The Buffalo Trace Distillery is the oldest distillery site in the U.S., having opened its doors over 200 years ago on its 130-acre campus in Franklin County, Ky. The distillery is still family-owned and is currently run by Master Distiller Harlen Wheatley, under whose supervision the bourbon took the gold medal at the Los Angeles International Wine & Spirits Competition in 2008 and the San Francisco World Spirits Competition in 2009. This bourbon is distilled from a combination of corn, rye and barley malts.
Bourbon must contain at least 51 percent corn in the mash, although many distillers use significantly more, and must be aged for at least two years in a new, charred white oak barrel. Both of these requirements directly contribute to the distinctive flavor of bourbon whiskey. The oak naturally contains sugars, lending some of its sweetness and vanilla character to bourbon, and the charring caramelizes some of these sugars, changing their taste profile to include flavors like toffee. Similarly, the corn adds some sweetness as well, similar to its use in colas or Yuengling.
When served neat, Buffalo Trace smells surprisingly smooth with a nice sweetness that lacks the hot alcohol burn normally associated with cheaper whiskeys. The taste is a very nice blend of vanilla oakiness with hints of toffee character just fading away at the finish. My favorite part about this whiskey is the alcohol character. It’s definitely there but serves as a nice, warming base for the flavor without the hot alcohol burn that frequently interjects itself.
The first cocktail I tried is a venerable classic, the Manhattan. A Manhattan is mixed with two ounces of bourbon, two-thirds of an ounce of sweet vermouth and a dash of bitters. This is stirred with ice until well chilled, then served in a cocktail glass with a maraschino cherry as a garnish. This cocktail smelled sweet with hints of wine and a nice bourbon character on the finish, but no hot alcohol at all. Overall, the scent was low and subtle. The taste was very smooth with some cherry notes blending with the vanilla of the bourbon. The bitterness was very low, although the sweetness and vermouth character increase as the drink warms up.
An Old Fashioned is made with a half-teaspoon of sugar, three dashes of bitters, a splash of water and two ounces of whiskey. These ingredients are mixed thoroughly to dissolve the sugar before being served over ice in a rocks glass with a cherry garnish. This drink smells significantly spicier than the Manhattan, with a much more bourbon-focused nose, but this is no surprise given the lack of vermouth. The bitterness is quite apparent in this drink, although it is surprisingly sweet with a more alcoholic finish. The most surprising characteristic of this drink was a surprisingly Tylenol-like character created from the cherry garnish and the sugar, which I didn’t really enjoy.
The third drink that I mixed was a simple bourbon and Pepsi, which is technically considered a Highball (basically any combination of liquor with a single mixer). I actually used Throwback Pepsi for this drink, which is made with real cane sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup. The taste of Throwback is somewhat different, with less of a sharp sweetness, more like a Coke than regular Pepsi. In this drink, the Buffalo Trace blended wonderfully with the Pepsi. I’m generally not a huge fan of this drink, as I find that some bourbons stick out like a sore thumb in the soda, but in this one they complemented each other with a nice bourbon finish.
I thoroughly enjoyed this bourbon and now keep it on hand as my house whiskey. I personally prefer the Manhattan of the three cocktails that I tried, and this particular version was one of the best examples I’ve ever had, but I liked all three of the drinks. I’d recommend giving this bourbon a try, as it’s fairly inexpensive and an excellent example of the style.