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Buffalo Trace

 

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Buffalo Trace profile

The Buffalo Trace Distillery is one of the largest producers of bourbon whisky in the world. It is highly respected among critics and experts and wins numerous awards. Over the past 20 years it has been named distillery of the year by a number of organisations, while its individual brands have also been recognised.

It has grown over the past 200 years into a huge operation which now comprises over 100 buildings on a 119 acre site. It is owned by the Sazerac company which is based in New Orleans, Louisiana. Sazerac is described as family owned although it is a massive concern. As well as bourbon from Buffalo Trace, it also produces everything from Irish and Scottish whisky to vodka, gin and tequila.

The man in charge of Buffalo Trace is Mark Brown who is president and CEO. He is the latest in the line of bourbon legends to run the distillery which has included people like Albert B. Blanton and Elmer T. Lee. The current master distiller is Harlen Davis Wheatley.

The distillery has become an attraction for visitors and tourists from around the world with a number of different tours throughout the year.



Buffalo Trace Distillery  Aging bourbon at Buffalo Trace








Photos courtesy of Buffalo Trace




 

Bourbons from Buffalo Trace

Buffalo Trace produces over 20 brands of bourbon whisky. This ranges from entry level and high selling brands to premium and the very exclusive. They make whisky for non-distiller producers while owning many of bourbon’s most prestigious names themselves. There is also the antique collection of premium limited edition brands released once a year.

Not all Buffalo Trace bourbon whiskies are available in the UK. Some of the rare, limited edition and collectable brands become available periodically. However, as the popularity of bourbon in the UK increases, we are seeing more brands become available.
 


Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Buffalo Trace range of bourbon whiskiesThe flagship brand from the distillery, released in August 1999

Price range: Typically £20 to £25

More information:

Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon



 


Van Winkle

Van Winkle range of bourbon whiskiesPremium range produced under contract by Buffalo Trace for the Van Winkle family

Price range: Typically £45 to £100

(rare bottles and discontinued lines quickly become collector's items and can cost considerably more)

More information:

Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Year Old 107 Proof

Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Year Old 90 Proof

Old Rip Van Winkle 12 Year Old Special Rerserve

Old Rip Van Winkle 13 Year Old Family Reserve Rye

Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year Old

Pappy Van Winkle 20 Year Old

Pappy Van Winkle 23 Year Old


Antique Collection

Antique Collection range of bourbon whiskiesA special collection of carefully produced and selected whiskies released once a year

Price range: Typically £85 to £110

(as this range is released once a year the availability is limited so prices do go up -- expect to pay more for older years)

More information:

George T Stagg

Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old

Eagle Rare 17 Year Old

William Larue Weller

Thomas H. Handy Sazerac


Blanton's

Blanton's range of bourbon whiskiesSingle barrel bourbon whisky made with a rye-recipe

Price range: Typically £30 to £60

More information:

Blanton's Original

Blanton's Special Reserve

Blanton's Straight from the Cask


Elmer T. Lee

Range of Elmer T Lee bourbon whiskiesRye recipe from a bourbon making legend

Price range: Typically £35 to £40

More information:

Elmer T Lee Single Barrel



 


W.L. Weller

Range of W L Weller bourbon whiskiesWheated bourbon whisky honouring old tradition of making it smooth

Price range: Typically £25 to £30

(this brand has been around for many years so collectors' examples do sometimes become available -- understandably they are considerably more expensive)

More information:

W.L. Weller 12 Year Old


McAfee's Benchmark

Range of McAfee's Benchmark No.8 bourbon whiskiesEveryday bourbon whisky for sipping and for mixing

Price range: Typically £15 to £20

More information:

McAfee's Benchmark No.8


 


Ancient Age

Range of Ancient Age bourbon whiskiesSuper value everyday bourbon made with a rye recipe

Price range: Typically £15 to £25

Ancient Age

Ancient Age 10 Star


 


Hancock's President's Reserve

Premium, high-rye, single barrel bourbon whisky

Price range: Typically £60 to £70

Hankcock's President's Reserve


George T. Stagg

Range of George T Stagg bourbon whiskies15 year old bourbon whisky named after a previous owner of the distillery -- released once a year as part of the Antique Collection

Price range: Typically £100 to £110

(although previous releases become a lot more expensive as they get harder to find)

George T. Stagg 2009

 


Sazerac Rye

Range of Sazerac Rye whiskiesPremium rye whisky with a long history -- released once a year as part of the Antique Collection

Price range: Typically £30 to £110

Sazerac Rye

Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old

 


Eagle Rare

Range of Eagle Rare bourbon whiskiesAcclaimed single barrel rye-recipe bourbon whisky -- super premium

Price range: Typically £30 to £90

Eagle Rare 10 Year Old

Eagle Rare 17 Year Old


 


William Larue Weller

Range of William Larue Weller bourbon whiskiesUncut and unfiltered premium bourbon whisky

Price range: Typically £95 to £100

(this is released once a year and older version become collectors' items so can be considerably more expensive)

William Larue Weller

 


Thomas H. Handy Sazerac

Range of Thomas H Handy Sazerac whiskiesUncut and unfiltered straight rye whisky

Price range: Typically £100 to £110

(this is released once a year and older version become collectors' items so can be considerably more expensive)

Thomas H. Handy Sazerac

 


Experimental Collection

Range of Experimental Collection whiskies from Buffalo TraceBuffalo Trace regularly experiments with things like mash bills or the wood used to make barrels. Occasionally they bottle and sell the bourbon whisky produced in these experiments, but few make it to the UK. They are all very limited and very rare.

