Friday, May 6, 2011

A Not So Bitter Buffalo

I was at the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, KY last week while visiting family in KY. I’ve done tours and tastings at numerous wineries, breweries, and distilleries. And this was probably the best tasting/tour of any kind I have ever done. Ok, maybe it was second – the tour led by Sam at Dogfish for the 2011 WoCAaW was pretty great. Either way, the Buffalo Trace tour is in depth and accessible at the same time. And the tasting is delicious, engaging, and informative.

Our tour guide was Freddie. As it turns out, Freddie’s grandfather worked at the distillery, and Freddie first stepped foot in one of the barrel houses when we was four years-old. Freddie detailed the history of the distillery, discussed the grain bills used for various bourbons, and even listed the six or so that use wheat rather than rye in addition to corn and barley.

After this, we headed out to one of the rickhouses where Freddie proceeded to blow my mind. To begin with, I was shocked to learn that each of BT's bourbons come from different levels in the rickhouse and spend their entire lives in one location. I was under the misconception (from visiting other distilleries) that all bourbon producers rotate barrels to different levels of the rickhouse over the aging period.

I was also intrigued to see BT experimenting with barrels of different sizes. Our tour guide stated that there are no laws regarding the size of the barrel in which Bourbon is aged. The law only states that Bourbon must be aged in toasted new oak barrels for at least two years.

So, imagine my surprise when I learned that Jason Wilson at the Washington Post was also at Buffalo Trace last week. He was there for the unveiling of a new batch of whiskeys from Buffalo Trace’s “Holy Grail Project. The questions being answered – “Does bourbon taste better when it’s aged in barrels made of wood from the top of a white oak tree, or does it taste better in barrels made from the bottom of the tree?” To learn the answer, check out his article on the limited-edition Single Oak Project.

Leaving the rickhouse, one of the people on the tour asked about the “black mold” growing on the rickhouse, the nearby trees, and most of the other buildings on the property. It’s called Baudoinia compniacensis or "Angel's Share Fungus." And it was one of the ways that the Feds caught bootleggers during prohibition. Luckily, the bootleggers quickly realized that if they set up near coal mines, the coal dust and the mold looked pretty similar…

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