A whiskey’s age carries a lot of weight, but Buffalo Trace Distillery is trying out some old wood.
The Kentucky distillery often experiments with wood variations, but this year Buffalo Trace is trying out barrels made from 300-year-old oak tree wood. It’s the latest in the Buffalo Trace Experimental Program.
Most oak trees die before reaching 200 years old, according to the distillery, so the trees cut in Kentucky proved to be an unusual find. It took a year to secure the wood and, working with the cooper East Bernstadt Company, the staves seasoned for another year before the barrels were assembled.
The barrels were laid down in the aging warehouses in December 2016 and will sit for at least six years, but could be longer, according to the distillery. The barrels and whiskey will be closely monitored for variations throughout the process.
The 300-year-old wood experiment is meant to help Buffalo Trace observe the significance of various ages of oak trees have on a finished bourbon.
The Buffalo Trace distillers are excited to see what, if any, drastic changes are imparted on the bourbon. It’s a rare opportunity for the distillery to use barrels made of wood older than Buffalo Trace, which is 244 years old.
“It’s a unique opportunity to be able to experiment with a variable that is even older than our distillery,” Buffalo Trace Master Distiller Harlen Wheatley said. “We are really looking forward to seeing how extremely old wood might affect the taste of the bourbon, and hopefully will make some interesting observations along the way that will be useful going forward.”
Buffalo Trace’s other wood experiments include lumber gathered from across the globe and the differences in barrels built from varying parts of trees. For more than 20 years, Buffalo Trace has conducted experiments on the range of variables in whiskey production, including infrared light, nontraditional grains, warehouse variations and fill proofs.
There are more than 14,000 experimental whiskey barrels currently aging at the distillery’s site in Frankfort, Kentucky, a National Historic Landmark.