Not usually available in the UK


 


Very Old Barton

Generations old brand of bourbon whisky

Not usually available in the UK


Kentucky Tavern

Rye recipe bourbon

Not usually available in the UK


1792 Ridgemount Reserve

8-year-old small batch

Not usually available in the UK


Old Charter

8-year-old rye recipe bourbon whisky

Not usually available in the UK


E.H. Taylor Jr

Old fashioned sour mash bourbon whisky honouring the founder of Buffalo Trace

Not usually available in the UK






 

The history of Buffalo Trace

Mighty buffaloes

A buffalo trace is the name given to a path created by migrating buffalo. The huge herds stomping across the plains of America hundreds of years ago helped shape the nation into what it is today. One of these paths carved through the site of what is today’s Buffalo Trace distillery on the banks of the Kentucky River in Franklin County, Kentucky.

Barrels aging at Buffalo TracePioneers and early American explorers were attracted to the location. It was first surveyed as a potential settlement by the McAfee brothers and was then settled in the late 1700s. Some of the first were the brothers Hancock and Willis Lee.

The location had grain and abundant, clean and crisp water so, inevitable, distilling began -- where there is people, the ingredients and the means there will be distilling. The first working distillery on the grounds of today’s distillery came into operation in 1787. It was big enough to ship some of its produce by river to New Orleans.

The oldest building still standing at the Buffalo Trace Distillery was built around this time. Commodore Richard Taylor built a one-storey stone house called Riverside House in 1792.

Whisky production was still a very small enterprise at this time though. There was no infrastructure, particularly railroads, and the production methods had not advanced sufficiently to produce whisky on any scale. This was until 1812 when the first true distillery was constructed. It was built by Harrison Blanton.

About 26 years later, in 1838, the property was bought for just $600 by Jacob and Philip Swigert. This marked the beginning of expansion, development and distilling innovation that would continue on the site for almost 150 years. It started with expanding the grounds and implementing new technology, including a modern boiler system.

Whisky-making innovations

The first modern, fully-commercial still was installed in 1857. It was ground-breaking as it was the first still to use steam power. Shortly after this the distillery was sold to Clement & Ashton Craig for $3,500.

In 1870 the distillery was sold again, this time to Edmund H Taylor. Taylor, born in 1830, invested considerably to make it more modern. He is widely regarded as having revolutionised the whisky-making industry in the US with the innovations he introduced.

He also named the distillery, calling it the O.F.C. Distillery, which stood for Old Fire Copper. He did not retain ownership for long but achieved a lot in his eight years in charge.

George T Stagg bought the distillery from Taylor in 1878 and continued with the practice of innovating and modernising. In 1886 he installed “climate control” in the storage warehouse. It was achieved by using steam to heat the buildings.

In the years before and after the turn of the century the distillery was expanded and renamed a number of times. New plants were also built, with many of the buildings constructed in the mid and late 1800s still standing today. It became the George T Stagg Distillery in 1904.

In 1897 a boy of just 16 joined the distillery as a junior office worker. He was another Blanton -- Albert B. Blanton. He would retire many years later as president of the company with his name living on in popular brands on sale today.

Albert B. Blanton helped see the distillery through the prohibition years. It was one of only four US distilleries to be awarded permits to continue whisky production after the implementation of prohibition, although it could only be sold for medicinal purposes. While this was not an ideal situation, it helped the distillery to survive while many of its competitors, unsurprisingly, disappeared. During this time the distillery was sold to Schenley Distillers Corporation.

Post-prohibition

Prohibition ended in 1933 with Albert B. Blanton now at the helm. He remained in charge until his retirement in 1952. During his tenure the distillery was refurbished and expanded massively. It survived the great flood (in 1937), another world war (World War II) and corn rationing (in 1946). All the while, production increased to over two million barrels.

In 1952, the year of Blanton’s retirement, the world’s only one-barrel warehouse was built as part of events to celebrate the production of the first two million barrels at the distillery since prohibition. The three millionth barrel followed relatively quickly, coming nine years later in 1961.

In 1968 Elmer T Lee took over management of the distillery. Its expansion continued over the following years. Several milestones were achieved including the first exports to Japan and the production of the four millionth (1971) and fifth millionth (1981) barrels.

Things were about to get difficult though. In 1982 the distillery was sold to a group of investors. By 1991 the future of the distillery was in jeopardy as profits dropped and staffing levels fell to as low as 50 people.

There was one significant and positive event in this period -- the introduction of the world’s first single barrel bourbon whisky. Blanton’s went on sale in 1984.

In 1992, the distillery was taken over by the Sazerac company, a family owned business based in Louisiana. Over the next number of years the facilities were refurbished and, in 1999, the brand was re-launched as the Buffalo Trace Distillery.

Since then it has gone from strength to strength. New products have been launched -- including the flagship Buffalo Trace -- and hardly a year goes by where either the distillery itself or one of its brands does not win an award. The six millionth barrel was produced in 2008, 27 years after the five million mark.

In 2005 there was a change of hands at the office of master distiller. Gary Grayheart retired after 43 years of service, handing over the reigns to the current post-holder, Harlen Wheatley.

 

Buffalo Trace Distillery

Address: 113 Great Buffalo Trace, Franklin County, Frankfort, Kentucky USA

Website: www.buffalotrace.com

Buffalo Trace Saloon: www.buffalotracesaloon.com

Sazerac company website: www.sazerac.com

 

Buffalo Trace bourbons

 

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