The Buffalo Trace distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky has, over the last several years, been undergoing a large scale infrastructure improvement project to ultimately make it capable of catching up with consumers’ growing demand for its popular bourbons. The $1.2 billion being spent on things like new aging warehouses and a bottling hall won’t immediately have an impact on this demand, however.
Improvements at the Buffalo Trace campus have been ongoing now since 2016. More specifically, according to information provided by distillery officials,
New barrel warehouses AA, BB, CC, and DD are built and filled with barrels containing what will eventually fill 70 million bottles up on the “whiskey farm,” the 200+ acres purchased adjacent to Buffalo Trace a few years ago. The fifth new warehouse – “EE” – is taking shape, with construction of number six and seven barrel warehouses planned for 2019. Each of these new warehouses are insulated and heated during the winter months, a rarity for bourbon warehouses. (All barrel warehouses at Buffalo Trace are heated, a tradition started by E.H. Taylor Jr. in the 1800s, and continuing today.) The reasoning behind heating the warehouses is to keep the bourbon moving in and out of the wood as it ages during the cold Kentucky winters, rather than lying dormant when the temperature dips down. These new warehouses cost about $7 million each to build and another $21 million each to fill with barrels, making this a significant part of the $1.2 billion investment. A new barrel warehouse is being built every few months for the next several years.
But all those aging barrels will require more bottling capacity when they come of age, and Buffalo Trace is in the finishing stages of its $50 million bottling hall, located on site near its new distribution center which was completed in 2015. Already some bottling lines are running in the new bottling hall, as construction concludes in other parts of the 110,000 square foot building. The bottling hall will be complete in August and offers improved efficiency, flexibility and overall quality for the Distillery’s award-winning brands.
But all those barrels and bottles means whiskey production must be increased too, which is why Buffalo Trace is adding a new cooling tower this summer. The cooling tower chills the water that is used for cooling down the grain after it is cooked into mash. Also on tap for this summer is the addition of four new cookers, twice the size of the existing cookers. Plus, four new fermenters are being installed. These 92,000 gallons fermenting tanks will be same size as the existing fermenters – the largest in the distilling industry. The dry house, the area where used grain is dried and sold, will receive new handling equipment and a new evaporator.
The production area at Buffalo Trace is not the only thing getting an addition; the Visitor Center will be expanded again in the next year, as visitors continue to flock to the Distillery.
As mentioned previously, these upgrades at Buffalo Trace won’t immediately address what the distillery sees as supply / demand imbalance around many of its popular American whiskeys. “We’ve been increasing production for many years now,” said Buffalo Trace senior marketing director Kris Comstock in a prepared statement. “We’ll fill more barrels this year than ever before in our 246 year history,” said Senior Marketing Director Kris Comstock. “Many of our bourbons are aged for eight years or more, so although we have far more than a decade ago, demand continues to outpace our supply of mature bourbon. There will be more available every year, but it will be awhile before bottles are readily available on liquor store shelves.
“While we’re flattered these brands have become so popular, we do understand the frustration our fans are experiencing when they see empty store shelves. We promise we are doing everything we can, but we can’t speed up the aging process, so we just ask for continued patience.”
Nino Kilgore-Marchetti is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Whiskey Wash, an award winning whiskey lifestyle website dedicated to informing and entertaining consumers about whisk(e)y on a global level. As a whisk(e)y journalist, expert and judge he has written about the subject extensively, been interviewed in various media outlets and...