Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky along with tour guide extraordinaire and Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Famer Freddie Johnson launched Freddie’s Old Fashioned Soda line in 2019. The initial launch included Freddie’s Root Beer. Not only is it one of Freddie’s favorite soft drinks it’s also a mixer that’s shared with every guest during bourbon tastings after a distillery tour.

Buffalo Trace and Freddie recently held a virtual tasting to celebrate the expansion of the product line which now includes ginger ale and the newest release ginger beer. During the tasting Freddie was his usual cordial self and shared many a tale from his distillery tour experiences over the years.

What made this Buffalo Trace tasting memorable was two things. First, the mixers took center stage while the spirits played backup and second we learned that a portion of every case sold goes to one of Freddie’s favorite projects.

Let jump into Freddie’s recipes and tasting order then we’ll get to the story behind the story shared as only Freddie can do.

Freddie’s Ginger Ale, Ginger Beer & Root Beer Cocktail Recipes

Buffalo Trace Distillery - Freddie's Old Fashioned Sodas Cocktails
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Freddie’s Old Fashioned Sodas (dog optional).

Similar to a spirits tasting you want to start out with the clear lower proof spirits first then work your way up to the darker spirits at the highest proof. This way your palette acclimates to the alcohol without getting blown out.

Freddie’s sodas use all natural ingredients. The root beer uses real birch oil and real vanilla. The vanilla is imported from Madagascar. There is no corn syrup everything is made with real cane sugar. It’s certainly not low cal but it’s high in taste.

How to Make Freddie’s Hey Daddio-O Cocktails

Cocktails don’t get much simpler than this. They are all two ingredient cocktails not including ice or the bonus root beer float version.

  1. Freddie’s Mule: 2 oz. Vodka, 4 oz. Ginger Beer
  2. Buffalo Ginger: 2 oz. Bourbon, 4 oz. Ginger Beer
  3. The Buffalo Float: 2 oz. Bourbon Cream, 4 oz. Root Beer
    Bonus: Build this in a large mug, add ice cream, bourbon cream, root beer, top with whip cream, dust with cinnamon or nutmeg and place a cherry on top.  

Now let’s let Freddie tell the story.

“Start with the ginger ale. Normally if you were doing a grid tasting you would start with your clear liquid first…progressing from a let’s say a vodka or a wheated bourbon to a straight rye whiskey,” explained Freddie. “For this tasting we are going to do the same thing. Starting with the ginger ale, then we’ll go to the ginger beer then we’ll go to the root beer. And the reason that’s important in doing the taste profile is this. Freddie’s Root Beer is made with real birch oil and real vanilla. What that means is when you taste it, those oils, that birch oil will actually put a little coating in your mouth and it will linger, a good root beer will linger on your palette. And that’s because of the birch oil.”

Buffalo Trace Distillery - Freddie's Old Fashioned Root Beer Cocktail
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Pour slowly.

“A little bit about making the drink first before we make the cocktails. Here is your heads-up. Whenever you are making a cocktail, especially one that has a lot of carbonation in it, always pour the mixer into the drink. And it’s critical with carbonated products, especially when dealing with dairy products and things like that. The carbonation and the different ingredients will tend to cause things to separate and it actually changes the taste profile and the way that the product gets presented.” And of course Freddie was right. I switched up the order of the bourbon cream and the root beer after the tasting and it was a complete fail.

“This is not just any ginger ale. This is Freddie’s ginger ale. When they started talking about doing this they said, ‘You know. We are going to do these sodas and this root beer and ginger ale and we are going to put your name on the label. What do you think Freddie?’ And the first thing I thought about was, I looked at them and I said ‘The first thing I am going to ask is, is it going to be any good?’ I really didn’t want this going out there and have somebody take a swig of it and say, ‘Oh lord, this stuff tastes terrible. Then Freddie’s got to walk around in all these places and everybody looks and says ‘That’s the guy, that’s really not very good stuff’. 

“I got a chance to be a part of the taste profile when it was originally created. And recently I shared it with my kids and I asked them what they thought and it was positive.” He was all in and Freddie’s line of Old Fashioned Sodas was born.

$1 of Every Case Goes to Frankfort’s African American Civil War Memorial

And now, here’s the story inside the story told like only Freddie can tell it.

Freddie is the third generation of Johnsons to work at Buffalo Trace Distillery. Now with his name on a bottle a lot of people assume that Freddie is paid for lending his name to this product line. That assumption is incorrect.

