Buffalo Trace Single Oak Project

This is a project that Buffalo Trace has been working on for over ten years.  It is intriguing, but at the same time a bit confusing.  This is Called the Buffalo Trace Single Oak Project.  It started with 96 American White Oak trees from the Missouri Ozarks.  The trees were selected for their grains, some tightly grained that comes from slow growth, and some loosely grained that comes from rapid growth.

The trees were then split in two, top and bottom.  Staves were made from each part of the tree and kept together for aging and finally barrel construction.  So now you 192 barrels, each made from either the top or bottom of a single oak tree.  Phase one complete.

Phase two is the charring of the barrels.  Barrels were charred to different degrees.  Some were deeply charred, while others lightly, and varying levels in between.  How many levels I don’t know, they never really said.  I would have liked to know this as it has an effect on the number of variables that go into each whiskey…

The whiskey itself comes from seven different mash bills.  Some is Rye Whiskey, some is Wheat Whiskey, as well as high rye and low rye bourbon mash bills.  These individual whiskeys were then put in barrels for aging.  Each Barrel Aged for almost 10 years.

Finally the filled barrels were placed in different warehouses and in different places within each warehouse for aging.  All of this information has been tracked and recorded.  The final phase is the release and data collection.  These bourbons were just released within the last week or two.  In total there are over 1300 variables that can be tracked and understood within this collection of whiskey.

The reason for this?  Buffalo Trace thinks they can learn from this project, and make better whiskeys.  They have set up a web site where you can register and give them feedback on each individual whiskey.  They will then use this information and feedback to distill (Pun intended) the pertinent information for future whiskey production.

It is a huge undertaking, but perhaps the most important one in the history of bourbon whiskey production.  I hope to be able to get a couple of these bottles and give them feedback via their web site to have my voice heard in this important endeavor.

You can participate too.  Simply go to this web site and register.  You can earn points and just have some fun with it.

So what do you think about something like this?  Would you be interested in participating and giving them feedback?  I think it is unique and interesting way to systematically learn more about whiskey production and the variables that make a great whiskey.

UPDATE:  Almost forgot a very important factor.  These whiskeys entered the barrel at different proofs.  This can give entirely different flavor profiles all on its own.  OK, maybe it excites me a little too much.


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18 Comments on “Buffalo Trace Single Oak Project”

  1. May 3, 2011 at 11:06 am #

    Wow, that is a very cool idea. I’ve had Buffalo Trace’s “regular” bourbon and found it to be OK, but nothing special. Looks like they are shooting for excellence with this project.

    Any idea about the pricing on these bottles? I’d love to try a side-by-side, but only if it’s affordable.

    • Don
      May 3, 2011 at 11:17 am #

      I have no idea Alex, and they don’t mention price anywhere. So I’m at a bit of a loss on that aspect. I’d bet were looking at $40 a bottle or there abouts. I agree their flagship is just ok. But you need to remember that they own probably 50 different bourbons, including my favorite everyday drinker Old Weller Antique.

  2. May 3, 2011 at 11:18 am #

    This is very nerdy, and therefore very cool. Not only is it a neat undertaking from a data perspective, it’s also a great way to build brand loyalty.

    • Don
      May 3, 2011 at 11:24 am #

      Now if I can only get my hands on a couple of these bottles! When I registered to be a reviewer they asked for my address. Fingers crossed they might send me some!

  3. johnking82
    May 3, 2011 at 11:19 am #

    Hmmm, I pass Liqour Barn on my way to track tonight and wanted to pull in and snag a GI Big John (it’s pre AB!) and maybe I’ll look for this. I’ll mention something to my buddy who distributes to see if there are any side by side tastings locally or if he has heard anything yet.

    With this starting 10 years ago…I wonder how many other similar things are going on but just aren’t ready yet.

    • Don
      May 3, 2011 at 11:22 am #

      Buffalo Trace is a very cool Distillery. They are always experimenting with their “experimental” line, and they were the first to rent distillery space in the warehouses and equipment to artisan distillers. They are very progressive and ahead of the curve as that goes. I’d guess that there is nothing to this level going on anywhere else in the industry.

