Elmer T. Lee introduced the world to the first very Single Barrel Bourbon in 1984 and soon thereafter Buffalo Trace began more whiskey experiments using unique mash bills, types of wood and barrel toasts.
|Buffalo Trace racks up more than 5,000 experimental whiskey barrels|
A newly hired Distillery Supervisor named Harlen Wheatley helped with some of the early experiments back in 1995, including bourbon not aged in traditional American White Oak, but in French Oak barrels.
Two decades later, Wheatley, now Master Distiller, stands at the helm of more than 5,000 experimental whiskey barrels aging at Buffalo Trace Distillery. Some early experiments focused on aging whiskey in used wine barrels, giving the bourbons chardonnay or zinfandel finishes.
There have been experiments using non-traditional grains, (rice and oats), various fill proofs, barrels made from woods around the world, and even from forests in the United States not considered traditional barrel producing states.
In some of the experiments Buffalo Trace’s own warehouses were the control factors, playing with barrels put up on the same day on different floors and left alone for years, to see how they might taste different.
Not all the experiments have been a success. There were failures which included aging bourbon in small barrels of 5, 10 and 15 gallon barrels vs. the standard 55 gallon. Despite the six years of aging, the bourbon never reached its full potential and in 2012 the experiment was deemed a failure. This along with all other failures are bottled up and stored in the archives.
Commenting on the news, Harlen Wheatley, said: “It’s important to learn from your mistakes too. We learn as much from our failures as our successes, sometimes even more so from the failures, so that’s why we want to keep a record of them so we have them for future research.”
He went on to say: “Today, our experiments are more focused within the confines of bourbon whiskey. We have hundreds of potential future experiments on our list and discuss regularly with the experimental team to prioritize the most interesting ideas and the experiments that deliver the most useful information.”
Buffalo Trace Distillery will continue to release its experimental bottlings a few times each year, with the next expected to be released later in the spring.
Posted by Steve Rush