By Matt Goldstein and the Sharkey’s
Buffalo Trace is one of the biggest and best bourbon distillers on the market. Owned by the Sazerac Company, Buffalo Trace distills many critically acclaimed bourbons, whiskeys, and spirits. The oldest continually operating distillery in America, Buffalo Trace has won “distillery of the year” 7 times. Winning a double gold medal in 2009 at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, the Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskeys is simply one of the best in class. At about $20, it will be very difficult to find a better bourbon for the price. The Buffalo Trace distillery cannot be touched when it comes to making quality premium whiskeys at an excellent price; evidenced by their celebrated Eagle Rare Kentucky Straight Bourbon, Elmer T. Lee Kentucky Straight Bourbon and 1792 Ridgemont Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon. All of these bourbons are better than most other bourbons and whiskeys at their price range.
The Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Tasting Notes
Tasting Notes: The scent is a light grain and a bit strong. The taste is malty, balanced and a touch sweet. With notes of grain, corn and a bit dry and malty, the Buffalo Trace is smooth, hint bitter, with a flavorful finish. This is a very complex bourbon for $20. We are right there with Wine Enthusiast when they say this bourbon is “highly recommended.” We would recomend Buffalo Trace over Makers Marks and Jack Daniels (technically not a bourbon.)Read below about the process on making this great bourbon. .
Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is expertly crafted in the time-honored tradition unique to bourbon. Buffalo Trace begins with the finest Kentucky and Indiana corn, selected rye, and superior malted barley. Together, these grains represent our unique mash bill–a trade secret known only by those craftsmen responsible for producing this highest-quality whiskey.
Upon delivery the grains undergo a general visual inspection for any obvious abnormalities. Bushel weight is then checked to ensure the grain demonstrates the proper baseline characteristics. Finally, a sample of the grain is tested in the distillery laboratory to determine if it meets Buffalo Trace’s rigid standards for moisture levels and chemical balance.
To prepare the newly received grains for the mashing process, they must first be carefully milled to exactly the right specifications. Grains at Buffalo Trace are milled with a hammer mill using a screen that only allows particles of milled grain as large as 10/64 of an inch in diameter through. In our experience, we have found that this size screen, called a #10, lets more of the true grain through to be part of the mash without compromising the integrity of the mash itself. The next larger screen would allow whole kernels of rye and barley through, and the next smaller screen would create too fine a grain, causing the mash to become too thick.
Mashing water–fresh and rich with minerals from its natural filtration through Kentucky limestone–is heated in a steam-generated pressure cooker. Once the water reaches the proper temperature, the corn is cooked under pressure until it is ready for rye to be added. After the addition of the rye, a malted barley slurry is added to the mixture, which allows its activated enzymes to turn the starch from the cooked grains into a soluble sugar. The new mixture is, at this point, a sweet mash.
This part of the process takes place in our 12 fermenters – with each fermenter holding 89,962 gallons; they are the largest in the industry. After the mash has cooled, yeast is added with a small amount of the previously fermented and distilled mash, also known as sour mash. The sugar present in the mash feeds the yeast to produce alcohol and carbon dioxide. The uniquely rich nutrients of the pure Kentucky limestone water used in this process also enrich the yeast. Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey undergoes a natural fermentation lasting anywhere from three to five days.
The Distillation Process
The fermented mixture, or beer, complete with solids, enters the top of the beer still and descends through plates, similar to those in a coffee percolator. Steam, pumped in from the bottom of the still, encounters the falling beer, creating an alcohol-rich vapor. The vapor is then recondensed and passed through a second still, known as a doubler, to create a crystal clear liquid that, by law, can be no more than 160 proof, or 80% alcohol by volume. For Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, however, the final liquid is removed from the doubler at a significantly lower proof in order to preserve more of the flavor and characteristics of the grains. This liquid, which is commonly referred to as raw spirit or “white dog,” is then entered into newly charred, virgin white oak barrels. Consistent with our desire to optimize flavor and characteristics of the grains, we enter the white dog into the barrels at 125 proof.
Before Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is placed into barrels, the barrels themselves undergo a rigid inspection. Barrels to be used for Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey must be made of naturally aged, “center ring” wood from trees typically 70 to 80 years old. This center ring falls between the outer ring, called sapwood, and the core of the tree. Our standards for wood selection are more expensive, but they make for a finer whiskey. Also, the grain of the wood is inspected for coarseness. Very fine wood grain results in immature whiskey that is weak and less flavorful. Grain that is too coarse leads to an excessive wood taste. Barrels also are reviewed for broken or cracked staves and open joints. As a result of these criteria, Buffalo Trace Distillery has the highest rejection rate of barrels in the industry.
While every step of the production process is important, Buffalo Trace Distillery believes the aging process is the greatest factor in producing truly outstanding whiskey. The Distillery’s best whiskey comes from aging in Warehouses C, I and K, and only on selected floors. For instance, the fourth and fifth floors of Warehouse C and the fourth through sixth floors of Warehouses I and K produce the distillery’s finest whiskey. These floors represent the middle floors in each of the warehouses and have the greatest temperature changes in the course of a year–the key to reaching full maturity and producing a balanced whiskey. Warehouses C, I and K also are rick warehouses constructed from large wood beams and surrounded by a brick shell. Each of the warehouses has an earthen floor, which best allows nature to do its part in the aging process and produce truly outstanding whiskey. Additionally, steam pumped throughout the warehouses during the extreme cold of winter compensates for the dramatic drops in temperature and gives the whiskey additional cycles in and out of the wood.
Only the best bourbon produced by the distillery is bottled as Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. Approximately 30-35 barrels of aged whiskey are selected from the middle floors of Warehouses C, I and K. Samples from these barrels are reviewed by the distillery’s tasting panel. If any one taster rejects a sample, the barrel it represents will not be used for Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. Only the barrels of approved bourbon samples (usually no more than 25-30 barrels) will be married and bottled as Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey.
Whiskey from selected barrels is married and passed through a chill filtration process, lowering the temperature of the bourbon to below 30″F (-1ºC). This process ensures that more of the color and flavor naturally present in the bourbon is maintained than does filtering through activated charcoal. The bourbon is then reduced to 90 proof, its bottling proof (45% ABV), using water that has undergone reverse osmosis filtration. Buffalo Trace Distillery was the first distillery to use this process, which is regarded as a benchmark within the industry for producing the highest quality bourbon. Reverse osmosis water begins as pure Kentucky limestone water that is placed in a tank containing a double-sided filter. This filter is cycled through the water, removing all the minerals and producing the purest form of water obtainable.
No other colors or flavors are added to the final product, a claim only bourbon, among all whiskeys, can make. Buffalo Trace’s proprietary bottles are then carefully filled, corked and sealed by hand, and then packed for limited distribution.