Wednesday, June 6, 2012
Buffalo Trace Distillery: A Taste of History
Van Winkle, Elmer T. Lee, Blanton's, Eagle Rare and more. These are all excellent bourbons that happen to be produced by the same distillery, Buffalo Trace. So when deciding on which distilleries to visit while I was in Kentucky, Buffalo Trace was at one of those at the top of my list. The distillery runs several different types of tours, from spooky ghost tours to the more architectural driven post-Prohibition tours, and I ended up taking their hard hat tour, which is more of a behind the scenes look at the distillery.
Sazerac Company, and in 1999 they renamed it Buffalo Trace, also starting to produce Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey.
The current Master Distiller is Harlen Davis Wheatley, who has occupied that position since 2005, though he has worked for the distillery since 1995. Buffalo Trace now produces 14 different brands, including Van Winkle, Old Charter, W.L. Weller, Elmer T. Lee, Rock Hill Farms, Benchmark, Eagle Rare, Blanton's. Hancock's Reserve and Ancient Age. These bourbons are generally aged from 4-23 years.
Buffalo Trace uses distillers grade corn from Kentucky and Indiana, and does not use any GMO corn. Their basic mashbill has 70%-80% corn, and of their fourteen brands, 12 are rye dominant while the other two are wheat dominant. The same mashbill can lead to different tasting bourbons, such as Buffalo Trace and Eagle Rare which both are small batch that use the same mashbill. Blanton's, which is 6-7 years old, and Elmer T. Lee, which is 10 years old, are both single barrel, using the same mashbill.
Fermentis, based on their own formula, and they use that same yeast for all of their brands. They keep some of their yeast strain in five separate places so that it will never be lost.
Since 2007, their experiments have been produced in a special micro-distillery, pictured above. This is a combination pot still/column still and can produce 1-10 barrels of bourbon, as opposed to previously when they had to make a minimum batch of 70 barrels. This allows them to conduct more experiments, and it is much more cost effective than producing the far larger amount. Innovation and experimentation are very important so Buffalo Trace deserves kudos for their program.
The Eagle Rare Single Barrel is about 10 years old and 90 proof. It was also silky smooth but spicier than the Buffalo Trace. Its flavors were more complex, a melange of caramel, almonds, honey, vanilla, and dried fruits. A lengthy and pleasing finish really satisfied my palate. It costs around $30 and it too is a very good value. This is definitely a bourbon I would prefer drinking neat, though it can enhance a cocktail as well.
One of the surprises of the tasting was the Buffalo Trace Bourbon Cream Liqueur. It resembles Bailey's Irish Cream, but I much prefer the Buffalo Trace. It is made with real cream and has a rich, creamy and sweet taste, just pure hedonistic pleasure. I even tried some mixed with some root beer, which was kind of like a float without the ice cream. Unfortunately, it is currently not sold outside of Kentucky, though I did buy a couple bottles while I was there.
Rain Vodka is certified organic and is produced from 100% organic white corn. The use of corn does provide a link to their bourbon. They have a dedicated vodka still and this vodka is distilled seven times. It actually had an interesting taste, with a bit of sweetness, and was fairly smooth, enough that you probably could drink this alone on ice. I was not expecting it to taste as good as it did, and it is worthy of a recommendation.
They are working on another vodka, which they will name HDW CLIX. The HDW are the initials of their Master Distiller, Harlen Davis Wheatley. The CLIX is the Roman numeral for 159, which will be the number of times that the vodka is distilled. That is an incredible amount of distillations though I am not sure that many is really necessary or will accomplish anything. At some point, multiple distillations probably won't produce any noticeable changes. But I am intrigued to see the final product.