Why Are the Flag Ships Sinking? Whiskey #7 Buffalo Trace


The notion of a flag ship is an interesting concept.  A ship that bears the name of origin that represents the absolute best that a corporation, nation, or world power has to offer.  That seems to apply to just about every example except the bourbon industry.

If you travel to New York City and stay at the Ritz Carlton you will be bathed in luxury, servents will take your bags to your room, and orient you to your surroundings, your room will have the finest appointments, every detail will represent the absolute best the company has to offer down to the bath robe and fluffy slippers.  There are other Ritz Carlton hotels that too pay good attention to detail, but the flagship is special, and you know it from the moment you walk over the threshold. Someone should explain this to the bourbon industry and the Buffalo Trace distillery.

Buffalo Trace So then  why aren’t the bourbons that represent their distillery’s name, their “Flagship Bourbons”, not their best offerings?  I see this with Beam, Wild Turkey, and now unfortunately Buffalo Trace.

Buffalo Trace is a 90 proof bourbon, or 45% ABV, that has a mild nose with a striking vanilla scent accented by clove spice and leather undertones.  These are evident in the flavor of the whiskey as well. The bourbon starts out promising with rather intense flavors of vanilla and cloves, and perhaps a touch of anise with a nice leathery undertone.  These flavors dissipate quickly however and the bourbon turns watery before the spice hits with a long burn. This burn will go on for about 3 minutes and the flavors of the whiskey continue to revisit the palate during the long finish.  Quite unusual and pleasing for a bourbon at this proof.


Buffalo Trace is quite enjoyable neat.  I tend to prefer my whiskey on the rocks, but I found myself drinking most of my pour neat because it was enjoyable.

On the Rocks

Cooled by ice this whiskey drinks well.  It maintains its structure nicely and doesn’t loose too much on the nose or in the flavor.

With a Splash

Buffalo Trace can hold up to water, but it makes the watery feel on the palate more so and the flavor begins to unravel.  It does tame the burn on the backside and extinguishes it much quicker.

Buffalo Trace Bourbon is a solid middle shelf product, and a good bourbon for your collection, but again for the distillery’s flagship spirit I would expect the best it has to offer.  There are other single barrel and 17 year old offerings from this distillery that are better crafted and more flavorful.

Someone ought to explain the concept of a flag ship to the bourbon industry.  Buffalo Trace is good, but it is far from the distillery’s best, and that is a disappointment.

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Categories: Whiskey

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3 Comments on “Why Are the Flag Ships Sinking? Whiskey #7 Buffalo Trace”

  1. September 17, 2009 at 5:02 pm #

    I’m in complete agreement with your assessment about flagships. This certainly is not their best offering. I used to live about an hour away from this distillery and have visited several times…they’re my favorite whiskey maker. I don’t have tasting notes on their stuff but I would like to say that their Antique collection has some terrific stuff. George T. Stagg and the Thomas Handy Sazarac are absolutely awesome. Both of those are uncut and unfiltered. Their 15 year Pappy Van Winkle is also terrific (you can pick this one up for about $40-50). I wish Pappy Van Winkle was their flagship. I’ve also found that their Blanton’s is overrated. Just my two cents.

    • Don
      September 24, 2009 at 9:20 pm #

      There has been a really vibrant discussion I started about this topic on the Bourbon enthusiast web site. Here is the link. http://www.bourbonenthusiast.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=6470 Some of it got a little terse. I was surprised, there is a lot of disagreement as to what actually constitutes a flagship. Who knew?

  2. Jim
    September 17, 2009 at 5:54 pm #

    I really like your take on this one. Sometimes a “flagship” is not the best, it’s simply the best-accepted. Depending on the size of a distiller, I imagine that they want their signature whiskey to be the one that appeals to the most people, not the one that shows what they can really do. Or maybe it’s the original recipe and they’ve become more imaginative since then.

    That’s why my favorite breweries all have a screw loose – like Dogfish or Victory – they swing for the fences and make stuff that’s not for everyone. They also don’t have flag ship, just best sellers.

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