Press Releases Whiskey

Buffalo Trace Distillery Plays with Fire

I'm always fascinated with the things being done by Buffalo Trace Distillery. They're constantly experimenting, trying to find new ways to make fine bourbon. A lot of them don't work, but that's just part of the fun. Here's their latest, which sounds like it produced some good results.

Just in time for colder weather, Buffalo Trace Distillery offers a solution to your winter chills. The latest Experimental Collection bourbons both survived the heat. The Hot Box Toasted Barrel Bourbon Whiskey and #7 Heavy Char Barrel Bourbon Whiskey are the two latest offerings from the Kentucky distillery.

Both of these experiments study the effects of extreme heat on oak barrels and the flavor of the bourbon inside.

The Hot Box Toasted Barrel Bourbon involved placing the barrel staves into a “Hot Box” at 133 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, the staves were steamed before being assembled into a barrel. The goal was to drive the flavors deep into the wood.  Next the barrels were filled with Buffalo Trace Rye Bourbon Mash #2 and left to age for 16 years and 8 months.  The resulting bourbon is a well-balanced whiskey with fruity notes complimented by a caramel and buttery taste. 

The #7 Heavy Char Barrel Bourbon Whiskey experiment used barrels which were charred for 3.5 minutes, as opposed to the normal 55 second char used by Buffalo Trace typically.  The barrels were then filled with Buffalo Trace Rye Bourbon Mash #2 and left to age for 15 years and 9 months.  The end result is a bourbon with an oaky aroma followed by a body that is heavy and complex. A smoky and robust flavor, with fantastic woody notes and hints of vanilla, fruit and tannin.  It is dry and balanced.  

“Toying with barrels is fun and interesting. It’s quite dramatic to see how something as simple as an extra heavy barrel char can influence the taste of bourbon,” said Harlen Wheatley, master distiller. “Both of these experiments yielded very interesting and balanced flavor profiles that I think most people will enjoy tasting.” 

These “hot” barrels are part of the more than 1,500 experimental barrels of whiskey aging in the warehouses of Buffalo Trace Distillery. Each of these barrels has unique characteristics that differentiate it from all others. Some examples of these experiments include unique mash bills, type of wood and barrel toasts. In order to further increase the scope, flexibility and range of the experimental program, an entire micro distillery, named The Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr. “OFC” Micro Distillery, complete with cookers, fermenting tanks, and a state-of-the-art micro still has been constructed within Buffalo Trace Distillery.

The Experimental Collection will be packaged in 375ml bottles. Each label will include all the pertinent information unique to that barrel of whiskey. These whiskeys will retail for approximately $46.35 each. These rare experimental bottles should be available in late January or early February. For more information on the Experimental Collection or the other products of Buffalo Trace Distillery, please contact Kris Comstock at

Hot Box Barrel Toast & Heavy Char #7


Size Matters – At Least When It Comes to Whiskey

One of the reasons that the spirits world is so fascinating today is because of all the experimentation that is going on. There are so many different distilleries, large and small, doing so many different things that the sky's the limit when it comes to the possibilities for new products, techniques and innovations.

Case in point: the excellent work being by Buffalo Trace Distillery. I've mentioned their fascinating Single Oak Project a couple of times, and although I haven't yet had the opportunity to taste any of their offerings, they've been getting rave reviews. (I just read F. Paul Pacult's thoughts on the subject last night.) But not all of their experiments produce positive results, as the company recently announced:

Using 5, 10, and 15 gallon barrels, the company filled each small barrel with the same mash bill (Buffalo Trace Rye Bourbon Mash #1) around the same time, and aged them side by side in a  warehouse for six years.

The results were less than stellar.  Even though the barrels did age quickly, and picked up the deep color and smokiness from the char and wood, each bourbon yielded less wood sugars than typical from a 53 gallon barrel, resulting in no depth of flavor.

“As expected, the smaller 5 gallon barrel aged bourbon faster than the 15 gallon version. However, it’s as if they all bypassed a step in the aging process and just never gained that depth of flavor that we expect from our bourbons.  Even though these small barrels did not meet our expectations, we feel it’s important to explore and understand the differences between the use of various barrel sizes,” said Master Distiller Harlen Wheatley.

Each of the three small barrel bourbons were tasted annually to check on their maturation progress, then left alone to continue aging, hoping the taste would get better with time.  Finally, after six years, the team at Buffalo Trace concluded the barrels were not going to taste any better and decided to chalk up the experiment to a lesson learned. 


Interesting information — and controversial as well. Apparently some people, especially those involved with the smaller whiskey distilleries, took this announcement as a insult. Briefly, the craft whiskey distilleries often age their whiskey in small barrels, thus accelerating the process and allowing them to bring their product to market faster. They felt that BT was making a blanket condemnation of their methods (and their whiskey).

I'm going to take Buffalo Trace's statement at face value and not speculate on their motives. Because ultimately I think what they're saying is likely true, and therefore it's valuable information. Based on their experiments, they concluded that making traditional bourbon whiskey in small barrels doesn't work.

