You probably picture a bottle of bourbon whiskey with a proud or slightly irate buffalo on the label when you hear the word "Buffalo Trace". However, Buffalo Trace is more than just a bottle in the world of bourbon. The history of Buffalo Trace, formerly known as Old Fire Copper Distillery, is essentially the history of American bourbon. The company has undergone multiple name changes, a disastrous lightning strike, a devastating flood, that little Prohibition glitch, and even an improbable battle with vodka and gin in the 1970s and 80s. However, the brand is still alive and well. Here are ten Buffalo Trace bourbon facts you should think about the next time you pour a drink:
Buffalo Trace is a Thing
Over the years, the distillery went by various names. The Old Fire Copper Distillery was the first. After its second owner, George T. Stagg, the company was thereafter and for the longest time known as George T. Stagg Company. In 1999, it was definitively and permanently renamed Buffalo Trace. The name pays homage to historic neighborhood "buffalo traces," which were made by buffalo roaming the primitive American woods. The link to distilling goes beyond geography Those traces served as vital trade routes for early American explorers, settlers, farmers, and other professionals.
Buffalo Trace Distillery – A National Historic Landmark
The fact that Buffalo Trace is America's oldest continually running distillery played a significant role in its designation as a National Historic Landmark in 2013. According to Buffalo Trace's own award proposal, it is in fact "a unique, intact example of a distillery operating before, through, and after Prohibition."
Head Honchos of Buffalo Trace Were Bourbon Heavy Hitters
The ancestry of Buffalo Trace is like a who's who of bourbon: Colonel E. H. Taylor, the distillery's founder and a direct descendant of Presidents Madison and Taylor, George Stagg, the business-savvy bourbon pioneer for whom the distillery bore its name for about a century. Albert B. Blanton, who maintained the distillery's operations during Prohibition and was largely responsible for turning the distillery into a center of bourbon culture, and even Pappy Van Winkle himself.
Bourbon Reinvented by First-Ever Master Distiller of Buffalo Trace
Elmer T. Lee is one of the most significant names on the Buffalo Trace roster. Buffalo Trace nearly passed over hiring him (see below). It did, and as a result, Lee, the first master distiller of bourbon, essentially brought the spirit back to life (his New York Times obit gives a hint of the glint of his bourbon star power). To cut a long story short, Lee grew up working in a distillery when bourbon was in bad shape.
Lee was declined when he initially applied to work at Buffalo Trace. He ultimately became the distillery's first master distiller thanks to better judgment. He not only worked at the distillery from 1949 until his retirement in 1985, but he also essentially saved the bourbon business. Also, there is an Elmer T. Lee bourbon, so you can theoretically toast him with any of the delectable handmade bourbons he helped create.