The rumblings about the demise of the private barrel selection program at Buffalo Trace aren’t quite accurate yet, although it’s certainly true that not all brands are available for private barrels. Don’t even ask for Weller 12 or Pappy. But surprisingly, Elmer T. Lee and Blanton’s were in the mix last week when I had the pleasure of giving my 2 cents on the selection of Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare, Weller Special Reserve, Old Weller Antique, Elmer T. Lee and Blanton’s with the experts at Cork ‘N Bottle (click here for the website) and the Whiskey Barrel Society.
The history at Buffalo Trace is palpable. Distilling on this picturesque site situated on the Kentucky River began as early as 1811. It moved from a small distillery to an industrial complex when Col. E. H. Taylor, Jr. bought the property in 1870 and christened his distillery the “O.F.C.” (“Old Fire Copper”) Distillery. Col. Taylor was a titan of bourbon, and during his life he owned interests in other famous distilleries like the Carlisle Distillery (built with his then-partner, George T. Stagg, next to the O.F.C.), the Old Oscar Pepper Distillery (later Labrot & Graham and now Woodford Reserve), the J.S. Taylor Distillery, and the abandoned but recently purchased Old Taylor Distillery.
Our pre-barrel-selection tour included the standard stop inside Warehouse C, built in 1881. I’ve been on the tour before and heard mostly the same speech, so I started looking at barrel heads and found this one:
Other information on the barrel showed that it was made with mash bill #1 but Fred, our tour guide, didn’t know what this was, and Buffalo Trace hasn’t responded to my inquiries.
We also saw a new version of “O.F.C.” aging, which is made with a new recipe using white corn, which was reported to have been the way Col. Taylor did it.
Our walk through the Albert B. Blanton Bottling Hall whetted my appetite even more. They just so happened to be bottling the upcoming edition of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection George T. Stagg, which this year weighs in at 138.1 proof. I’ve never seen more than two bottles of George T. Stagg in one room, so needless to say, this was pretty awe-inspiring.
Still, of course, the whole point of the trip was to help select barrels, and we had our work cut out for us because Cork ‘N Bottle had thirty-nine to choose from. The tasting room at Buffalo Trace is located in Warehouse H, which was built in 1934 by then-Master Distiller Col. Albert B. Blanton. We started with eighteen barrels of Buffalo Trace, from which we selected eight, then moved to selecting four barrels of Eagle Rare. Then we hit some of my favorites: We got to pick two out of six barrels of 7½ year-old Weller (one for W.L. Weller Special Reserve and the other for Old Weller Antique; all barrels were about 121 proof), one out of three Elmer T. Lee barrels (9 years old and about 130 proof) and one out of three Blanton’s (6 years old at about 125 proof). What a day!
I’ve reviewed most of these brands, but never the namesake brand, so this is the perfect opportunity to review the standard variety of Buffalo Trace bourbon available everywhere. Buffalo Trace bourbon uses the distillery’s mash bill #1, which is shared with Eagle Rare, the E.H. Taylor, Jr. collection, the George T. Stagg collection, Old Charter, and Benchmark. This is the “low-rye” mash bill, which is estimated to contain only about 10% rye grain. Even Buffalo Trace’s “high-rye” mash bill is not particularly high, reportedly with only about 15% rye grain.
Bourbon: Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Distillery: Buffalo Trace, Frankfort, Kentucky
Age: NAS (Buffalo Trace tells me 8-9 years though)
Proof: 90 proof
Nice traditional amber.
The primary scents are vanilla, corn, with just a bit of leather and mint, and not much oak to speak of. Overall it has a pleasant nose, although not the most intriguing, and more alcohol smell than I expected for the proof.
The taste starts with corn, brown sugar and a little toffee, and quickly moves to spice, before giving hints of toast and oak. There seems to be a bit of dark fruits, but it’s very subdued. A little water goes a long way and probably removes too much of the spice.
The finish is medium in length with slight bitterness that I didn’t expect, but mostly licorice, rye spice and oak.
While I certainly like it, Buffalo Trace bourbon has never been my personal favorite, and except for George T. Stagg, I’m generally more a fan of the mash bill #2 bourbons. Still, there is no denying that Buffalo Trace is a great mid entry-level buy, and it’s heads and shoulders above many of its competitors. I’ll definitely get the Cork ‘N Bottle private barrel bottling in the fall, but frankly I’m more excited about the Old Weller Antique, Elmer T. Lee and Blanton’s private barrels.
Score on The Sipp’n Corn Scale: 3.0
The Sipp’n Corn Scale:
1 – Wouldn’t even accept a free drink of it.
2 – Would gladly drink it if someone else was buying.
3 – Glad to include this in my bar.
4 – Excellent bourbon. Worth the price and I’m sure to always have it in my bar.
5 – Wow. I’ll search high and low to get another bottle of this.