A great man once said “We’re not drinking, we’re learning”. I can’t remember who said it at this time, as I had been doing WAY too much “learning”, but today’s post is just as much about learning as it is about drinking. Today we are going to learn about bourbon and its relationship with wood, and we’re are going to have to consume 5 bourbons to do this, and along the way, make a cocktail.
As far as bourbons go, I’ve always enjoyed Buffalo Trace; it’s a fine whiskey with character and a great price point. For those in the know, however, the beautiful thing about the Buffalo Trace distillery is their continued quest to provide special bottlings, the most popular probably being the Antique Collection of bourbons and ryes, (this year’s release is on sale as we speak). If you are interested in the line, and have deep pockets, come on by to Vessel, as we have the whole Collection for you to try before you purchase your own bottles.
Buffalo Trace’s specialty bottlings continue to surface, and this time I’m here to tell you about their Experimental series (Buffalo Trace experiments with nine different barrel finishes), of which Vessel has four.
The four that I’ve been able to acquire share certain characteristics, such as: 45% alcohol, all starting from the same sour mash whiskey (rye mash #1, except the Twice Barreled which used rye mash #2), and they were all chill filtered.
But now for the differences…
BUFFALO TRACE EXPERIMENT: FIRE POT BARREL
This barrel was heated to 102°F for 23 minutes to dry the wood prior to filling. The whiskey has a smoky nose, with hints of fruit and tobacco and an amber chestnut color. This whiskey is still very much Buffalo Trace, with signature smokiness and a little more fruit. The final product was aged 10 years and lost 33.5% volume due to the angel’s share.
BUFFALO TRACE EXPERIMENT: FRENCH OAK
This bourbon was aged ten years in a French Oak barrel in which the independent staves were first air-dried for 24 months. The French Oak has given the whiskey a sugary sweetness and dark caramel color. Compared to the original Buffalo Trace, I find this one to have a much sweeter nose, less charcoal and more caramel. The angel’s must have liked this one, as 39% of the final product was handed over to them.
BUFFALO TRACE EXPERIMENT: TWICE BARRELED
After aging this bourbon for eight years and eight months, this whiskey was put into a brand new white oak barrel. With twice the wood, this whiskey has a ton of oak (not vanilla, but wood) and has a long warm finish, leading one to think it is much more mature than its twelve years indicate. This beast starts off a bit harsher than the original, but has a much longer finish, tending to make one forget all about the beginning.
BUFFALO TRACE EXPERIMENT: ZINFANDEL AGED
This experiment is much rarer than the other three, as a quick Google will let you know. After aging this bourbon 6 years and three months in new oak, this whiskey is then re-barreled in used American oak zinfandel barrels. Much darker in hue than all but the twice barreled, this whiskey has really pulled the charcoal back and left you with less fruit and a much drier finish. 34.5 % of this product was given to those winged cloud dwellers.
Overall thoughts? While it was nice to see the process of experimentation at Buffalo Trace’s distillery, and while it is true that none of the whiskeys were losers, none of them were really winners either, and at $55/half bottle, I can think of better ways to spend my money. Having said that, it was a great way to see how wood and time can have an effect on the whiskey, considering that we had a lot of the same starting points for each bottling.
If you want to have a taste of one of the Experiments yourself, come on down to Vessel while we still have them. Only 400 bottles (and half bottles at that) were made, and once these are gone, they’re gone for good.
If all of this talk of Buffalo Trace has made you thirsty for a cocktail, why don’t you mix up a cocktail that I’ve created for the typing of this post, the:
2 oz Buffalo Trace (you were expecting something else?)
1 oz Lillet Blanc
½ oz Amaro Nonino
stir over ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass
garnish with a lemon zest
Orville Schupp was born January 1909 in Louisville, Kentucky. Growing up in Louisville he attended DuPont Manual High School. Orville continued his education at Purdue University, where he received an electrical engineering degree in 1931.
In 1939, Orville returned to Kentucky. He accepted the post of maintenance engineer at the George T. Stagg Co., which had been purchased by the Schenley Distillers Corporation in 1929. Orville became the protégé of Col. Albert Blanton, who headed the distillery. He became supervising engineer and then plant manager in 1952, when Col. Blanton retired. In 1957, Orville left the distillery, but continued to work for Schenley, first as area manager and then as president of Schenley Distillers Inc.
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