On April 11, 2018, Buffalo Trace Distillery filled its seven millionth barrel since Prohibition. While that’s certainly a big milestone, the distillery isn’t resting on its laurels. Business is definitely booming, and sales are expected to go up. Distillery president and CEO Mark Brown told us Buffalo Trace has made whiskey projections through 2047. A few spirits writers were invited to partake in the celebration and were given a sneak peak at current expansions.
We began the trip with a commemoration of Warehouse AA (yes, that’s its actual name), the first rickhouse built on the distillery’s new farm. This 68,800 barrel capacity warehouse is already almost full. In fact, the photo below was taken from one of the top floors. You can see the barrels on the floor below. The second warehouse, BB, is almost complete while the third, Warehouse CC, was in early stages of construction. Brown told us that 30 warehouses total are to be constructed on the new land over the next decade. The new warehouses have temperature and humidity monitoring, which allows the distillery to fingerprint what each barrel is exposed to. They are also heated with warm water-filled pipes.
While the group tasted some experimental whiskies, including a bourbon matured in Mongolian Oak, we talked more about the distillery’s expansion. Buffalo Trace currently has a capacity of roughly 220,000 barrels a year, according to Master Distiller Harlen Wheatley. The expansion process is obviously multi-tiered. First, new gas boilers and cookers are to be installed. The bottling operation is moving to another part of the distillery, leaving room to add four fermenters, which will raise their capacity to about 240,000 barrels per year.
In addition, a duplicate still will be added. By the way, I believe Buffalo Trace’s beer still is currently the largest in the industry at 84 inches. At that point, with 12 fermenters in place, their barrel capacity moves up to 440,000. They’re not done yet. Adding an additional eight fermenters will move the needle further to around the 550,000 number.
And this is all expected to be completed by 2022.
It was eye-opening to actually see the entire operation in person. I know Buffalo Trace is cranking out a lot of whiskey, but DAMN…this distillery is really cranking out a lot of whiskey!
We also walked around what is to very soon become the sensory lab and company archives. All very cool. Needless to say, the bottle archive room (pictured above) left me in awe.
One of the biggest surprises of the trip involves Sazerac’s partnership with The Last Drop Distillers, a company specializing in rare, ultra-aged spirits. Inside a warehouse at Buffalo Trace is the new cold storage Warehouse P. This room is kept at a constant 45 degrees and has a capacity of 400 barrels. The aim here is to slow down the maturation process, allowing barrels to potentially reach the ripe old age of 50 years while reducing angel’s share and still remaining palatable and not over oaked. The barrel pictured below was originally filled on 4/22/1993, then topped off on 1/21/2013 with a barrel that shared the original’s fill date. New barrels containing different types of whiskey are also being stored in this room.
Equally impressive are all the experiments going on. Look at Warehouse X for example. They are currently studying how temperature affects maturation. We not only got to look around at all five chambers of that warehouse, we got to taste whiskey from each.
Another tasting was stuff they’ve been tinkering with, including a 13-year-old wheat whiskey, an 11-year-old bourbon featuring amaranth in its mashbill, and the upcoming “Craft Your Own Perfect Bourbon” release (we tasted at cask strength, and it was delicious). There were also bourbons aged in different oaks, including Canadian, French, and the aforementioned Mongolian oak. Remember, bourbon can be matured in any new, charred oak container – the rules don’t specifically say American white oak. I’m sure they have a million other experiments they’re keeping under wraps.
The day ended with the ceremonial rolling of the seven millionth barrel into Warehouse V by beloved third-generation distillery employee Freddie Johnson, with a little help from his grandson. Freddie and his late father Jimmy rolled the six millionth barrel into the warehouse a decade ago. A crowd of employees and special guests attended the festivities. I gotta say – it was a real treat to watch this.
So what’s to become of barrel number 6,000,000? The distillery plans to bottle it for charity. Details to follow.
Warning: whiskey geek moment. Eagle-eyed readers may see a familiar name at the center of the barrel. Yep… that would be my mark. Everyone present at the commemoration of Warehouse AA also signed a barrel. Here’s hoping I can get my hands on a bottle from both barrels.
Needless to say, the entire experience was amazing. Many thanks to Buffalo Trace for inviting me along to celebrate. Here’s to the next millionth barrel, which will be here much sooner than later.
Buffalo Trace paid for the entire trip. All thoughts and opinions are my own.