That's not to say that good whiskey can't be made in different ways. But this particular one apparently didn't work. If that's a challenge to small producers, I think it's more because of the results, rather than the announcement. And if craft distilleries are able to make tasty bourbon in small barrels, then the proof will be in their product.

As I stated at the outset, part of the beauty of today's spirits business is that different people are trying different things. And that's good. Ultimately, the consumer benefits, and good drinks are had.

Cocktails Drink Recipes Whiskey

The Manhattan Project

Kevin Sintumuang had an excellent article in the Wall Street Journal recently on one of the best, most enduring cocktails of all: the Manhattan.

Take a sip. It's not a race—just a sip. Now savor. Cinnamon. Oak. Vanilla. Mint. Cornbread. Dark cherries, even. The flavors of the Manhattan seem to go on forever. Crazy good, huh? Amazing for a drink that really only has three ingredients: whiskey, vermouth, a dash of bitters. That's the beauty of the cocktail. It's gimmick-free.

You wouldn't think that it would taste so good. Whiskey mixed with aromatized wine? Sounds kinda gross, doesn't it? But the combination is magical, especially when the flavors are bound together with the addition of bitters. (Adding bitters to a cocktail is like adding salt to french fries. Sure you can eat them without it. But why would you want to?)

So how do you make a Manhattan? It's one of the easiest drinks around.



2 oz Bourbon or Rye Whiskey
1 oz Sweet Vermouth
2 Dashes of Angostura Bitters

Stir with ice, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a maraschino cherry. 


Whether you use rye or bourbon whiskey is a matter of personal preference. Bourbon makes for a slightly sweeter, smoother drink. Rye gives it a touch of zing that is very nice. If you prefer to shake this drink, you can shake it. If you prefer it on the rocks — like I do — you can serve it that way. You can also omit the cherry if you don't have any. It's not essential.

As you can see, the Manhattan is a flexible cocktail. Perhaps the coolest thing about the Manhattan, the feature that makes it different from so many other cocktails, is its potential for experimentation. As Sintumuang points out, the Manhattan is endlessly variable — and what's more, it can easily be altered by even the least imaginative of mixologists and still produce a fine libation.

The beauty of the Manhattan is that it only calls for three ingredients—a framework that allows anyone, be it a home bartender, spirits nerd or pro cocktailian, to experiment with confidence. Following the classic recipe above, play with different types of whiskey, vermouth or bitters, and you'll be sipping an entirely new concoction each time.

He includes a guide for Manhattan experimentation, with suggestions for different types of whiskeys, different types of vermouth, and different types of bitters. But even beyond that, you can mix up variations on the Manhattan that take its flavor in bold new directions, while still remaining true to the essential nature of the drink.

One of the most common of these variations calls for replacing the vermouth (some or all of it) with amaro, one of the myriad varieties of bitter Italian liqueurs. Probably the best known of these is the Black Manhattan, which omits the vermouth and instead uses Averna. (This is a good drink, as long as you don't mind the bitterness. Averna has strong accents of orange flavor that work nicely in the Manhattan.)

Other variations call for the addition of a small amount of another spirit, such as orange curacao, Cherry Heering, maraschino liqueur or Fernet Branca. The possibilities truly are endless. As long as you keep as your foundation the essential nature of the Manhattan, you can experiment with discovering the flavors that you like best.

The article shares several recipes for variations on the drink from top bartenders around the country. As if that weren't enough, it also includes a guide to where you can find the best Manhattans in Manhattan. It's a veritable cornucopia of Manhattan-y goodness! Bravo, Wall Street Journal.



Buffalo Trace Distillery’s Single Oak Project

BtdBuffalo Trace Distillery, one of the world's most prestigious producer of whiskeys, recently announced the fourth round of their Single Oak Project bourbon. This ongoing experiment tests how a set of different factors affects the development of whiskey.

The project started in 1999 when Buffalo Trace selected 96 oak trees, which were then crafted into 192 different barrels, each made from the same section of the same tree. Some of the barrels were thicker than others, some were aged more, and they were charred to two different levels. The distillery filled each of the barrels with either wheat or rye recipe bourbon, at one of two proofs, and aged the barrels on different floors of two separate warehouses.

In this way, they created 192 slightly different whiskeys, each with at least one factor different from all the rest. This allowed the distillery to track how the various factors affected the flavor of the resulting bourbon. Barrels

Buffalo Trace is now releasing the whiskeys in batches of four and asking consumers to vote on them. (This whiskey ain't cheap, as you'd imagine. But it's not ridiculously expensive — around $46 for a 375ml bottle.) At the end of the project, they'll select the winner and bottle it under the Single Oak Project label.

The first three rounds of whiskeys were released last year, and they received some very good notices.

Now comes the bad news: I haven't tasted any of these bourbons! The quantities are very limited, not surprisingly, and I haven't been able to find any of them. The state-run liquor stores in Virginia carry a decent selection of bourbon, but they're not strong on the exotic stuff like this.

If anyone has tried these whiskeys, please let us know.