The world may have slowed down but the progress at Buffalo Trace Distillery located in Frankfort, Kentucky and their planned 10 year $1.2 billion bourbon expansion plans have not wavered. Even as the distillery stepped in to produce hand sanitizer during the global Covid-19 pandemic whiskey production has not skipped a beat as construction and whiskey making has continued full steam (as in the steam that’s used to heat the grains that make the bourbon) ahead.
In the past year, the 247-year-old National Historic Landmark distillery has installed four new cookers, four new fermenters, opened a new high speed-bottling hall, and completed construction on three more barrel warehouses.
“We promise we are doing everything we can to make more, as evidenced by our progress we’ve made in the past year with our expansion,” said Master Distiller Harlen Wheatley. “But great bourbon does take time to age, and we won’t comprise age, taste, or proof just to fill more bottles. We’re just asking our fans to remain patient as we wait for our stocks to mature.”
Four New 22′ Tall Cookers
In order to legally be called bourbon a whiskey must be at least 51% corn. When you think about a barrel warehouse that holds 58,800 53 gallon barrels of bourbon you know it takes a lot of corn as well as other grains like wheat, rye and barley to make all that bourbon. Buffalo Trace uses truckloads of grains every day. After the grains have been milled into a flour like consistency they get ‘cooked’ before fermentation and distillation. Each grain enters the cooker at a specific temperature to control the cook. Just imagine the largest cooking pot you have in your house. Now imagine that pot being 22′ tall.
Just before the end of 2019, Buffalo Trace started cooking corn in its four new 22 foot tall cookers. The new cookers span three floors in height and give Buffalo Trace 80,000 gallons of cooking capacity, which is more than two and a half times the volume of the old cookers. The roof of the 1930s era Mash House was removed to install the massive cookers into the building. New cookers for the other grains were also installed to cook rye, wheat and malted barley.
Raising the Roof to Add Four New Fermenters
Four new fermenters were also added last summer in the 1880s building that formerly housed the bottling operation. In order to accommodate these massive fermenters the roof on the building had to be raised by nine feet. Click any image above and you can see step by step how the roof is lifted. Each of these new 93,000 gallon vats are slightly bigger than the twelve existing fermenters in use since 1933.
The delicate project of raising the roof was completed by ThermalTech Engineering. Watch the video below to literally see them ‘Raise the Roof’. Not sure I would want to be standing under the roof for this operation.
The building has room to add eight more fermenters in the future. A new cooling tower, which cools down the grains after they are cooked into mash, was also added.
A New 58,800 Barrel Warehouse Completed Every 4 Months
Three new barrel warehouses have been completed in the past year, EE, FF, and GG, joining four other newly filled warehouses. Each warehouse holds 58,800 barrels, costing about $7 million each to build and another $21 million each to fill with barrels. Barrel warehouses HH, JJ and II are in various stages of construction now. Fifteen new barrel warehouses will be built on the 200 acres of land known as the “Whiskey Farm,” purchased adjacent to Buffalo Trace a few years ago.
Every warehouse at Buffalo Trace is heated during the winter months, a rarity for bourbon warehouses, but a tradition started by E.H. Taylor Jr. in the 1800s. The reason for heating the warehouses is to keep the bourbon moving in and out of the wood to yield more flavor and color as barrels mature during the cold Kentucky winters, rather than lying dormant when the temperature drops.
New High Speed Bottling Line
A new $50 million high-speed bottling hall was completed in late 2019, located on site near the distribution center. The bottling hall is 110,000 square feet and offers improved efficiency, flexibility and overall quality for the Distillery’s award-winning brands. Happily, it came online just in time to also package hand sanitizer, which the company started producing on March 27th in response to Covid-19. The hand sanitizer is being made for some of the world’s largest organizations in healthcare, government, military, retail, airline, pharmacy and financial industries. The Distillery plans to continue to supply hand sanitizer for as long as the need is there.
Also in the works are a new dry house (the area where spent mash is dried and shipped out), a water treatment facility, a second still house, more barrel warehouses, and in the future, another craft bottling hall. Another craft bottling hall will allow Buffalo Trace to produce more single barrel and small batch bourbons.
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Buffalo Trace Distillery Tours Re-Started July 1, 2020
Tours at the historic Buffalo Trace Distillery resumed July 1, 2020 and guests are now able to see the expanded Visitor Center, which backs up to the recently completed fermenter expansion and includes additional tasting rooms and more retail space. The expanded Visitor Center triples the size of the former space, to accommodate for the ever-increasing interest in bourbon tourism, which accounted for nearly 300,000 visitors to Buffalo Trace in 2019.
Even with all this expansion progress, demand for Buffalo Trace Bourbon and other whiskeys made at the award-winning Distillery continues to outpace supply, as most of its whiskeys age for eight years or more. “Although we’ve been increasing production on all of our bourbons for the past several years, the consumer demand also continues to increase,” said Kris Comstock, senior marketing director. “We understand fans are frustrated when they can’t find our brands on liquor store shelves. While we are bottling and shipping record amounts, overall demand outstrips supply, and as a result our brands will continue to remain allocated to ensure every state receives some each month.”