I’ve been consistently impressed by the attention to detail and quality in Buffalo Trace distillery experiments in their aging warehouses. Sitting in front of me is a broad selection of barrel samples. I suppose that I could consider myself very lucky because I don’t know of many people who are fortunate enough to even receive anything for tasting.
When I worked in private banking, no one sent me bourbon for review. It just didn’t happen. Sure I had to do reports. Dozens of them, but they made no sense to me. Numbers on a page is all I saw. Now, with this plethora of barrel samples in front of me with a vast Excel spreadsheet to digest, it all makes sense. I’m not looking at other people’s money; I’m honored to taste what they drink.
And that makes me very proud indeed because although I may not be able to afford to purchase these venerable barrel samples in a liquor store, I can rest assured that I tasted them before they entered a bottle. They are as pure as the driven snow, drawn by a thief and added to the 50ml sample bottles in front of me. I’m darned lucky. This is much better than working in a bank!
Buffalo Trace has determined a metric for aging the exact same bourbon for the same length of time. That is how everyone seems to do it in bourbon country. But they take a different track. They have found that altitude makes a difference. The floor altitude that is! Back in 2001 Buffalo Trace aged their Rye Mash recipe #1 in barrels on floors one, five, and nine in warehouse K. Evidently they have nine wooden floors in total, the warehouse is made of brick. The whiskies aged on the lower floors are lighter in dimension, the upper floors, richer and denser. Buffalo Trace experiments with char, cut of the tree and from this experiment, the altitude of the barrel within the aging warehouse.
Experimental 90 Proof 12-year-old Bourbon from Floor #1
Although 90 Proof, this drinks much lighter in spirit strength. I opened the top of the bottle and the air is filled with maple syrup, toasted corn bread and Asian spices. Mouthwatering aromas of freshly cut hay, cane sugar and sweet vinegar come into view. The finish goes on and on.
Experimental 90 Proof 12-year-old Bourbon from Floor #5
Toasty goodness opens to butterscotch and sweet corn on the first day of the summer. Decidedly richer than the first floor, this bourbon is a dream come true for the careful drinker. I love it.
Experimental 90 Proof 12-year-old Bourbon from Floor #9
Ohhhhh… I am in trouble with floor #9. It must have been hot in there. Warehouse K, in the summer. For twelve years. The cold of the winter melding into the steamy heat of the summer, I wonder if this warehouse has windows. Is it painted black? Whatever it is, this bourbon certainly is impressive. I like it better than big brother Pappy. Much better. Get it. Floor #9. It’s that good.
Then there is the single Oak project sitting over there. I hadn’t thought about tasting any, primarily because I’ve been drinking more rum as of late. But this experimental series just was dying for me to taste them. I’ve reviewed a selection of three of them for your personal edification.
Single Oak Project Barrel #13
Sweet and spicy hot this bourbon reveals itself in different layers of sugar from different places. I detect the Vietnamese Palm sugar, opening up to maple syrup sugar and then turning to deeper, toastier molasses sugar. There is the unmistakable aroma of spring fiddleheads melting into sautéed caramelized shallots and brown butter. This is darned good whiskey. Perhaps some of the world’s best in respect to the simplicity of each sip.
Single Oak Project Barrel #173
This whiskey requires a small dose of branch (or spring) water over the top of the shimmering golden goodness. Swirling across and around my tongue, barrel #173 speaks to me in a language that I can understand. It is the language of intoxication. I understand what the voices say to me. They say enjoy with moderation.
Single Oak Project Barrel # 107
Densely textured for such a light colored slurp, this sample calls out for corned beef and cabbage along with dark brown bread and plenty of spicy mustard. That’s at least what I sense when I let the liquid gold dance across my tongue. The term, liquid silk comes to mind with barrel #107. If this were available as a single barrel effort, I’d say buy all you can afford. It’s that good. Delicious is the first thing I said before the liquid fire plunged down my gullet. Barrel #107 could be a breakfast whiskey, although I don’t recommend drinking whiskey this well made in a breakfast drink, like the historic milk punch. It’s just too good to cover up with milk, cream and sugar syrup.