Bourbon history just got a bit more interesting. When renovation crews starting working on what was commonly referred to as the O.F.C. Building on the grounds of what today is Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky the work quickly turned from a renovation project to an excavation project. What construction crews discovered underneath the concrete floor was 143 years of bourbon history. You see, hiding under the dust and concrete along the banks of the Kentucky River, laid parts of Colonel E.H. Taylor Jr’s original O.F.C. Distillery dating back to 1873.
“To have a find like this, that dates back to Taylor’s time in the 1800’s is simply amazing,” said Mark Brown, president and chief executive officer, Buffalo Trace Distillery. “We look forward to preserving these discoveries for many more generations to enjoy.”
Colonel E.H. Taylor Jr’s O.F.C. Distillery Fermenters Unearthed 2016
Colonel E.H. Taylor Jr’s O.F.C. Distillery Fermenters 1882
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The discovery happened when Buffalo Trace began renovating a very old building once used for distilling, but long since vacant. The building was going to be turned into meeting and event space. When construction crews went in to shore up the foundation, the crew discovered there was more than met the eye. As digging proceeded, the original 1873 distillery foundation as well as fermenters from 1882 were unearthed. The Distillery immediately stopped work and called in two area experts, Historic Preservation Consultant/Whiskey Historian Carolyn Brooks and Bourbon Archaeologist Nicolas Laracuente.
Colonel E.H. Taylor Jr’s O.F.C. Distillery Mash Floor Unearthed 2016
Colonel E.H. Taylor Jr’s O.F.C. Distillery Mash Floor 1882
O.F.C. Distillery Fermenting Room 1882
Brooks and Laracuente confirmed what Buffalo Trace had suspected, the foundation and fermenters were from an earlier build of the Distillery and dated back to the days of Col. E. H. Taylor, Jr, in 1873. This Distillery, called the O.F.C. Distillery, was later destroyed by fire in 1882 but work began immediately to restore it. Depending on who you ask O.F.C. stands for Old Fire Copper or Old Fashioned Copper. Apparently, Taylor was known to refer to it both ways. The 1873 foundation was left in place and Taylor expanded the Distillery, installing the 11,000 gallon fermenting vats in a massive construction project that was completed in a single year. Taylor described it as “the walls of the O.F. C. fermenting room are constructed of rough ashler from limestone quarries – the floor is grouted in best English cement…. The vats… are constructed of brick, laid in English cement – the base six feet below the level of the floor, and the top eleven feet below the ceiling. They are first lined with first quality of Portland cement, and this again lined with the best sheet copper, manufactured especially for this purpose.” The foundation and the vats were covered with a cement floor when the building was decommissioned in 1958 and forgotten, until today.
O.F.C Distillery on the banks of the Kentucky River
Bourbon Archaeologist Nick Laracuente agrees, stating “archaeological investigations at large, continuously active, distilleries like this never yield intact remains since the buildings and equipment are typically salvaged, repurposed, or torn down. We were lucky to discover it. But, what is even more impressive is that Buffalo Trace took the time and effort to completely change their project in order to preserve and interpret this unique piece of whiskey history.”
This rare and intact discovery has altered this National Historic Landmark Distillery’s plan of renovating the first floor of the building for meeting and events space; instead the new discoveries will be preserved and available for visitors on a future tour to be announced, complete with at least one restored fermenter that will be operational in the near future. The remaining upper levels of the building will continue to be renovated according to the original plan for meetings and events.