CommunitySpotlight Series


Making memories at Buffalo Trace Distillery

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Posted at 7:30 AM, Feb 01, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-13 14:10:00-04

FRANKFORT, Ky. (LEX 18) — Along the banks of the Kentucky River is one of the oldest Kentucky traditions.

"1786 was when the site was first created. In the early 1800s, Taylor introduced a new process for making whiskey here using column stills," said Freddie Johnson, a tour guide and ambassador for Buffalo Trace Distillery.

Buffalo Trace Distillery is the oldest continuously operating distillery in the country. Some of the most sought-after brands are produced here, including the Pappy Van Winkle collection, Blanton's, Weller, Eagle Rare, and of course, Buffalo Trace bourbon.

"Colonel Blanton navigates this distillery through two world wars, through the Korean conflict, through the depression, through the 1937 flood, and through prohibition, and this distillery never closed through any of that," Johnson said.

Johnson's family history is woven throughout that same lineage.

"They tell me I have bourbon in my blood," he said.

Johnson is the third generation of his family to work here.

"I had promised my dad and my granddad that I would try to work here during their lifetime," Johnson said. "My dad told me he was terminally ill and he asked me would I come home and keep that promise while he was still alive. I was only going to stay for one year. That was twenty years ago!"

Today, Johnson leads tours and serves as an ambassador for the distillery. The bourbon tourism industry has seen a lot of growth in the last decade or so. Last year, he said 440,000 people toured Buffalo Trace. This year, he said they're on pace to increase that by another 20%. Where bourbon used to be perceived as an old person's drink, Johnson says people from their 20s on up come in for tastings.

"Four generations, they all had their significant others, and they all liked bourbon. Unheard of in this industry. Four different generations sharing the same product and creating memories collectively together," he said.

That's what Johnson says bourbon should do — help people create memories. He likes to think the barrels that are aging here will go one to become touchpoints in people's memories. The last thing he wants people to do is take a high-end bottle home and never share it.

"The liquid goes down in the bottle when you share the pour, but each time you share the pour, you've got a memory moment of someone else you shared that special drink with," he said.

Buffalo Trace offers several different tours of the distillery.