Honor Tradition, Embrace Change | Buffalo Trace Distillery

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Buffalo Trace Distillery is one of the many bourbon distilleries in Central Kentucky (However, it is not on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail). Buffalo Trace is located in Frankfort, Kentucky. It has historically been known by other names, including the George T. Stagg Distillery and the O.F.C. Distillery. The Buffalo Trace brand was introduced in August 1999. Buffalo Trace claims the distillery is the oldest continuously-operating distillery in the United States. It is claimed that the location of Buffalo Trace was once an ancient buffalo crossing on the banks of the Kentucky River, so they then in return named the distillery after the American bison. Honor Tradition, Embrace Change is Buffalo Trace’s slogan, and if you look at how they came to be what they are starting at the beginning in 1771 until present day. Since Lexington is only about 35 minutes away from Frankfort, it wasn’t a big deal to take a spontaneous trip.

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My husband and I decided to visit Buffalo Trace, because we love bourbon (duh!). We started the tour with getting a brief introduction to bourbon and Buffalo Trace. We were then led into a room, where we watched a short video on how Buffalo Trace became to be. Afterwards, we were led into another room via a secret door that was disguised as a bookcase. We then able to see some barrels aging in one of their rickhouses. We began looking around and saw a few that were labeled ‘experimental.’ It’s important to remember that ALL of these barrels are NEW and will stay aging, until essentially they are ‘ready’ (which depending on what specific product it is, will determine the length. For example, Buffalo Trace Straight Bourbon is a 7-Year). Last but not least, we ended the tour with a tasting. We tasted Buffalo Trace and Eagle Rare, along with their Bourbon Cream (I’ll have a recipe to go along with that later this month!).

Note: With this tour, you don’t get to see the fermentation or distillation process with the tour that I went on. If you want to see that aspect, you would need to choose the Hard Hat Tour. Like I’ve mentioned in my previous distillery tour posts, each distillery has their own way of handling tours and some offer various tours based on tailored interests. With the Hard Hat Tour, you’ll get to see where the E.H. Taylor, Jr. Microstill is located, and will get to see where the Distillery’s unique and award-winning Experimental Collection whiskies are made.

Buffalo Trace offers The Trace Tour, The Hard Hat Tour, National Historical Landmark Tour, Bourbon Barrel Tour, and Ghost Tour.

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HISTORY:

Buffalo Trace has been known by other names over the years. Records indicate that on the site of what is now Buffalo Trace, distilling began in 1775 by Hancock Lee and his brother Willis Lee, who died in 1776. The oldest building at Buffalo Trace is called the Riverside House and it was constructed in 1792 by Commodore Richard Taylor and is still standing. The first distillery was constructed in 1812 by Harrison Blanton. In 1870, the distillery was purchased by Edmund H. Taylor and given its first name, the Old Fire Copper (O.F.C.) Distillery. Taylor sold the distillery, along with the Old Oscar Pepper Distillery to George T. Stagg. The second distillery was sold within the year to James Graham, so more land could be added to the O.F.C. Distillery. In 1886, Stagg installed steam heating in the storage warehouses, which was the first climate controlled warehouse for aging whiskey in the nation.

Also, during Prohibition (1920-1933), the distillery was allowed to remain operational, in order to make whiskey for ‘medicinal purposes.’ It was one of six distilleries licensed by the federal government to sell bourbon for ‘medicinal purposes.’ In 1933, Prohibition ends with only four distilleries in Kentucky capable of producing whiskey.

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Some other important dates (see more from 1771 to 1899 and 1900 to present)

1881: Warehouse A and Warehouse B are built; still standing today.

1883: The newly rebuilt distillery included a large mashing and fermenting wing which remains intact today as the Dickel Building

1885: The Construction of Warehouse C, still standing today, completes Taylor’s vision for his ‘Model Distillery Plant of the World.’

1935: Warehouse H, the Distillery’s only ‘metal clad’ warehouse,  is the first of seven massive new warehouses built before World War II.

1953: Warehouse ‘V,’ the world’s only ‘single barrel’ warehouse, is built in celebration of the two millionth barrel.

1984: The Distillery introduces Blanton’s, the world’s first single-barrel bourbon.

1992: The Distillery is finally returned to a family-owned business, being purchased by the Sazerac Company.

1999: Distillery renovations are completed and rechristened as THE BUFFALO TRACE Distillery. The Distillery’s new flagship brand – BUFFALO TRACE – is launched.

2000: The Buffalo Trace Distillery is awarded Whisky Advocate’s ‘Distillery of the Year’ – the first American distillery to win this prestigious international award.

2008: The Distillery produces the six millionth barrel after Prohibition.

2013: Buffalo Trace Distillery named a National Historic Landmark.

2015: Distillery purchases land and expands to over 400 acres.

