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Bourbon Trail Distillery Tour Review: Buffalo Trace

Posted on by Eric Burke

Editor’s note: Please note that I went on this tour a month ago now, Easter Weekend. I might have gotten a few of the details messed up, but I think my memory is pretty accurate. And you might have a different experience since it was a holiday. Also this is not an official Bourbon Trail stop, but is one you should go on anyway. You’re right there. You might as well. Ok. On with the show. 

It’s Saturday morning. We’ve had storms all night. At one point the thunder is so loud that I jump straight out of bed and land on the floor looking to make sure the ceiling is still above me. Reports of flooding are rampant. I’ve got one distillery to go and after a bit of packing I’m ready to go.

As we head out of Bardstown for the last time on this trip we notice that the thunder was only the most audible of the storm’s effects. Branches are down everywhere and there are a traces that running water was everywhere too in the not too distant past.

We get to Frankfort a little early. There is a definite need for some coffee. Can you believe that the only coffee place in Bardstown was closed still at 8am? So we stop for coffee and plan what we are going to try to do when we get to Buffalo Trace. 

We get there just as they are opening and we get on the first tour of the morning. We had reservations for the Hard Hat tour a little later, but are assured of making it back in time. So we decide to give it a try. 

The first thing I notice while waiting for the Trace Tour to start is that we are in a beautiful old building. The second, as I chat with the tour guide, is that I think I am going to like this tour. Our tour guide is JW (editors note: I’m pretty sure…it has been a month now). This guy is awesome! So much raw excitement.

We start out with a little history. Then we head over to another building for a movie. This movie is as good as the rest. That is to say very informative and nicely done. After the movie JW takes questions and then we are asked to gather in the back of the room. 

Once we are in the back of the room, JW gives an old cabinet a pull and it pops out from the wall. It’s actually a doorway to get into one of the aging warehouses. It’s a small thing, but is impressively cool none the less. 

 Unlike some of the other tours we’ve been on, we don’t go into the rick house very far. We get to see some barrels and even an experimental barrel or two. But it’s all good. The smell is the main reason I like going into them anyway.

After the rick house we travel to a small building where JW explains just how much liquid is lost due to evaporation over time. This is the coolest visual aid we’ve seen on this. the rest of the tours we’d been on just sort of tell us there is evaporation. All of a sudden I understand why an 18 year old bourbon is so much more expensive than a 12 year old one. Pretty cool.

The one thing we didn’t see was the bottling. Once again. Make sure you don’t plan your trip for a holiday weekend. Or really a weekend in general if you want to see that. Just saying.

Then it is back for the tasting. We get to taste the Buffalo Trace and the Eagle Rare single barrel. Both are very good. There is something about seeing how something is made that kind of changes your opinion of it. I didn’t care for the Buffalo Trace before I went, but really like it at 11 am this rainy Saturday morning, so who knows. But the star of the show is the Bourbon Creme. Toss that guy in a little root beer and you have a knock your socks off adult root beer float. Holy Cow. That’s what I ended up buying as my souvenir.

After the tasting I chat with JW a little more. He’s a great guide and I hope that the rest are as good as him. After that it is time for the Hard Hat tour. 

We gather next to the tasting area for this one. It is my wife and I, an older couple and their daughter and son-in-law. Coincidentally, they are from the Twin Cities too, just not recently. Small world. We all keep an eye to the sky because there is more weather threatening.

To start this tour we get a tiny bit of history, not a lot since this is much more of a factory tour. We see some of the grounds. Very pretty. Then it is over to the industrial portions. The first stop on the way in is where the grains are unloaded. They are unloaded through a grate in the ground.  

Once inside we walk past the mash cookers and up some stairs. Once up there we get to see them from the top. They really look like giant pressure cookers. And wow, are the lids attached with some heavy duty closures! We also see the yeast cooker.

Then it is across a skyway to the fermenting building. It seems like each place we go to builds them bigger than the last. These fermenting tanks hold 92,000 gallons! Buffalo Trace also has a very cool CO2 removal system that we haven’t see anywhere else. At least I thought it was cool. (Oh and the “No Swimming” sign next to them is pretty much priceless.)

After that we see a small still for making experimental bourbons and some smaller fermenting tanks. Nothing in these.

Finally there are the stills. These suckers are multiple stories high. I forget how many, but we were way up there. These are column stills. I like the little touches here. Even the taps to pull a sample have a small buffalo on them. Love that.  

Then we are done. We stop a little bit to look at the flooding. The river in their back yard has not crested yet and is already high. Amazing.  

Then tasting. I already had one of these so I tell them that so they didn’t get in trouble for serving me twice. While he was serving the others I ask about the root beer. Dr. Mcgillicuddy’s. Not available most places. But available online, in that distillery and in certain places in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Yep. It’s made near me. It’s owned by the same company as Buffalo Trace. Some of the best I’ve had. Seriously. I also buy some of root beer. It’s gone before I leave the parking lot. Sad.

I loved Buffalo Trace distillery. I wish I had seen it in operation and on a sunny day. It was pretty, but I could only imagine the improvement a some sun would make. I will go back. I may try to get on both tours again. I think this tour was the best one. If I had to choose just one tour, it would be this one. And it isn’t even on the Bourbon Trail officially.