The world’s smallest bonded warehouse got a new arrival this month as Buffalo Trace Distillery rolled away its 6 millionth barrel to make room for its 7 millionth barrel. Warehouse No. 43 “V” sits on the banks of the Kentucky River in Frankfort, Kentucky. This single rick barrel warehouse was built in 1952 to house the two millionth barrel of bourbon whiskey and has held every millionth barrel produced at the distillery ever since.
“These special barrels have raised over $2 million for charities,” said Distillery President and CEO Mark Brown. “The 6 millionth barrel, that was in this warehouse, has been put away to age a little bit longer and it will be released for charity as will the 7 millionth barrel. The irony of the millionth barrel celebration is getting to be quite amusing. It took us forever to get from 5 million to 6 million. It’s taken us eight years to get from 6 to 7. We will get to 8 in four years. We will get to 9 in two years and eventually we will be doing them every year and a half.”
Watch the video below to hear from Buffalo Trace Distillery President and CEO Mark Brown and Tour Guide Freddie Johnson.
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The Tradition of Rolling Away the Millionth Barrel – James Sr., Jimmy Jr. & Freddie Johnson
Freddie Johnson is a third generation Buffalo Trace employee and well known tour guide at the distillery. Freddie and his grandson Osiris Johnson took part in the millionth barrel celebration by carrying on a family tradition started by his father Jimmy.
Freddie’s distillery roots trace back to his grandfather James B. Johnson, Sr. who worked at the distillery for 52 years. Freddie’s dad, James (Jimmy) B. Johnson, Jr., who passed away in 2011, worked at the distillery and had a hand in rolling away every millionth barrel since Prohibition. Both Jimmy and his father worked their way up through the distillery ranks to the position of Warehouse Supervisor.
“This tradition started with the 1st millionth barrel that was made after Prohibition and that barrel was rolled away by Jimmy Johnson,” said Mark Brown. “He then rolled away the 2nd million and the 3rd and the 4th and the 5th. And I met him somewhere around 5.1 million barrels. And I said to Jimmy, well, you’ve got to carry on the family tradition. And he said, ‘What do you mean?’ I said you’ve got to roll away the 6th millionth barrel. And he said, ‘When do you think you are going to do that?’ I said about nine years from now. He said, ‘But I’m 83.’ I said I don’t care, you’re just going to have to figure out how to make it. Thrillingly, Jimmy, his son Freddie and I, eight years ago, nine years ago now, stood here and rolled away that 6th millionth barrel. Unfortunately, Jimmy refused to do the 7 millionth barrel.”
“So, in the spirit of honoring tradition and embracing change, today marks the day when Freddie takes over that mantel. And originally, Freddie had signed up for 7, 8, 9 and 10. However, at the pace we are going, we’ve redone those numbers and he’s now on the hook all the way up to number 20. Freddie is the 3rd generation of his family, and there are many 2nd and 3rd generation folks that work for us. It’s one of the things that we are very thankful for which is to have a family company with family members working in it through the generations. I think that’s a very nice part of who we are and what we do. And I’m particularly proud to have Osirous Johnson, who is Freddie’s grandson, the fifth generation to help participate in this. And I’m figuring that Osirous should be able to carry the Johnson name all the way to the 50 millionth barrel.”
Those Million Barrels Have to Go Somewhere – Dedication of New Barrel Warehouses
On the same day, the Distillery also officially dedicated the first warehouse, Warehouse AA, built on its farm. Warehouse AA is the first of 30 new warehouses to be built on the farm over the next 10 years, each of which will hold 68,800 barrels. This major expansion of warehouse capacity marks another milestone of growth and is part of the first large scale structural expansion at the Distillery’s campus since the 1950s.
The distillery plans to build a new warehouse on the farm every four months. Warehouse AA is now complete and nearly full with barrels, construction of Warehouse BB is already nearly complete, the foundation for Warehouse CC has been poured and the first ricks are taking shape, and the ground has been prepared for Warehouse DD.
It took nearly 10 years for Buffalo Trace to replace its six millionth barrel with its seven millionth barrel, but they are anticipating a much shorter turnaround for the eight millionth barrel as the Distillery is able to expand bourbon production and roll more and more barrels into the warehouses on the farm.
The Distillery plans to bottle the bourbon from the six millionth barrel this summer and offer 375ml bottles of the bourbon to charities for fundraising efforts.