Buffalo Trace Distillery Overview
There are an assortment of tour types available at Buffalo Trace Distillery. The standard tour you’ll get if you walk up to the gift shop is what we experienced. We tried reserving the Hard Hat Tour three weeks out, but it was booked. The Hard Hat tour seems widely praised and sounds like you get the factory production tour that’s typical of most other distilleries.
Other tours are a historical landmark tour, a barrel aging tour, and lastly a ghost tour, which sounds kind of fun. All tours end with a tasting.
The company claims early settlers first distilled on the site in 1775 and whiskey has been produced there since 1787. The name Buffalo Trace is a reference to where buffalo once crossed the Kentucky River. Prior to called Buffalo Trace Distillery, it was the George T Stagg Distillery and before that Old Fire Copper Distillery. Across from the Visitor’s Center is Warehouse C, which has OFC branded in the brick.
Buffalo Trace Distillery has sort of a amusement park feel. We parked our car in a good-sized parking lot that was packed. Lots of people were walking around and there was a special kind of energy in the air. The tour is free and we waited a few moments out front for the group to form. We were then led into a small room off of Warehouse D, I believe. In the room there was makeshift seating of old church pews, park benches, and chairs. The room is decorated with various old-timey equipment. A short history/marketing video is viewed and then we’re led through a door hidden behind a shelf into the warehouse.
The warehouse is like any other warehouse, oddly cool on a hot day, packed with barrels, and that familiar smell of musty old wood, corn, and alcohol. Each barrel head is stamped with various brands, so it’s fun to spot stuff. There were a number labeled with red experimental stickers that was kind of neat to see.
After the warehouse, we were led to the Blanton’s bottling hall where they were bottling up Blanton’s. The room was an interesting low volume production. A handful of people by hand pulled bottles out of their boxes, filled them six at a time, hand corked them, then carefully applied wax to the seal the corks. The process here is they place a cardboard collar on the bottle to catch any dripped wax and apply the wax with sort of mounted pen applicator. Also interesting is, if you didn’t know, each bottle of Blanton’s has one of 8 different corks depicting a horse and jockey running in various poses. There’s no method to corking the bottles, the worker simply grabs one out of a box. From there the bottle continues down the line to be boxed up.
After the bottling room, we were led into the visitor center for our tasting. Offered was Buffalo Trace, White Dog, Eagle Rare, and Bourbon Cream. To cap it off you get a chilled Bourbon Ball. The wife loved the Bourbon Cream and Bourbon Ball.
The gift shop didn’t have anything special and basically offered what they had tasting. I think they said they normally carry Blanton’s but were out, which is a juxtaposition of the silliness of the three tier system with the bottling operation a few feet away. Also in the gift shop was various trinkets and branded merch. I was interested in getting a cool charred barrel stave for collecting those Blanton’s toppers, but they were out. (Wife ordered me one for the following Christmas. She’s a keeper). You can also cheat and buy the toppers in the gift shop.
Buffalo Trace Distillery grounds are well groomed and it’s cool seeing some of famous warehouses. Such as that Warehouse C where the tornado took the roof off. That damage was turned into a marketing win for a limited run of EH Taylor Jr “Tornado Surviving” Bourbon. Towards the end of the parking lot you can see Warehouse H where Blanton’s is aged. H is metal clad and being metal it gets warmer, which should accelerate aging profiles. Warehouse H was constructed for this reason after prohibition to get some Bourbon aging quickly.
The tour isn’t anything particularly special or informative, but considering Buffalo Trace’s footprint in the Bourbon world, it’s eventually a must see. Plus, it’s hard to beat the price of free. The Buffalo Trace Distillery isn’t on the official Bourbon Trail, so perhaps they’re passing savings from membership fees to visitors. With all of the popular Bourbon brands made/bottled there and judging from the crowd, they don’t need much help attracting visitors.
The tour took about an hour, but it all depends on the group. If you want to hang around the tasting room, browse the gift shop and wander the grounds a bit, plan at least 90 minutes. Next time I want to check out the Hard Hat Tour and Ghost Tour.
Buffalo Trace Distillery
113 Great Buffalo Trace
Frankfort, KY 40601
Tour Date: September 2014