I recently had the opportunity to take a tour at Buffalo Trace Distillery as a part of their Rye Cocktail Party with Molly Wellmann. After I arrived and checked in they told us Freddie would be conducting our tour, to which I exclaimed, “Freddie? I love Freddie!”
Freddie Johnson grew up at the distillery when his grandfather worked there. I first met Freddie at the Bourbon Classic last year after his panel discussion about the olden days of the bourbon industry. He tells stories of his grandfather chasing him through the rick houses and not quite being able to catch up because he had taken the shape of a barrel himself.
We started off our tour in Warehouse C, right across from the Visitor’s Center. Buffalo Trace is well known for its warehouses because they are a little different than most warehouses. They are made of concrete and masonry with dirt floors and flat roofs. You can still see the evidence of the government bonding days on the doors. There are two places for padlocks, one of which the distillery would have had a key to and the other of which the government agent would’ve had the key to.
Today they only use one set of locks, though it’s important to note the historical significance of the Bottled In Bond Act. Before BIB there were no consumer protections. Rectifiers could buy bulk whiskey and mix it with whatever they wanted- tobacco juice, battery acid, caramel color, and anything else they had lying around. People were getting sick from contaminated spirits, so the government passed the first ever consumer protection law.
While we were in Warehouse C we heard all about new sources of white oak for the barrels, the color coding process that helps to prevent confusion in older barrels, and the tornado that destroyed the building two decades ago. We then headed over to the premium bottling line, where top shelf products such as Blanton’s and Eagle Rare were being bottled by hand. We concluded our tour in the barrel receiving warehouse, where we learned how each barrel has to be inspected as it arrives.
One of the best things about this tour was that it took place at night. Bourbon distilleries are quite different at night. Rick houses are beautiful by moonlight, and there’s a peacefulness you just can’t experience during the day when business is taking place as usual. That’s what makes these special events especially worthwhile- you get to see the distillery in a way most people don’t.
Photos Courtesy of Maggie Kimberl