Whisky Advocate

New Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection whiskeys

June 2nd, 2009

I tweeted about this last Thursday when I received the press release. (My tweets are displayed on the right margin of this blog site.) Here’s the full press release.  I should be receiving review samples this week and will let you know my thoughts after I taste them.

What’s next? After more than twenty years of experimentation, Buffalo Trace Distillery is rolling out the latest release of the prized Experimental Collection. This round of tinkering was conducted to find out how barrels with different wood grains affect bourbon aging. In particular, what impact do barrels made from fast-growth oak trees with coarse grain patterns have on bourbon aging, versus barrels made with slow-growth trees with fine grain?

Here are some answers to that question:

1. FINE GRAIN OAK: These barrels were filled July13, 1994 and bottled May 7, 2009. Buffalo Trace Mash Bill #2 was used and the product entered the barrel at 125 proof. After more than 14 years of aging, the slow-growth of fine grain wood concentrated the sugars and imparted extra doses of caramel and vanilla.  The bourbon is rich and exceedingly sweet with an almost syrupy character.  It also has a nice balance of flavors and complexity.

2. COARSE GRAIN OAK: The filling and aging time on these barrels is the same as with the fine grain. After nearly 15 years in the barrel, this whiskey is dry with a balance of smokiness and wood with herbal qualities. The finish is quick and woody and it is slightly heavy with a powerful complexity.

“We continue to learn new and interesting information from these experiments. We never know how they are going to turn out,” said Harlen Wheatley, master distiller. “It’s also great to see the excitement that surrounds these releases. The customer feedback is great.”

There are more than 1,500 experimental barrels of whiskey now aging in the warehouses of Buffalo Trace. Each of the barrels has unique characteristics making it different from all others. Some examples of these experiments include unique mash bills, types of wood and barrel toasts.  In order to further increase the scope, flexibility and range of the experimental program an entire micro distillery complete with cookers, fermenting tanks and a state of the art micro still has been constructed within the 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 whiskies will be released in late May of 2009 and retail for approximately $46.35 each. Each experiment is rare and very limited. For more information on the Experimental Collection or the other products of Buffalo Trace Distillery, please contact Kris Comstock at kcomstock@buffalotrace.com.

13 Responses to “New Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection whiskeys”

  1. sam k says:

    I find these intense, creative, far-reaching, and ongoing experiments to be quite fascinating, and perhaps the most intensely-focused yet diverse research project at any distillery worldwide. The best part is that Buffalo Trace allows us to taste the fruits of these experiments on a limited basis, and make our own determinations as to acceptability.

    A question for you, John. Will the more favorable results of these ongoing trials eventually be turned into production advantages for BT? That is, have they begun (or plan to begin) to capitalize on the already-known positive effects revealed thus far in these efforts?

    We continue to see the ongoing experimentation of this innovative project, but have yet to hear what results have been successful enough to translate into even occasional production runs that might be available on a more sustainable basis. Any guesses?

    Thanks!

  2. DavidG says:

    Do you know what the wood grain structure is for a typical Buffalo Trace barrel. in other words, are these barrels each dissimilar to what is the everyday barrel, or is one the control and the other the experiment.

  3. sam k says:

    I find $46.35 an interesting “approximate” price point. Seems a tad precise to be approximate!

    Also, have they mentioned the mash bill of this release?

  4. John Hansell says:

    DavidG & Sam k: Good questions, guys. Let me see if I can get some answers.

  5. These experiments are interesting if nothing else. We never know how the whiskey will turn out – some have been awful. But that is how we learn what NOT to do :) If we find something that we really like, such as French Oak aged whiskey, we make some more. Now we just have to wait a decade or so.

    We recommend these be sold at $46.35 – kind of an odd price I know, that’s the point ;) . However, some stores that get these bottles know how limited the stuff is and usually charge more. That is out of my control.

    Independent Stave Company has been a great partner in these experimental barrels. If everyone likes either the fine grain or course grain oak better. We can always ask them to produce more such barrels for us to age our existing products. We just want to learn what makes a better whiskey and apply that to everything we do. We require tight specifications for all our barrels, but don’t have a wood grain spec. I’m sure most barrels have staves with various degrees of wood grain. The experimental barrels are made up of hand-picked staves. The mash bills for these two most recent releases are both our #2 rye bourbon recipe – same as Blanton’s. Stay tuned. More to come…

  6. John Hansell says:

    Thanks Kris for the update and clarification. I think we tasted a couple of those “what not to do” whiskeys the last time I visited the distillery. It’s all for good in the long run.

  7. Harvey Fry says:

    i assume the 2 new items are [like the previous 9] bottled at 45.%? neither
    WDJK nor KC say.

  8. John Hansell says:

    Hi Harvey,

    Yes, I just looked at the labels Kris emailed me. Both are 45% ABV.

  9. Sku says:

    I wish they could keep them down to $46.35. The one time I saw one on the shelf in California, it was $200.

  10. John Hansell says:

    Sku, that’s crazy. $200. I think a 400% mark-up is a little extreme.

  11. corey says:

    well i feel that places that mark up that extreme should be called out in public. if you want to try and fleece the consumer/novice/enthusiast, then you should bear the brunt of critizism

  12. Ed says:

    Here in PA the Exp collection was initially listed on the LCB site – but listed as “Licensee only” – which after much research turned out to be “Only resteraunts with liquor licenses may obtain this product.” Sonce that time, the collection is no longer on the site, and I’m unable to find any place that carries these. Has anyone seen anything on a retail shelf anywhere? If I drove to Kentucky, would I be able to find some?

  13. John Hansell says:

    Ed, you might want to contact the specialty retainers in the back of Malt Advocate, put your order in and have them send it to you. The specialty retailers will get some.

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