Though the Jack Daniels tour was a great experience, I thought I might get something else out of a smaller distillery, and I still had a hankering for a sip of bourbon. On the last day of my trip, barely following a breakfast of tea and donuts, I arrived at the Buffalo Trace Distillery in the capitol city of Frankfort, Kentucky. It was a foggy Tuesday morning, but the 10 am tour had ten people on it nonetheless. Buffalo Trace, as a brand, has been around since 1998, but the distillery has been in continuous operation longer than any other in the United States, since 1870. That’s right – “continuous.” The OFC distillery was one of four in the US that continued to distill spirits during the nearly 14 years of Prohibition, as a medicinal product! Although the Buffalo Trace label is considered a small batch, there are many other bourbon products produced there, some at a more premium level (Blanton’s, Eagle Rare), some slightly less so. They also bottle a wide variety of other products that were produced elsewhere, including vodka, rum, tequila, etc. As a result, though Buffalo Trace is certainly produced on a smaller scale than Jack Daniels, the size of the operation is not noticeably different.
The standard (free) “Trace” tour includes two half-shot samples, a couple history stops, a visit to a small
warehouse, and a walk through the smallest bottling room. There is also a self-guided walking tour of the grounds, with identification of the historic buildings. Seeing the bottling room was pretty cool, especially since it was in normal operation when I visited on a weekday. I didn’t really miss seeing the production facilities, but that was partly because I had seen them at Jack Daniel’s. Based on my extensive visits to breweries, I surmise that the basic production does not change significantly from one facility to the next. If this is the only place you plan to go, though, you should make reservations for the “hardhat” tour which will take you through some of these other buildings, or even the history tour which will go more into architecture and history. As for me… maybe next time!
The one thing that I wasn’t able to photograph in either location was the scent. If you like whiskey, that might be your favorite take-away from an in-person visit. In the warehouses, the leaky barrels fill the old buildings with intense whisky fumes, known in the industry as the “angel’s share.” Outside, the pervasive smell of fermenting corn mash is reminiscent of a sweet, extra-flavorful bread or breakfast cereal. Mmmm.