  4. May 3, 2011 at 11:27 am #

    Yo Don!

    I know how you feel. I’m excited to try some of this stuff (if I can find it).

    I was listening to the WhiskyCast podcast (recorded at Buffalo Trace last week) on the train ride into work this morning . I was totally riveted by this story! Talk about whiskey geek stuff taken to the extremes. As far as pricing, it will retail for about $40 to $50 for a 375ML bottle and the various versions will be released over the next 3 or 4 years. Apparently, it’s all been bottled and kept under lock and key until they’re ready to release it. Though the regular Buffalo Trace is a good everyfay and mixing bourbon, it’s their Antique Collection that makes them a distiller to respect. They’re like the Dogfish Head of the whiskey world.

    FYI… I was gonna write this up, but as expected, you beat me to the punch. Well done!


    • Don
      May 3, 2011 at 11:30 am #

      Well G, you could just make a little blurb and then link to the Beer and Whiskey Bros. We love the traffic! Thanks for the additional information about the project. Seems like for something this special those prices are right in line. The bottles are the tall skinny kind too. Very cool.

      • May 3, 2011 at 11:34 am #

        I have an email out to WhiskyCast with a question that popped into my head while listening to the interview, so perhaps I’ll have a follow-up post. And of course, I’ll link back.

        As far as the pricing, I think it’s fair too. This is one expensive project AND it may never happen again.

        • Don
          May 3, 2011 at 11:36 am #

          I actually think it is a little better than fair. I’m assuming they aren’t going to get rich from this at all. The purpose is to get the data and then get rich!

      • May 3, 2011 at 11:44 am #

        You’re probably right Don. During the interview, they joked about locking the accountants away while they worked on this project. I wonder if they would have been able to pull this off if they were a public company. Here’s a link to the podcast: http://www.whiskycast.com/files/WhiskyCast_20110501.mp3

        • Don
          May 3, 2011 at 11:47 am #

          Thanks G. I’ll give it a listen. Yes I’m sure if the accountants got a hold of this it would be much smaller and way less cool and nerdy.

  5. May 3, 2011 at 11:39 am #

    Yikes. That made my head spin a bit. Do they have control bottles for all of those variables? Or are they just looking to see statistically which bottles score highest and go from there?

    Worthy endeavor, though. I venture to guess they’ll get a fair amount of learnings from it. Hopefully that makes for better whiskey!

    • Don
      May 3, 2011 at 11:43 am #

      I’d bet they have control bottles that they are hanging onto as well as relying on the feedback. It is impressive, but the major disappointment for me is they don’t have any bottles that they are releasing where they just change one variable so you can discover the nuances of change that happen between variables. That would be an even larger endeavor, and I’m pretty sure they will have their hands full with just what they are already doing.

      • Jim Myers
        May 10, 2011 at 1:56 pm #

        I was fortunate to be at the release tasting. Of the 12 bottles in each release, they are grouped in a way for interesting comparisons, namely, there are 6 pairs of bottles where there is a change in only one variable. The difficulty for a consumer is that there is only one bottle per case. To try the whole first release of 12, you need to buy a whole case, or really scramble to locate specific bottles. And with only about 385 bottles/barrel, that could be tough. For the best shot at comparison, look for two bottles that are only one digit apart (3 & 4, 99 & 100, etc.)

        • Don
          May 10, 2011 at 2:49 pm #

          I’m just hoping that Idaho gets any of these bottles. I might have to pop over to Washington if Idaho doesn’t have any when I’m in Spokane next week. Otherwise if they won’t distribute to control states the NW is SOL!

  6. BourbnDrinkn
    May 3, 2011 at 8:55 pm #

    They have a feature that let’s you see every detail of the barrel when you review it. there’s also an option to find barrels that only differ on one variable(around 7 per barrel I think) from the one you reviewed. It’s a really neat way to narrow what makes a bourbon that you really enjoy (if you can get your hands on it!)

    • Don
      May 3, 2011 at 9:28 pm #

      That is really cool Drew. I’ll have to explore the site in greater detail. Thanks for your insight.

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