Buffalo Trace Distillery Keeps Rollin’ on the (Kentucky) River with $1.2 Billion Expansion Project

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Now three years into its $1.2 billion expansion project Buffalo Trace Distillery located in Frankfort, Kentucky continues to make progress. The distillery located along the banks of the Kentucky River is expanding to help keep up with the ever growing demand for its line of bourbon whiskey products and its flourishing tourism.

One of the challenges with the bourbon industry is making predictions. The cycle from planning for growth to building facilities, producing spirits and then allowing time for that white dog whiskey to age is quite long. If you simply look at the back end on the maturation side bourbon it takes years after distillation to bring it to market. In the case of Buffalo Trace bourbon that generally means six to age years of maturation. And at $7.5 million per barrel warehouse you can see that Buffalo Trace is placing a big bet on consumers future thirst for bourbon.

“You can’t cheat Mother Nature and you can’t hurry Father Time.”
~Harlan Wheatley, Master Distiller

The Whiskey Farm – Massive Bourbon Barrel Warehouses

In the past 18 months Buffalo Trace has completed four new barrel warehouses. From a historical sense, these are not your typical bourbon warehouses. These are behemoth in size holding 58,800 barrels of bourbon and are insulated for heat cycling throughout the winter months. All barrel warehouses at Buffalo Trace are heated, a tradition started by E.H. Taylor Jr. in the 1800s.

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. 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.

“We’ve been increasing production for many years now. 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.”

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110,000 Square Foot Bottling Hall

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.

Filling the Bourbon Pipeline – Cooling Tower, Cookers, Fermenters, Evaporators

It takes a lot more than barrels to make bourbon and all the upline equipment also has to expand to keep up with demand. Making bourbon requires a lot of heating and cooling of water and mash. Buffalo Trace is now in the process of adding a new cooling tower. One of the requirements of making bourbon is lots and lots of water. The distillery sits along the Kentucky River so the area has an abundant water source. That also means moving equipment on site to an existing building can be a challenge at times. In this case the cooling tower is not being delivered by truck but by a floating barge on the river. Take a look at the video and you can catch a glimpse at this unique engineering and installation challenge.

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 and four new fermenters. 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.

Bourbon Tourism Continues to Grow

Buffalo Trace Distillery - National Historic Landmark, Buffalo in Front of Visitor CenterThe visitor center will be expanded again in the next year, as visitors continue to flock to the Distillery. Buffalo Trace had another record year in 2018 with 231,523 guests. That’s a lotta bourbon fans.

What Part of Bourbon History will be Discovered Next?

When Buffalo Trace was expanding its visitor experience in 2016 it discovered what is now commonly referred to as Bourbon Pompeii. During excavation they discovered portions of Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr. original OFC Distillery including eight square fermentation tanks that were once lined with copper. Since then, one of those fermentation tanks has been completely renovated, relined with new copper is now being used to produce an experimental bourbon. If you visit the distillery, take this tour, it’s fascinating.

You can watch this video to see the progress being made on many of these projects.

View all Kentucky Distilleries.

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