to guarantee the future of his product is to use non GMO corn.  Why?

“Whiskey distilled today won’t be bottled for four to 15 years. If GMO grain is discovered to have issues 5 years from now, or if the government requires GMO labeling down the line, the distillery would be in quite a bind with a lot of aging whiskey that could be affected.”

Distillers from Four Roses and Wild Turkey both indicate they believe that GMO labeling will come to a head within 5 years and that American whiskies will either be labeled non GMO,  or will all cave and no longer be agricultural products but simply industrial products, made with GMO corn.

But they’re hedging their bets and selecting only the non GMO corn. They will always have the European and Asian market this way, and in the US Market non GMO will be the premium for the foreseeable future.

Jack Daniels, the Tennesse Whiskey made by Brown-Forman has taken another route, indicating their faith in the American worldview.

“We’ve never been concerned by the use of GMO grains because not enough makes it through the distilling process to matter.”  Says a Brown Forman statement. Huh?

According to Colin O’Neil, regulatory policy analyst at the Center for Food Safety, “to assume that the only real risk is contamination of genetic material ignores the fact that these crops by and large will either produce an insecticide – which has been proved not to break down in the human gut – or are engineered to withstand exposure to herbicides.

“Residues of pesticides on corn present an increased exposure to consumers,” concludes Mr. O’Neil.

So OK.  For me this means no more Jack Daniels.  Good Bye, Uncle Jack.  Call me when you see the light.

I like this Four Roses and Wild Turkey.  Yes I do.  Especially that Four Roses single batch.  That’s gonna be my new go-to whiskey.  Mighty fine for sipping and terrific in a cocktail.

Four Roses Small Batch

New Fashioned

By Austin Ratliff

M Street, Nashville, TN


Four Roses Small Batch New Fashioned M Street, Nashville

2 oz Four Roses Small Batch

2 Brandied Cherries

Tablespoon Diced Red Delicious Apple

2 dash Cinnamon

½ oz Rich Syrup (2 parts sugar to 1 part water)

2 dashes Fee Brothers Old Fashioned Bitters

Muddle cherries, apples, bitters and cinnamon with syrup in highball glass. Add bourbon and ice, stir to combine.

About Linda Eckhardt

Linda West Eckhardt, is an award winning journalist, food writer, and nutritionist. Her more than 20 cookbooks have garnered prizes including the James Beard prize for the best cookbook for a text she wrote with her daughter, Katherine West DeFoyd, entitled Entertaining 101, Doubleday. Their follow-up book, Stylish One Dish Dinners, Doubleday, was also nominated for a James Beard prize. Their next book, The High Protein Cookbook, Clarkson Potter, remains a best seller after 12 years. That book was designed to accompany low carb diet plans. Her ground-breaking book, Bread in Half The Time, Broadway Books, was named the Best Cookbook in America by the prestigious IACP, The Julia Child award. Her award winning radio work with Jennifer English, for a national show on the Food and Wine radio network, was nominated for a James Beard Prize for a show called, “I Know What You Ate Last Summer.”


  1. ant

    May 2, 2012 at 7:04 pm

    i often wondered about this. Thank you.

  2. Greg

    February 5, 2013 at 7:37 am

    Thank you for this article. I always try to support companies that actively avoid GMO products. I wish I knew this prior to buying Buffalo Trace yesterday. But it will change my future bourbon purchases.

    • nick

      November 4, 2013 at 2:32 pm

      I asked on the buffalo trace distillery tour and they told me it was non–gmo.. any new info?

  3. Trestarig

    May 29, 2013 at 2:51 pm

    Great job highlighting this to the public. If it’s gonna be your new go to whiskey, you should also b alerted that there’s no such thing as “Four Roses Single Batch”– What you had was either Four Roses Single Barrel or Four Roses Small Batch, two very different whiskeys made with different mash bills and even different yeasts. The one you’ve got in the picture there labelled “Small Batch” is actually the single barrel, which has a higher rye content (more peppery spice and dry fruits going on) among other things and, as the name states, is drawn each round from a specific barrel so it’s more of a “line” of quirky, highly variable bourbons. If that cocktail below it is made with the FR “Small Batch,” it’s made from another kind of Four Roses altogether, much of which comes from their lower rye recipe and all of which is vatted from a variety of barrels as part of a “batch.”

  4. Dave Pickerell

    May 30, 2013 at 2:46 pm

    Although Maker’s Mark doesn’t publish it, while I was Master Distiller…and I think it continues to this day, they have never bought any GMO grain. We actually had certified non-GMO farmers to grow grain for us.

  5. Nicole

    September 18, 2013 at 3:55 pm

    To say that “Only two American whiskies are made with guaranteed non GMO corn” is not accurate. There is a large number of craft distilleries all over the US who are using non-GMO grains. If sourcing sustainable, tasty whiskey is something that is important to you, look to those!

    • Linda Eckhardt

      September 24, 2013 at 11:21 am

      good to know

  6. Kurt

    November 15, 2013 at 8:29 am

    Buffalo Trace uses non-gmo corn for everything they make. Source: their factory tour.