The funky smell of fermenting grains permeated our nostrils and clothing as we pulled into Buffalo Trace distillery. It was Saturday night the week after Christmas in Frankfort Kentucky. The freezing cold temperatures kept most folks indoors, likely drinking the same bourbon whiskey that we are about to taste. Each year, Buffalo Trace decorates the massive complex with Christmas decorations and offers a self guided, driving tour of the grounds. Buffalo Trace is one of the oldest distilleries in the country. It has been in continuous operation under various owners and names since 1787. It even made it through prohibition since, like modern day medical marijuana, whiskey was still available for purchase and consumption with a prescription.
The distillery offers traditional tours during the day and during the night, there is a ghost tour of warehouse C, and Colonel Blanton’s mansion. The distillery is well known for inexplicable paranormal activity, so much so that it was featured on the Syfy show Ghost Hunters. The tour normally requires a reservation, but we were lucky enough to be able to squeeze in at the last minute. While we were waiting for the tour to start, we picked up various trinkets from the gift shop and of course I couldn’t resist purchasing a book about the history of the distillery.
“The Great Crossing” by Richard Taylor chronicles the history of the distillery. Richard Taylor owns Poor Richards Books, a lovely little book shop in downtown Frankfort that we had the pleasure of visiting while we were in town. He is an English professor, established writer, and was the Poet Laureate for Kentucky.
Originally Buffalo Trace was the site of an ancient buffalo crossing. From its humble beginnings, the whiskey industry became one of the most significant parts of the Kentucky economy during the 19th century. Taylor provides an interesting history of whiskey making in general, but also provides a lot of insight into the social and economic development of early Frankfort. It was a unique history book in that regard since it tied local and national events to the whiskey industry in unexpected ways.
We went on the ghost tour. It starts with the tour guides showing us some pretty convincing photographs of various anomalies. Our groups were then split and we then proceeded to Warehouse C. After spending a bit of time there and hearing some stories we got onto a bus and were driven up to Colonel Blanton’s Mansion. More stories followed in the sitting room. We enjoyed the ghost tour, although we didn’t see any ghosts and it was a bit cheesy, I certainly appreciated the enthusiasm of the tour guides.
After the tour, we were lucky to be able to taste a variety of different spirits that are distilled at Buffalo Trace. As a policy, they do not compete with local liquor stores, so the alcohol that they serve and sell is their own label. The whiskey was great, but the best part of the tasting was bourbon cream mixed with root beer for an adult root beer float.
We stocked up on booze and bought a case of root beer before we left. Overall this was one of our favorite attractions in Frankfort and definitely worth visiting if you are ever in the area.