Prohibition didn’t stop Buffalo Trace from distilling bourbon and making a lot of it.
In the nearly 85 years since prohibition ended, Buffalo Trace has rolled many barrels of bourbon into its warehouses — 7 million of them, to be exact. On Wednesday, a ceremony was held at Buffalo Trace’s Warehouse V, where the seven-millionth barrel was ceremoniously rolled in.
The ceremony occurred 10 years since the six-millionth barrel was rolled into Warehouse V on May 14, 2008. The eight-millionth is expected to be rolled into Warehouse V in just four years. The nine-millionth barrel is expected to be rolled in two years after that, attesting to the global boom in bourbon popularity.
“The irony of the millionth-barrel celebration is getting amusing. It took us forever to get from 5 million to 6 million,” said Mark Brown, Buffalo Trace president and CEO.
Warehouse V was built in 1952 with the purpose of housing every millionth barrel.
This year, the seven-millionth barrel of bourbon was rolled into the warehouse by Freddie Johnson. His father, Jimmy Johnson, has rolled every millionth barrel of bourbon into Warehouse V until Wednesday. Osiris Johnson, Freddie Johnson’s grandson, helped him roll the seven-millionth barrel into the warehouse, keeping the family tradition alive.
“It’s more than just a barrel. It’s more than just a bottle. It’s more than us being together,” Freddie Johnson said. “It’s memories that we create that last us for the rest of our lives.”
After being bottled, the millionth barrel will be sold to raise money for charity.
Buffalo Trace has been making bourbon for over 200 years, since 1773. The distillery got the name Buffalo Trace because it is located at the site where buffalo crossed the Kentucky River. Even during prohibition, Buffalo Trace made whiskey for medicinal purposes.
The seven-millionth barrel of bourbon was made just like the regular Buffalo Trace bourbon. The beginning ingredients are corn, rye and malted barley. The corn adds sweetness to the bourbon. Rye adds spice to the bourbon. Malted barley is primarily used as an enzyme, to convert starch to sugar, but it does add some more flavor.
From there, the grains are cooked. Once the grains have reached a certain temperature, they are put into a fermenter. Yeast is added and consumes the sugars, which creates alcohol.
After the grains have been fermented, the mixture is sent to a beer still. It is distilled twice. Once it is double distilled, the barrel is filled.
To create bourbon, a new charred-oak barrel must be used. At Buffalo Trace, the wood is aged for 8 months before the char is added. When the barrel is ready, whiskey is added. The barrel is then sent to a warehouse where it will age until it is fully mature.
Kentucky is a good place to make bourbon because of the fluctuation in temperature. When the weather is warm, the wood of the barrel expands, allowing the bourbon to seep into the pores. In cool weather, the liquid draws out of the wood, bringing both flavor and color with it.
When the barrel begins to reach maturity, distillers sample the bourbon to ensure it meets the Buffalo Trace standard and tastes like all other bottles of Buffalo Trace.
This year, Buffalo Trace says it has made more barrels of whiskey than it has in any other year. To be able to roll the next barrel into Warehouse V in four years, the distillery will have to make 250,000 barrels per year. That’s compared to the average of 100,000 barrels that were rolled in each year between the six-millionth barrel and the seven-millionth barrel.