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Buffalo Trace ‘fails’ with 27-year Bourbon

Bourbon distiller Buffalo Trace will not be releasing a 27-year aged whiskey for sale to the public after the cask was declared a “failed experiment”.

The failed 1988 cask is the latest in a string of unsuccessful experiments at Buffalo Trace (Photo: Buffalo Trace)
The failed 1988 cask is the latest in a string of unsuccessful experiments at Buffalo Trace (Photo: Buffalo Trace)

The decision was made by Buffalo Trace to declare the whiskey a failure as it “did not meet the taste standards required… to be released to the market”, a company statement said.

Buffalo Trace’s tasters said the Bourbon, which was put into cask in 1988, was “vinegary sour, unpleasant, disappointing” and having a “very bitter and lingering aftertaste.”

Describing the cask, Harlen Wheatley, Buffalo Trace master distiller, said, “The Bourbon was put into it in 1988 and the rivets bore the letters ‘LK,’ meaning it was produced in Lebanon, Kentucky, by Independent Stave Company, Buffalo Trace’s primary barrel supplier.”

The failed cask is the latest in a string of unsuccessful experiments carried out by the distillery recently. Buffalo Trace’s tests of small five, 10 and 15 gallon barrels, an experimental whiskey using barley and experiments with varying barrel stave thickness all produced Bourbon below the necessary standard.

There have also been luckless results from experimental barrels that featured rough saw joints and a whiskey made using sour wood, among others.

All of the failures have been bottled with a label stating they are “failed experiments” and are either archived at Buffalo Trace for future research or have been released to whiskey educators and the media for taste training.

“The majority of our experiments we’ve conducted over the past thirty years have been successful,” Wheatley revealed. “We’ve experimented and released whiskies featuring unique recipes, oak barrels, entry proofs and more. Every once in a while, the experiments do not turn out as planned, and we’re not comfortable with releasing them if they do not need meet our standards.

“However, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t talk about our failures too, because that’s how we all learn, both as a company and as an industry as a whole,” he said.

This barrel is part of more than 4,000 experimental barrels – or 80,000 cases – of whiskey ageing in the warehouses of Buffalo Trace Distillery, with variations including unique mash bills, types of wood, and different barrel toasts.

Buffalo Trace is well-known in the industry as being a leading figure for whiskey research and development. The company recently built a micro distillery, named The Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr. “OFC” Micro Distillery, in order to produce whiskey solely for experimentation.

Buffalo Trace’s “Warehouse X”, where casks are subjected to diverse temperatures and humidity levels among other variables, was also completed two years ago. Parent company Sazerac said in May that the warehouse was already “yielding very interesting results”, with research on “DNA fingerprinting” currently taking place.

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