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Buffalo Trace makes a variety of products, which include:

-Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon

-Eagle Rare

-Antique Collection (George T. Stagg, William Larue Weller, Eagle Rare 17 year-old, Sazerac Rye 18 year-old, and Thomas H. Handy Sazerac).

-Experimental Collection (Currently, there are more than 5,000 experimental barrels aging in its warehouses. Each of the barrels have unique characteristics and experimental changes in the mash ball, types of wood, barrel toasts, and more. Periodically, an experimental whiskey is bottled and sold on a limited basis).

-Single Oak Project (This experiment allows whiskey connoisseurs to directly compare the impact of seven different critical variables across 192 bottles for a total of 1,396 taste combinations.  None of the 192 bottles in the complete set are exactly alike).

-Stagg Jr.

-E.H. Taylor, Jr. Collection (Small Batch, Single Barrel, Barrel Proof, Straight Rye, Old Fashioned Sour Mash, Warehouse C Tornado Surviving*, Cured Oak, and Seasoned Wood)

*”On Sunday evening, April 2, 2006, a severe storm with tornado strength winds tore through Central Kentucky, damaging two Buffalo Trace Distillery aging warehouses. One of the damaged warehouses was Warehouse C, a treasured warehouse on property, built by Colonel Edmund Haynes Taylor, Jr. in 1881. It sustained significant damage to its roof and north brick wall, exposing a group of aging bourbon barrels to the elements. That summer, the exposed barrels waited patiently while the roof and walls were repaired, meanwhile being exposed to the Central Kentucky climate.  When these barrels were tasted years later, it was discovered that the sun, wind, and elements they had experienced created a bourbon rich in flavors that was unmatched.”

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-Pappy Van Winkle 23-Year is a very rare, limited edition bourbon takes generations of distilling know-how to produce. Only the most careful and expensive distilling method can be used to create a whiskey as special as this one. In 2015, the suggested retail price was $249.99, but on the secondary market they were sold for $750 to $5000 per bottle. You can’t just waltz in to a liquor store and purchase it on a whim, because it is exceedingly rare, and sells out in a flash. There are only 7,000 to 8,000 bottles of Family Reserve each year (To give you an idea on how limited it is… Pappy is limited to 7,000 cases a year, whereas Jim Beam produces 7 million cases a year. Out of ALL the Pappy Varieties, there are 84,000 bottles per year). Pappy rarely makes it to liquor-store shelves, and is instead set aside instead for VIP customers or sold by lottery. Some people have been known to camp outside for days outside of liquor stores. In 2015, one store sold out in 42 minutes and the bottle was selling for $250.

You may remember the news story that attracted international attention back in 2013 aka ‘The Great Bourbon Heist.’ In mid-October 2013, the company reported the theft of 65 three-bottle cases of Pappy Van Winkle 20-Year and 9 three-bottle cases of 13-Year Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye. In March 2014, a Buffalo Trace employee was arrested when Franklin County authorities found five barrels of Wild Turkey on his property. In April 2015, nine Kentucky residents (three were employees at both Wild Turkey and Buffalo Trace) were indicted for the thefts, which dated back to 2008. Over $100,000 worth of stolen whiskey was recovered, which included two dozen bottles of Pappy Van Winkle and 15 barrels of Wild Turkey. Other news reports stated that the heists included more than 20 cases of Pappy Van Winkle, 50 to 70 cases of Eagle Rare, and other stolen barrels that are still missing (I can’t remember if they recovered everything or not). There was one barrel of 17-year-old Eagle Rare that was recovered that was worth more than $11,000 (To read more about the heist: click here). We also may never know the entire scopes of the theft.

So, you may be wondering what happened to the recovered Pappy? It was destroyed in fear of contamination or tampering.

FYI: A filled bourbon barrel weighs over 500 pounds!!

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{Blanton’s in the process of being bottled at Buffalo Trace}

-Blanton’s Single Barrel (Introduced in 1984, Blanton’s namesake bourbon was the first ever Single Barrel Bourbon sold commercially). The barrels are dumped by hand without using machinery. There are eight different stopper designs and each of them are with a different letter of the alphabet molded into it and topped with a figurine of a racehorse and jockey. When placed in order, it spells ‘B L A N T O N’ S.’ The horse and jockey’s poses display eight different scenes of a horse race, from standing at the gate, to crossing the finish line with a win. There are displays you can purchase, so you can place each stopper on it, so you will have a complete scene of a horse race (For those that don’t know, horse racing is a huge deal in Kentucky. In fact, where I live in – Lexington, is the Horse Capital of the World).

Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon is typically aged for 9 years. It is aged in Warehouse H at Buffalo Trace, which is the only metal-cladded warehouse at Buffalo Trace and was commissioned for construction by one of the distillery’s early leaders, Albert B. Blanton, shortly after the end of the Prohibition era. Being metal, the warehouse transfers heat quicker than brick warehouses, which allows for more rapid aging.

-Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel

-Sazerac Rye

-W.L. Weller (Special Reserve, 12 Year, and Antique)

-Old Charter (Old Charter and Charter 101 Proof)

-Benchmark

-Ancient Age (Ancient Age and Ancient Ancient Age 10 Star)

-White Dog (Mash #1, Wheated Mash, Rye Mash)

-Bourbon Cream

-They also make vodkas too! (Wheatley Vodka, Platinum, Rain, and CLIX)

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Just to be noted: You won’t find all of this information on the tour, but you will find some of it. I just don’t want to set any expectations to anyone that may be looking to learn all of this information. Tours are relatively short (around one hour), so it would be impossible to learn everything that you need to know about bourbon and/or that specific distillery. You can learn a lot about bourbon by visiting the distilleries, drinking bourbon, reading bourbon blogs, talking to fellow bourbon lovers, and being from Kentucky (okay, okay, I just had to include that one, since we basically invented it! But in all seriously, just by living here, you definitely learn a lot, especially if it is something you are interested in!).

This is also something that my husband and I enjoy – drinking bourbon and visiting distilleries. Just about every weekend, we are going to different events, traveling to distilleries, trying out new restaurants, going downtown, etc. That’s just how we want to live our life. I want to take advantage of the opportunities out there, since there is a ridiculous amount of stuff to do out there. I don’t think it is any fun sitting at home watching the world pass you by!

I’m super excited to go back in October for another tour and to have brunch at the distillery with The Bourbon Social! {another Bourbon Social event that I attended was the Beer, Bacon, and Bourbon Garden Party}. How cool is that? Brunch at the distillery! If the last event was any indicator, then I just know it is going to be a blast!

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  • Deb Clem-Buckert

    I love when really cool old buildings are restored and everyone learns their history. Looks like a really cool place.

  • I love visiting historic places around the world. This one sounds very interesting. If I ever encounter myself in Kentucky I would definitely love to check it out.

  • Karen Yannacio Morse

    I would totally be into this type of “field trip” to Kentucky! Its not too far from Cleveland and I know it would be a unique and fun experience!

  • Theresa

    I really like the pictures of the building. It’s so interesting and unique! There’s a lot that goes into this process.

  • Ellie Augustin

    This would be an awesome place have a photo shoot. The area just calls for it. I’d probably be doing that since I’m not a drinker lol

  • Brittany Muddamalle

    This would be my husband’s dream to go and check out an amazing distillery like this. I would love to go behind the scenes and see everything they do.

  • Roxanne Ferber

    So cool that you shared the time historical time line for this bourbon as well as pics of the actual production. So neat!

  • I love Blanton’s, it’s hands down my favorite bourbon. I love that you always share so much history. I never knew that ANY distilleries remained open during prohibition – cool trivia fact!

  • jillconyers

    I love that they didn’t tear down and rebuild. Restoration keeps a piece of the history and story of the company.

    • There’s quite a few old distilleries around the state sitting empty, and sometimes people have come along and bought them and restored them, as well as renamed them. There’s a few opening next year that have been renovated and restored!

  • You know how much we love our bourbon! Another fabulous post about the trail. Bob loves Buffalo Trace!

  • My husband is a huge bourbon drinker so he would LOVE this! Whenever I show him your distillery posts, he loves them 🙂

  • Rebecca Bryant

    How fun. We have a local distillery I would lvoe to visit again soon. SO much information and learning.

  • Amanda Love

    I don’t drink whisley, but it sure would be nice to tour a distillery. It’s awesome to learn about things like this. I bet the men will love going here!

  • This looks like fun! We have a lot of beer breweries around us, and I love to tour them – and sample!

    • We have a lot of breweries here too and lots of craft beer – I’m not a beer drinker though, but I still think it’s pretty cool!

  • TheNewClassy

    That is a really interesting post. I love historic places, and not just places that are famous for battles or for national significance. There’s history in a lot of places.

  • Rachel Catherine

    You can see the history just by looking at that place. I’m not a whisky drinker but I can see how people who love it would be really into this place.

  • Becca Wilson

    This looks like such a fun place to visit. I would love to visit a brewery one day and see what it’s all about.

  • CourtneyLynne Storms

    Omg this must if been on neat place to visit!!! I just love visiting anywhere with a cool history to it!

  • What a history this place has gone in through. Thanks for sharing some bits of pieces about it.

  • Taylor Smith

    What amazing history! I love things like this – rich in tradition! this is such a neat place to visit! 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  • Nicole Cochingco Escat

    This is a great place to visit! We love history and those tradition places like this.

  • Wow this looks like such a cool place to visit! I haven’t been to that area before, but if I do get there I know where to go!

  • You actually can get married here! I bet it would be really beautiful and awesome all around!