For hundreds, perhaps even thousands of years, buffalo carved paths through the American wilderness. Early settlers to Kentucky followed their tracks - or trace - down to the banks of the Kentucky River. Buffalo Trace and its predecessors have been distilling whiskies in that location for more than 200 years. Let's look at its flagship brand - Buffalo Trace Straight Bourbon Whiskey.
Where the Buffalo Roamed The Buffalo Trace distillery is located close to downtown Frankfort, Kentucky and within sight of the state capital on the banks of the Kentucky River. The distillery - now owned by Sazerac Company - has had its share of names, including the George T. Stagg Distillery and the Old Fire Copper (O.F.C.) whose monikers now grace its elite brands. The buildings visible today at the site date back to the time of Colonel Edmund Haynes Taylor, Jr. (E.H. Taylor) who purchased the operations in 1870 and named it O.F.C – referencing that the finest bourbon was produced in old, wood-fired copper stills. Taylor ultimately moved his operations nearby and established the Old Taylor Distillery (now home to Castle & Key). E.H. was also instrumental in driving the passage of the 1897 Bottled-in-Bond Act. George T. Stagg purchased the distillery in 1879. During Prohibition, the distillery operated under the Schenley Distillers Corporation by producing “medicinal alcohol”. In 1992, the operations were purchased by family-owned Sazerac Company, and in 1999, the Buffalo Trace Distillery was re-christened.
Early visitors to the site were curious why there wasn't a bourbon called "Buffalo Trace". Conversations with Master Distiller Elmer T. Lee went to some of the best floors in the best warehouses to fine some of the finest barrels that he felt matched up to the full-bodied, robust character that a Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey should taste like. The resulting bourbon was brought to market as Buffalo Trace. The Tasting Buffalo Trace keeps its mash bill a secret, disclosing only that it is made with their "#1" mash bill which is their "low rye" grain blend, containing 10% or less rye. The mash bill is shared with other Buffalo products, including George T. Stagg, Eagle Rare, and E.H. Taylor Small Batch. The bourbon is made from small batches (no more than 40 barrels) and is aged on the middle floors of warehouses. It is bottled at 90-proof and while it does not contain an age statement, most feel it is made from bourbons that have aged 8-10 years.
Color: Medium copper that displays thick legs when gently swirled inside the Glencarin glass.
Nose: Vanilla with caramel-drizzled creme' brulee and baking spices. Palate: Easy sipping and gentle with brown sugar and toffee notes along with subtle corn pudding. Very nicely balanced with a good chew and some light mint undertones. Finish: Charred oak with peppercorn spice. Medium in length. Nicely full-flavored. Overall: This is a bourbon to keep around. I wouldn't call the flavor profile truly unique, but this is an inexpensive bourbon (around $25) that drinks like something priced 50% higher. In my mind, this is a pretty good bang-for-the-buck pour. What astounds me, though, is the somewhat rarity of the brand - depending on your locale. In Kentucky and other locations, this is almost always on the shelf in large quantities. In Central Illinois, it's often unseen (with empty shelf slots) or instead held behind the counter or in a glass case like a bourbon 4-times its price point and on occasion, marked up considerably. Hopefully with improved capacity at Buffalo Trace, this, and its older sibling Eagle Rare, will once again, become a little less rare.