A Peek Inside Buffalo Trace's Almost-Full Warehouse AA - The Whiskey Wash

A Peek Inside Buffalo Trace’s Almost-Full Warehouse AA

Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky, is in the midst of immense growth. Over the next 10 years, it’s planning to spend about $1.2 billion on a multi-phase expansion that touches nearly every aspect of the distillery, from the installation of a brand-new boiler to the creation of a state-of-the-art $50 million bottling line.

“This place is about to become a construction zone,” says Mark Brown, president and CEO of Buffalo Trace, as we wind past a limestone-edged creek on our way to check out the newest maturation warehouse, the (somewhat ironically named) Warehouse AA. This huge structure will be one of 30 new warehouses Buffalo Trace plans to build over the next several years, at the rate of approximately one every four months.

The exterior of Warehouse AA at Buffalo Trace, the first of a new breed of warehouses. Photo by Margarett Waterbury, image copyright The Whiskey Wash.

And these aren’t just any old aging warehouses. Instead, Buffalo Trace has taken the opportunity to put some of the insights gleaned from Warehouse X and thousands of additional distillation and maturation experiments into practice. Just like the next 29 warehouses Buffalo Trace plans to build, Warehouse AA is kitted out with new-fangled features that give workers much more control over the conditions bourbon and rye mature in. It’s the first warehouse of its kind, and Buffalo Trace is betting it will help it make better-tasting whiskey than ever before.

Inside, master distiller Harlan Wheatley is excited to show off his favorite “bells and whistles,” including remote sensors installed throughout the warehouse that continually monitor temperature and humidity, fingerprinting conditions over time to individual sections of the warehouse. This is important because different locations in the rickhouse experience different conditions, resulting in different flavor profiles in whiskeys matured there.

But that doesn’t mean Buffalo Trace is content to simply measure and track the whims of Kentucky’s famously changeable weather. Warehouse AA is lined with insulation and equipped with a powerful HVAC system that will enable workers to control its internal temperature, marking a major departure from the traditional uninsulated Kentucky rickhouse that generally lives at ambient temperature.

Inside Warehouse AA. Insulation throughout the warehouse gives the distillery more control over temperature than ever before. Photo courtesy of Buffalo Trace.

Harlan explains that the company is planning on heat cycling the interior of Warehouse AA, especially during the winter. And if the heating system goes down, the system automatically notifies Harlan with a text, day or night—a feature Harlan says with a wry smile his wife “doesn’t love.”

The freight elevator—or rather, lack thereof—is another improvement. Instead of a standard elevator to carry barrels up in the rickhouse, Warehouse AA has a device that looks a bit like a narrow, extremely elongated water wheel. Barrels are rolled in, raised to the correct floor, and then neatly deposited at the end of the appropriate aisle, ready to be racked. Mark says the new lift reduces the amount of time it takes for each barrel to be placed by a factor of four.

A commemorative barrel signed by Buffalo Trace leadership and a passel of visiting whiskey writers, including several Whiskey Wash contributors. Photo by Margarett Waterbury, image copyright The Whiskey Wash.

That’s a good thing, because Warehouse AA is filling fast. A truck carrying 63 full barrels arrives about every 20 minutes, and the warehouse will ultimately hold about 58,800 barrels across seven floors. When we visited, it was about half full, and in two months time it will be packed to the gills.

But perhaps the most exiting thing about Warehouse AA for Buffalo Trace fans hasn’t been finished yet: a top-floor observation deck. From here, you’ll be able to see Buffalo Trace’s entire 443-acre campus, which was added to the registry of National Historic Landmarks in 2013—perhaps someday, while enjoying a bourbon aged right under your feet.

About the author

    Margarett Waterbury

    Margarett Waterbury is a food and drinks writer based in Portland, Oregon. She's the managing editor of The Whiskey Wash, the managing editor of Edible Portland, and a regular contributor to local and national publications.