Kentucky: Buffalo Trace Distillery

Sometimes when you have meetings in Kentucky, you get to tour the oldest continuously operating distillery in the United States afterward!

Shockingly, the Buffalo Trace Distillery is not on the Bourbon Trail. The Sazerac Company, which owns Buffalo Trace, withdrew their membership from the Kentucky Distillers’ Association in 2009 or 2010. However, Buffalo Trace is entirely worth the visit — especially if your tour guide is Freddie Johnson!

When the group gathered outside the Visitor Center to wait for our tour to start, I said, “I hope we get Freddie. We probably won’t, but I hope we do!” This statement was met with puzzled looks, and honestly, I couldn’t believe it. Freddie Johnson is a third generation Buffalo Trace employee and a beloved tour guide. Practically anytime Buffalo Trace is talked about, so is Freddie. Admittedly, I first learned about him in the bourbon documentary Neat!, but then it was like I saw or heard about him anywhere bourbon was mentioned. So I started talking him up like we were buds, bemoaning that we wouldn’t be so lucky to get him as our tour guide, and then! There he was!

Freddie Johnson, Buffalo Trace Distillery.

I low-key shrieked when I realized he was going to be our tour guide. And throughout our tour, various people in the group would tell me how right I was about Freddie.

I won’t pretend I wasn’t a little smug.

Side note: Neat! The Story of Bourbon is such a wonderful film about bourbon and Kentucky. I went to the hometown screening which included a brief discussion with the crew. Everyone involved did such an amazing job. I can’t recommend it enough if you have an interest in either topic.

Truly, the main reason I was excited to have Freddie as our tour guide is the way he talks about bourbon. It isn’t that he’s enthusiastic about Buffalo Trace or that he’s a great salesman (though both are true) — he speaks so eloquently and honestly about the connections that are made through shared experiences. He tells stories about his family in a way that makes you believe the history of Buffalo Trace is also his family history.

Barrels are key to the bourbon process.

Our tour took us through the barrel process and aging warehouses. Oh, gosh. I thought the smell was strong just being in Frankfort, but we had the opportunity to stick our heads into a vat and breathe it in. It used to be a smell I couldn’t stand, but now it’s a welcoming scent.

We saw Blanton’s being bottled with their fun racehorse stoppers. Bless all the staff who have to deal with randos entering their workplace throughout the day. We were told not to touch the stoppers which means that at some point in the past, someone probably touched the stoppers. C’mon, y’all. We didn’t get to see Bourbon Pompeii, but I’ve learned that is another tour which I fully intend to go on. (There’s also a ghost tour!!!)

Fun fact: It is not a requirement that bourbon is made in Kentucky. Anyone who tells you otherwise is incorrect. Bourbon can be made anywhere in the US of A. But the best bourbon is made in Kentucky.

There is a tasting after every tour. I have been on three tours at two different distilleries, and none have had a tasting like Buffalo Trace has a tasting. It begins with Freddie pouring some White Dog into the palm of your hand, followed by slapping your hands together and smelling them. Over a few slaps and smells (not a thing I ever thought I’d write), you get the smell of alcohol, then corn, then bread, then nothing. And your hands feel smooth. Basically, alcohol is the new lotion.

Freddie pours the White Dog.

After that, we sampled vodka, White Dog, Eagle Rare, and Straight Bourbon. Freddie had us take a swig of water, hold it in our mouth, then take a sip of the drink in hand; this helped us feel the difference of the drinks. He also advised that this was a good way to get people who may not be used to higher proofs acclimated to the taste instead of shocking them with the burn.

Our final tasting was of Bourbon Cream. We sipped it alone. We sipped it with root beer. We sipped it with a bourbon chocolate. As soon as the tour ended, I practically ran to the Visitor Center to buy it. It’s like a bourbon milkshake, and it’s wonderful. Go on the tour just so you get a sample of this. Guh.

We got to meet the woman who came up with the idea for the Bourbon Cream at the beginning of the tour. I wish I could remember her name so that we could all praise her from the rooftops. Also because she’s nominated as a Friend of the Trace, and I certainly want to support her.

In summary, this was the best meeting I’ve been to all year!

If you’re interested in visiting Buffalo Trace, check out their website for tour information. Some tours require reservations.

If you aren’t able to take a tour but you do buy yourself a bottle of bourbon, remember not to be so intent on saving it because it might be valuable later. There’s always going to be bourbon. Share with your friends and family and enjoy the moments with them.

(Freddie said that.)

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