The Buffalo Trace Distillery stands in the city of Frankfort, on the banks of the Kentucky River and can lay claim to being the oldest of its kind – though this is often contested by Burks’ Distillery in Loretto, Kentucky which dates from around 1805. Such is the distillery’s significance, it was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on May 2, 2001 before also being designated a National Historical Landmark in March of 2013.
The earliest record of distilling at this location can be found in 1775 when brothers Hancock and Willis Lee ran a small still. By 1811 however, the site housed a small warehouse in which to store whiskey as it awaited shipment to New Orleans and beyond.
The distillery was modernised in 1858 by a man named Daniel Swigert, then purchased in 1870 by Colonel Edmund Haynes Taylor who christened it O.F.C. – Old Fired Copper – a tribute to his belief that the finest whiskey was produced in traditional wood-fired, copper stills. The Colonel invested more than $70,000 in upgrading the distillery before selling it on just two years later to George T. Stagg.
Stagg oversaw additional upgrades and rebuilt after a lightning strike caused a devastating fire in 1882. By 1886 he had installed steam heating in the warehouse, making the distillery the first in the country to use a climate control system. Such was Stagg’s incredible influence, the distillery was renamed in his honour in 1904.
During the dark days of prohibition, the George T. Stagg distillery was one of the few plants granted permission to continue producing whiskey under the auspices of doing so for ‘medicinal purposes’. It is for this reason the distillery can lay claim to being in continuous production since its foundation, where so many others were forced into closure.
In 1992 the plant once again changed hands, this time acquired by the Sazerac Company. Massive renovation work began, culminating in the renaming of the site to Buffalo Trace in 1999, supposedly inspired by the ancient Buffalo crossing on the nearby riverbank.
Today, the Buffalo Trace distillery produces an incredible array of brands including Buffalo Trace, Col. E. H. Taylor, Eagle Rare, George T. Stagg, Stagg Jr., O.F.C., Sazerac, W.L. Weller and Wheatley Vodka, as well as working in partnership with the Van Winkle family to create their much sought after range of Pappy Van Winkle bourbon whiskey.
First launched in 1999, the Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon is the distillery’s flagship. Around 25 – 30 barrels go into each batch before it is bottled at 40% abv.
Buffalo Trace retails in the UK for approximately £25 a bottle.
Smell: Vanilla. Toffee popcorn. Sweetcorn. Orange. Caramel and a dusting of cinnamon. Wee splash of rum.
Taste: Lots of Toffee. Rum again. Brown sugar. Charred oak and woody spice. Raisins. Coffee. Vanilla.
Value for Money: Not the most complex dram you’ll ever come across but if full flavour is your thing, you certainly get bang for your buck with Buffalo Trace.
Like a big old hug in a dram. The whiskey equivalent of comfort food – warm, rich and rather satisfying. Perhaps doesn’t offer much in the way of surprises but for just £25 a bottle there can be few complaints.