The triangle area between Frankfort, Louisville, and Lexington is the heart of what’s known as Bourbon Country, home to countless bourbon distilleries. Buffalo Trace Distillery is recognized as the oldest continually operating distillery in the United States. Distilling started on the site around 1773, but the first true distillery was opened in 1812 by Harrison Blanton, whose name still bears a brand of bourbon today.
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Later it was named the George T. Stagg Distillery, another brand that exists today, which placed the property on the National Register of Historic Places. The distillery was allowed to stay open during Prohibition when they sold their 100 proof whiskey by prescription for headaches. You could purchase a 16-ounce bottle every ten days. The distillery operated under that name until 1992 when Sazerac purchased it. In 1999, the Buffalo Trace brand was introduced and has since become one of the most awarded bourbon brands.
In addition to the hundreds of brands represented by Sazerac (including Firefly), Buffalo Trace makes 17 types of whiskey. This includes Blanton’s original single barrel bourbon, pictured below, George T. Stagg and Pappy Van Winkle. Buffalo Trace isn’t included on the official Bourbon Trail due to the fact that they’re not on the board of distillers, but this distillery differs from the rest in Bourbon county in that it is free to visit.
There are five tours available that each offer a different part of the distilling process and a piece of the site’s history. I took a condensed version of the tour, which took us to the riverboat captain’s home, a 1792 building that is the oldest residence in the country. Buffalo Trace also runs ghost tours throughout the year, which fans may have seen on the show Ghost Hunters.
From our guide, we learned that bourbon must be 51% corn by law to be considered true bourbon. It’s aged for a minimum of two years, but usually longer, in 53-gallon barrels made of white oak from Missouri. The longer it’s in the barrel, the less volume it contains, making it a higher proof and higher price, like the Pappy Van Winkle 23-Year-Old. All distilling and bottling are done onsite in different warehouses. Twelve warehouses contain experimental products not ready for public consumption. The bottling and labels for Blanton, pictured above, are all done by hand.
You don’t have to go on a tour to experience a tasting, but it’s recommended to give you background information on what you’ll be sampling. Be sure to try their flagship brand, Buffalo Trace Straight Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey. Also worth sampling are the Wheatley Vodka and the Buffalo Trace Bourbon Cream. You must be 21 years of age to sample.
If You Go
The Buffalo Trace Distillery is located outside of Lexington, Kentucky near the capital of Frankfort at113 Great Buffalo Trace, Frankfort, KY 40601. The distillery is open from Monday to Saturday from 9 am to 4 pm and on Sundays from 12 pm to 3 pm.
The drive from Lexington takes around 30 minutes. By car, take I-64 West toward Louisville. Get off at Exit 58 and turn right off of the exit ramp onto US-60 West. Go straight for 5 miles and do not make any turns. This road becomes 421-North/and US 127 South and Wilkinson Blvd. The entrance to Buffalo Trace Distillery will be on your right.
If you prefer not to drive, book the Kentucky Bourbon Distilleries Tour from Louisville which offers transportation on your day of visiting multiple distilleries.