ORIGIN: FRANKFORT, KY.
Follow the herd
Buffalo Trace is a hot commodity these days and for good reason. Some of the most sought after bourbons are produced at the Buffalo Trace Distillery; think Pappy Van Winkle, Blanton’s, and W.L. Weller, to drop a name or three. Search for #bourbon on Instagram and you’ll be inundated with experienced bourbon lovers flaunting bottles of the aforementioned three, but if you’re taking the baby steps of a journey down the bourbon trail, you’d be wise to start with the distillery’s signature bourbon, Buffalo Trace. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more apt representation of the bourbon category.
The country’s oldest continually operating and perhaps most decorated distillery was given the Buffalo Trace name in 1999. It had previously been called George T. Stagg Distillery. The Buffalo Trace name comes from the pioneering days when settlers and pioneers followed the trails or traces made by millions of bison moving west. One of the more significant traces, the Vincennes Trace, is also commonly referred to as the Great Buffalo Trace. Aside from having an easier path to travel on, pioneers also used the bison’s ability to find fertile foraging ground useful. That path led early pioneers to settle in the area where the Buffalo Trace Distillery sits back in 1775. By 1787 the first shipments of whiskey from this area were being shipped to New Orleans by river.
Since 2000, the distillery has won more than 500 awards, including 21 distillery of the year awards from the spirits business’s most respected publications. I wasn’t joking when I said it was likely the country’s most decorated distillery. One of the things that I appreciate about Buffalo Trace is that as you look back into their history you find the names that adorn the bottles played prominent roles in the formation of the distillery; in other words the names and stories on the bottle are genuine parts of the distillery’s long and well-documented history. For example, in 1897 Albert Blanton started as an office boy at the George T. Stagg Distillery and, after working in just about every department of the distillery, became president of the company in 1921. He kept the distillery afloat through Prohibition with a special government permit for “medicinal whiskey,” one of only four distilleries to be granted such a permit. In 1984, under the leadership of Elmer T. Lee, who also has a whiskey named after him, the distillery introduced the first single-barrel bourbon called Blanton’s.
This rich history, coupled with the ever-growing popularity of their whiskeys, has resulted in flocks of visitors to the distillery tours, to the tune of more than 200,000 per year. In 2013 the National Park Service highlighted the site as an example of pre-Prohibition industrial architecture by designating the distillery as a National Historic Landmark. Among the six different complimentary tours offered by the distillery is a National Historic Landmark Tour, which focuses on the buildings, architecture, and history of those years.
Pardon the cliché, but if you look up Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey in the spirits dictionary (no such thing exists, but maybe it should), you’d probably find that big ol’ buffalo staring back at you. Buffalo Trace brings those quintessential bourbon notes of vanilla, brown sugar, spice, and oak along with a lush, citrus-like brightness to it. The finish is long and round, resonating on your palate well into your next sip.
Cigar Pairing: Casa Fernandez Miami Aniversario
I decide to pair this bourbon with the Casa Fernandez Miami Aniversario. The creamy cedar and pepper from the cigar slot themselves right in the gaps left by the Buffalo Trace. After several puffs, the cigar takes on a more toasted nut characteristic while the bourbon’s spice dips way down on the palate.