Entering the cool, dark warehouse I was transfixed by a swirl of comforting aromas – vanilla, molasses, oak, bourbon.
Walking down the dark path deep inside Warehouse C at the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky, I couldn’t help but rub my hand along each of the endless oak barrels neatly stacked along each wall awaiting their turn to be shared with the world.
My visit to Buffalo Trace, recognized as the oldest continually operating distillery in the United States, was among the perks of serving on the National Newspaper Association board of directors. We had talked newspapers for two straight days beneath the shadows of the famed Rupp Arena in downtown Lexington. Now it was time to talk my other passion – bourbon.
Distilling started on the site of Buffalo Trace around 1773, but our guide Freddie Johnson, a third generation employee of the company, said the first true distillery was opened in 1812.
Designated as a National Historic Landmark, Buffalo Trace’s name is derived from the site where ancient buffalo carved paths through the wilderness leading American pioneers and explorers to new frontiers. These giant beasts of their day crossed at this spot along the Kentucky River.
We toured on the final day of production for the summer before everything gets a full cleaning and maintenance check before distilling cranks back up this fall. Freddie, 70, gave us the royal treatment taking us through every building, sharing every step of the process.
“When my grandfather came here, this warehouse was full of whiskey,” Freddie said with a wide grin. “When he left, it was still full of whiskey. When my father came here, this warehouse was full of whiskey. He left and it was still full of whiskey. This warehouse will be full of whiskey when I leave, too.”
The motto at Buffalo Trace is “Honor Tradition, Embrace Change.”
Johnson spoke glowingly of the company, how they care for their region, the employees and their product. “We take care of our own,” he said.
He noted how the corn used comes from a 100 mile radius of the distillery. More than 500,000 pounds of grain is used every day during production. Freddie even noted that if they stop production today, they have 20 years worth they can continue to sell.
“But we’re not stopping,” Freddie said. “We’re going to continue producing the best tasting bourbon for years and years.”
To be honest, Maker’s Mark and Woodford Reserve, who also have nearby distilleries, are my favorites in the bourbon world. But Buffalo Trace is a staple in my liquor cabinet and always a happy fill-in.
Buffalo Trace bourbon is typically aged in the neighborhood of 10 years, is a 90 proof whiskey with a beautiful amber color.
I’ve always appreciated the fact that Buffalo Trace, like Woodford Reserve, is a corked bottle.
Vanilla, molasses and oak are among the first smells that come to my mind and it has a smooth, sweet, honey-like taste that’s not too overpowering.
We were treated to a taste and it was as comforting as ever. We also sampled Buffalo Trace’s Bourbon Cream, which is an absolute delight, begging for a cup of coffee or even enjoyed straight.
Immaculate is the word I would use to describe every aspect of the facility, from it’s two century old warehouses to its breath-taking grounds. With every taste of Buffalo Trace from this day forward, I will forever remember my wonderful visit to its historic home.