I don’t know about you, but when I experience something, it sticks into my mind. I still remember the first time I sampled the Buffalo Trace range, held at The Anthologist Bar near St Paul’s Cathedral, London during London Cocktail Week 2011. It was hear that I met Drew Mayville, Sazerac Buffalo Trace Master Blender, who explained the history and heritage of the brand, as well as how each expression differed. Ever since then, I’ve always had a love for them all, and utilise when I can within my work. You can imagine my delight then when Buffalo Trace announced their new cocktail competition for 2014, and would be holding a master class in Manchester to kick-start the proceedings.
My original article I’ll be quite honest, was poor. Nothing to the standard that I write today. So if you may, ignore my 2011 posting, and read on the new and updated version, complete with diving into the history of Buffalo Trace –
Back in the day, buffalo herds would migrate across the plains of America, unintentionally carving paths that were later used by the first American pioneers and explorers to travel west. One of the now more famous trails led to the banks of the Kentucky river, the now home of the Buffalo Trace Distillery for the past 200 years. The history of the site though can go back to 1792 when Commodore Richard Taylor built the stone ‘Riverside’ house, a building that still stands to this day. From their, in 1811 another building was built, this time three-stories high, on the banks of the Kentucky river close to the Riverside house. Here, whisky barrels and other goods were kept to await shipping. It’s also here that Harrison Blanton is said to have started distilling in the upcoming years. 1858 saw a small distillery built by Daniel Swigert on the warehouse and Riverside house site, but by 1870, Colonel Edmund Haynes Taylor Jnr purchased the distillery and re-named it Old Fire Copper (O.F.C.) Distillery. Two years later, he invested $70,000, building a new distillery.
In 1878, Taylor sold the distillery to George T. Stagg, with Edmund Taylor still running the operations. Despite ‘The Great Fire’ of 1882 as a result of a lightning strike, the re-built distillery opened a year later and still houses the mashing and fermentation wing in the Dickel Building. With a new warehouse opening in 1885, and the introduction of steam heating a year later, the distillery was at the fore-front of modern distillation. Albert B. Blanton joins at the age of 16 in 1897, rising to still house, warehouse and bottling superintendent in 1900 before re-christening the distillery the George T. Stagg Distillery in 1904.
When Prohibition came into force in 1920, the distillery was one of the few to keep itself in business, seeking permission to distill their whisky for medicinal purposes and the rare act of creating new whisky between 1930 and 1933. Before this though, Albert B. Blanton became president of the distillery in 1921, then purchased by Schenley Distillers Corporation in 1929, resulting in the expansion of the distillery between 1935 and 1937. 1949 saw Elmer T. Lee join the company, the future Master Distiller.
The world’s first ever single-barrel bourbon, Blanton’s, was released in 1984, before returning to a family owned company; Sazerac Company. After distillery renovations, its flagship brand Buffalo Trace was released in 1999, alongside the renaming of the distillery to its now familiar title. With this, it won ‘Distillery of the Year’ in 2000 by Whisky Advocate, the American distillery to win the award. Current Master Distiller Harlen Wheatley joined the post in 2005,
Many a legendary figure involved with the continuous production of the Buffalo Trace range. But how is it all really made?
For Buffalo Trace, corn and rye are milled and then cooked. The corn is cooked under pressure for 45 minutes using Kentucky limestone water, unlike the rye, resulting in the two being brought together to create the mash that will start off the fermentation process. The mash is pumped into the fermentation tanks, alongside small amounts of set back from previous distillations. Here, the sour mash will rest for 3-5 days before being pumped to the stills.
The first distillation is through a column still, then through a copper pot still, where the resulting liquid has been coined with the nickname ‘White Dog’. The high abv liquid is transferred into brand new white oak barrels from the Ozark mountains. The barrels are actually aged for 6 months in the production yard (the only distillery to do this) and then charred heavy on the inside before being used. Buffalo Trace will stay in the barrel for at least 8 years, housed in the middle of the warehouse so it gains the different temperatures from each season, resulting in the maximum flavour extract. Once aged, 40 barrels are chosen at a time and each tasted individually to make sure they match the profile of Buffalo Trace. Once chosen, those barrels will then be put into the batch, hence the name ‘small batch bourbon’, and bottled and corked by hand.
So with such an extensive range from the Buffalo Trace family, how does each fare? Well below, I give to you my tasting notes on each that I have been lucky enough to experience –
Buffalo Trace – 40%
Red berry and vanilla on the nose with hints of toffee making its way through near the end. A slight spice from the rye is also present. On the palate, a slight spice to begin with develops into a long, wild after-taste with fruit flavours coating. Smooth offering, a little dry, resulting in a lingering finish with some citrus cuts.
An unaged bourbon, on the nose it gave a distinct corn and grain aroma on the nose, with green grass mixing with a slight sweetness. Spice on the palate, with a developing warmth, slight green fruit flavours resulting in a long finish.
Benchmark Bourbon Old Number 8 – 40%
Plenty of caramel on the nose, with dashes of fruit and wood coming through sporadically. Light on the palate, with a good combination of oak, cherries and a growing warmth of leather.
Eagle Rare Single Barrel – 45%
Aged for no less than 10 years. Fresh fruit with intense caramel, wood flavourings to create quite a mature whisky nose with hints of chocolate, toffee and fudge. A sharp, robust yet more complex flavours of raisins and dry fruits fill the palate, alongside burn toffee and a velvet texture to create a long, slightly fiery finish.
Eagle Rare 17yr – 45%
Released once a year in the Autumn from 10 selected barrels. Plenty of wood aromas with hints of smoke wrap around fresh fruit to give a silky effect on the nose. The palate encounters rather intense fruit flavours with a slight spice to overtake the wood. It’s slightly drier, especially in the long after-taste. A very heavy bourbon offering.