“The agreement that I have with the distillery and with Mark Brown our President and CEO when they decided to do this, the agreement was I would be honored to do this and to have this line of products come out, but I’m also the co-chair of a cemetery in Frankfort, Kentucky. It’s the Green Hill Cemetery. It is one of only four cemeteries in the United States that has a monument dedicated to the African American soldiers.

“At the time of the Civil War they were called colored soldiers. They fought and in some cases they had family members, some fought for the Union and some fought for the Confederacy and they ended up killing each other. But they are all buried up there at that cemetery. Well I found out that my Great-grandfather was born a slave and he is buried up there along with a part of my family. When I came back to Frankfort to take care of my Dad before he passed away I got involved with that cemetery because it was in disrepair.

“We started to do fund raisers to raise money to try to restore the cemetery back so that people would come back to the cemetery and appreciate its significance to the history to Kentucky. In doing that, Mark Brown and some others found out about what I was doing and they wanted to know why I didn’t come to them. I never like to take my personal life and have it be a part of business life. It’s just something I didn’t do.

“When I explained to them I never would expect them to give me anything, so I just didn’t do it. We were doing fund raisers with churches and different things like that. They came to me and said, ‘We want to help.’ So the agreement is a certain percentage of the proceeds of every case of Freddie’s Sodas actually go to help restore this historic landmark that is a part of Frankfort. And the Frankfort Parks &Recreation Group because of what we have been doing has also started to help support us.

“So, we are about to create another attraction for this part of Kentucky that’s not just distilleries but it is also other things, and other families and other components, that make this area noted for something other than horse racing and bourbon. It’s really kind of cool. So that’s where part of the proceeds for this root beer is going. It’s to maintain a landmark for the city of Frankfort. Other than getting all the root beer, ginger ale and ginger beer that I can handle that’s the only thing that I get from this. The other part is just me trying to give back as a way of saying thank you for allowing me to be a part of all of this that you are experiencing today. That’s just my way of giving back.”

Buffalo Trace contributes $1.00 of every case of Freddie’s Soda sold to the Green Hill Cemetery.

Green Hill Cemetery
A Monument to Kentucky’s African American Civil War Soldiers

The Green Hill Cemetery was established in 1865, and features the only monument to Kentucky’s United States Colored Troops (USCTs).

It is one of four monuments dedicated to African American troops in the country.

The monument was dedicated on July 4, 1924 by the Women’s Relief Corps, an affiliate of the local African American Post of the Grand Army of the Republic, a Union Army veteran’s organization. The ten-foot tall limestone pillar bears the names of 142 veterans of Kentucky’s United States Colored Troops from Frankfort and surrounding counties of central Kentucky.

The day before the monument was dedicated the Frankfort State Journal ran the following article:

“Colored Soldiers Monument to be Unveiled

The monument, which has been erected to the memory of the Colored Soldiers of the Civil War from Frankfort and Franklin County, will be unveiled at Green Hill Cemetery tomorrow afternoon at four o’clock. Short and appropriate exercises are to be held. This monument has been erected at the cost of several hundred dollars under the direction of the Colored Women’s Relief Corps, and each soldier’s name has been cut on the stone. Contributions are being made to the fund by patriotic and public spirited citizens of both races.”

Officially, 23,703 African Americans in Kentucky responded to the call to arms by President Lincoln and Frederick Douglass to join the ranks of the newly organized USCT. Units were organized with men from across the Commonwealth, mustering into the Union Army at sites from Maysville to Paducah; Camp Nelson, located in Jessamine County, was the second largest recruiting and training facility for African Americans in the country.

Let’s Close with some Freddie Wisdom

“It’s all about all of us. We all do little bitty things. And when you put all the little bitty things together that’s when it becomes something really kind of cool. That’s why I’m delighted…It’s just a cool thing to know that we’re doing something collectively that’s bigger than one of us, but the significance of all of us going together, just takes it to a whole other level. And I think that’s really needed in the world that we live in today.” ~Freddie Johnson

Freddie’s non-alcoholic Old Fashioned Sodas are made to be enjoyed with friends and family, and the brand pays tribute to Johnson. Freddie’s Root Beer, Ginger Ale and Ginger Beer are priced at $1.25 per bottle. The new line extensions is available now in select markets and at the Buffalo Trace Distillery gift shop.

Learn more about  Buffalo Trace Distillery.
View all Kentucky Distilleries.

Sources: Capital City Museum & Leslie Morris Park on Fort Hill, Frankfort, KY, Explore Kentucky

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