One of my very first whisk(e)y tastings (and definitely my first whiskey tasting) was at The Whisky Exchange and featured a range from the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Kentucky. Both distillery and its spirits were wonderfully introduced to us by two people lucky enough to work with them day in, day out, including the Master Distiller, Harlen Wheatley.
Now, the Buffalo Trace Distillery has a wealth of history about it that I will cover in more detail in another article, where we’ll look at the broader range of spirits that they make there, but I’m eager to get started tasting today’s whiskey and their namesake Bourbon: Buffalo Trace. It’s made with corn, rye and malted barley, and aged for at least eight years in oak barrels. For each batch, a number of barrels are selected, tasted and blended by the Harlen and his team, before being bottled at 40%ABV.
#1) On its own
Nose: Quite sweet wood varnish, with a sweetness to it that’s halfway between syrup and honey. Also, after a few minutes, comforting hints of warm, sweet spice, orange, and dry cocoa, all drawing out to a final scent of chocolate-covered marzipan and light brown sugar.
Taste: Straightforward, solid and strong Bourbon flavours: corn to start, with vanilla, then weightier, sweet wood notes. The finish is lightly dry, but not bitter, and vanilla keeps reappearing. This also has a lovely, comforting warmth at the end and that finish – which reminds me ever so slightly of banana bread! – means that I’m constantly drawn to my next sip. This would be exactly the kind of Bourbon that James Bond would sit and savour at the beginning of the first chapter of Goldfinger, which has the rather exquisite title: “Contemplations over a Double Bourbon”.
I’ve also been rather looking forward to trying this in some cocktails, as I think that its rich, but relaxed flavour will work well with others. We decided to try some classic cocktails that are nonetheless pretty easy to make at home. The first? A Manhattan. But when DTS asked me whether I wanted it shaken or stirred, I hesitated just long enough for him to realise that I didn’t yet have an opinion. The result? Two (unlabelled) Manhattans and a comparative tasting.
(i) Manhattan – Shaken
A vibrant, sweet, floral nose with notes of vanilla and red berries. The liquid is decidedly chilled, especially around the edges; it seems warmer in the middle. The flavour is light and easy to drink, with a good balance of sweetness and light oak.
(ii) Manhattan – Stirred
The nose is much less vibrant than the previous cocktail, and the liquid is noticeably warmer, with no icy chill to it. On the taste, however, the wood of the whiskey comes through a lot more, along with a generally warmer, lightly spiced taste.
#3) Old Fashioned
Silky smooth and top-notch; always very balanced, but nonetheless full of flavour, which gradually builds. The Bourbon adds weight and rich corn, rye and oak notes to the drink, whilst still sharing the spotlight with the playful, herbal notes of the bitters, which are allowed to shine through. To top it off, there’s a gradually building warmth and a very measured sweetness throughout. If you’re after a smooth, rich and complex cocktail, try this.
Strong, sweet aniseed on the nose follows through to the taste. I was then surprised at how dry and woody the main body of the taste was, as well as how rich and dark it seemed – much more so than the Bourbon on its own. The finish was a neat combination of dry oak and sweet liquorice, like liquorice allsorts. Delicious!
#5) Whiskey Ginger
This starts off with the same good, solid Bourbon notes, including dry oak and vanilla, along with more of a salted caramel flavour, plus an unexpected, almost herbal twist. The ginger notes are light and add a sweetness and gentle warmth to the finish, which pairs neatly with the building warmth of the whiskey.
Buffalo Trace is simply an excellent Bourbon that’s full of flavour, but also works brilliantly in cocktails; letting other notes really shine, whilst still adding its own rich, classic notes of oak, corn and rye. I was particularly fond of the Old Fashioned, which I’d highly recommend. It also has a wonderfully rich and complex nose, which is refreshing, and makes it great to enjoy neat, too (feeling contemplative, anyone?).
It was interesting to see the respective merits of shaking and stirring Manhattans. Upon reflection, I think I slightly preferred the shaken version, with that superb chill to it, although I’ll probably be tempted by a warmer, richer stirred version during Christmas.
All in all, Buffalo Trace is a tasty, complex whiskey that we keep coming back to again and again. A brilliant bottle to have handy over the holidays.
– Mrs. B.