George T. Stagg – 71.3%
Sampled in 2011 at 71.3% abv and at an age released at between 15-16 years. A very strong nose of cinnamon spice, dried fruit and toffee sweetness, mellowing onto the palate. Slight tobacco and vanilla round off the flavours on the short finish.
George T. Stagg – 64.1%
Sampled in 2014 at 64.1% and at an age released at 16.5 years. Rich vanilla on the nose with a slight medicinal aroma with hints of wood to finish. A smooth start on the palate, developing a warmth that bring with it dry spice to a surprisingly lively finish. Mouth-watering.
Stagg Jr – 67.2%
Uncut and unfiltered, aged for nearly a decade. Soft and subtle aromatic fruit on the nose. A very sharp, very hard-hitting flavour of rye and spice on the palate, but soon mellows to a spicy, lingering finish with slight citrus bursts.
Elmer T. Lee – 45%
Sampled in 2011 at an age released at between 9-10 years. On the nose, a very light offering of vanilla and butterscotch creating a smooth, soft and slightly sweet aroma. A sweeter taste of honey and vanilla with some intense fruits on the palate creates a rather creamier bourbon to almost class it as a dessert wine.
Instant sweetness on the nose with aromas of exotic fruits that carries onto the palate. A round offering of fruit, spice and honey combine well to create a long finish.
Lots of oak, walnut and dry spices on the nose with a good balance of toffee, chocolate, vanilla and rich toffee on the palate. Incredibly long, smooth and silky.
Thomas H. Handy – 64.2%
Sampled in 2014 at 64.2% abv (batch barrel strength) and at an age released at between 8 and 10 years from 15 selected barrels.
A vibrant and strong aroma of fruit and spice mix well on the nose whilst a nutty, rye flavour develops on the palate. A long lingering taste of fresh spice to finish.
Sazerac Rye – 45%
Aged between 6 to 8yrs. On the nose, a spicy aroma mixes with pear to produce a soft fruit offering with a slight sweetness. The spice makes a slightly intense presence on the tongue but develops into a sweeter ending.
Sazerac Rye 18yr – 45%
Released once a year with just 28 barrels per bottling. A spicy aroma on the nose dominates but the palate embraces a smooth, delicate balance of chocolate, cinnamon and vanilla to create a long, warm finish.
W.L. Weller – 45%
Aged for a minimum of 12 years and is the original wheated bourbon. Light and soft with subtle wheat aromas coming through Very light with thin honey flavours, smooth caramel and finishing with a slight spice blended with butter and vanilla.
Aged between 10 and 14 years and is an uncut and unfiltered Kentucky bourbon, fresh oak with light toffee are present on the nose, with a slight pepper aroma. Dry fruits are evidently present and becomes strong and intense. Plenty of caramel and corn too, resulting in a sweet finish.
Colonel E.H. Taylor Small Batch – 50%
Named after Colonel Edmund Haynes Taylor and aged inside century old warehouses constructed by E.H. Taylor, Jr.
Slightly dry on the nose, with aromas of cooked banana bread and rich oak. Smooth on the palate, with flavours of butterscotch, caramel and hints of spice offering a tingling finish.
Such an incredible range, and one that is hard to pinpoint a singular favourite. There are a couple that I am yet to experience, including the other E.H. Taylor Jr expressions, their experimental collection, the Single Oak Project, the A. Smith Bowman Distillery collection, and the 1972 Ridgemont Reserve, as well as the Van Winkle range that is also produced at the distillery.
Some of the range are versatile too, and you can enjoy such classics as –
The Official Sazerac Cocktail
35 ml Sazerac Rye
1 cube sugar
7 ml Herbasaint (or absinthe as a substitute)
3 Dashes Peychauds Bitters
Pack an Old-Fashioned glass with ice. In a second Old-Fashioned glass place the sugar cube and add the Peychaud’s Bitters to it, then crush the sugar cube. Add the Sazerac Rye Whiskey to the second glass containing the Peychaud’s Bitters and sugar. Empty the ice from the first glass and coat the glass with the Herbsaint, then discard the remaining Herbsaint. Empty the whiskey/bitters/sugar mixture from the second glass into the first glass and garnish with lemon peel.
90 ml Buffalo Trace
4 Sprigs of Mint
2 teaspoons of sugar or to taste
In a julep tin, add the mint, sugar and Buffalo Trace. Muddle well and ensure the sugar has dissolved. Fill with shaved ice and stir until the outside of the tin frosts up. Garnish with a sprig of mint.
Perfect for any time of the day. But it’s not just drinks that you could enjoy with the Buffalo Trace family. How about this menu of food matching, created by the chef’s at Rosylee Tearoom’s, Manchester –
Pan fried seabass, celeriac, vanilla puree, salad of courgette, samphire and baby onions
W. L. Weller Whisky Sour
Pan roast pork fillet, smoked spice pork belly, pomme puree, vanilla cider sauce, honey roast carrots
1/2 Sazeray rye and 1/2 Buffalo Trace within a Manhattan
And for Dessert:
Vanilla bean pannacotta, rhubarb crumble with poached rhubarb, white chocolate shards, raspberry sorbet
Superb! I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of cocktails will be thought up by bartenders in the upcoming competition, and I’ll be their to follow the action so come back in June for some more inspirational ideas. In the meantime, stock up on your drinks cabinet, you’ve got some bourbon to enjoy.
© David Marsland and Drinks Enthusiast 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog/sites author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to David Marsland and Drinks Enthusiast with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.