The Tasting Panel magazine

November 2012

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Page 7 of 140

would ask whiskey enthusiast crowds, "Who's heard of Buffalo Trace?" Maybe one or two people would raise their hands. Today, more like 90 percent of the fans in the crowds raise their hands. In fact, it's one of the fastest-growing, hottest bourbons behind the bar. The reason why has a lot to do with Wheatley and how he's changing the industry. A chemical engineer from the University of Kentucky, Wheatley has approached whiskey as a scientist, studying the effi cacy of smaller barrels, providing evidence they are ineffective for aging bourbon. In his famed "Single Oak Project," Wheatley analyzed every inch of an oak tree to determine its sweet spot for whiskey barrels. Buffalo Trace selected 96 individual American oak trees that ranged in size and age. They yielded 192 unique tree sections and constructed 192 barrels that were fi lled with whiskey of various recipes. Wheatley studied how each tree section infl uenced the whiskey. The project is considered the greatest bourbon barrel experiment ever conducted. But perhaps Wheatley's greatest con- tribution to the Buffalo Trace Distillery has been his ability to create a premium- quality base-line bourbon whiskey. "We have the ability to do a lot of things because we are privately held and don't have to answer to a shareholder," Wheatley says of the distillery, owned by The Sazerac Company. It's true that Buffalo Trace produces some of the industry's best products, including Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel and Eagle Rare, but Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon is an eight- to nine-year- old, low-rye bourbon that never disap- points and is a versatile cocktail whiskey. It retails for $24.99 for a 750-ml. bottle. But Wheatley never bad-mouths another bourbon to get his whiskey behind the bar over a competitor's. He simply pours a taste of Buffalo Trace, with a "confi dence they'll get behind the brand," he says. Master Distiller Harlen Wheatley at the Buffalo Trace Distillery. Furthermore, Wheatley, at 42, is one of the youngest Master Distillers working today. The future looks brighter than ever today for Buffalo Trace, where bourbons made today will be enjoyed by future generations and where tradition and quality are never comprised. But you won't hear Wheatley boasting about his accomplishments or trying to take all the credit. "It's not just me," he says. "We have people who have dedicated their entire adult lives to Buffalo Trace." november 2012 / the tasting panel / 7

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