Where The Buffalo Roam, The Bourbon Flows

photo: A barrel of Bourbon, Harlen Wheatly

credit: Buffalo Trace Distillery

Born and bred Kentuckian Harlen Wheatly is Master Distiller of Buffalo Trace Bourbon. When he graduated from the University of Kentucky with a Chemistry degree, he figured “distilling was a good fit”. He now works about fifty miles from where he was born, is proud of it, and could he have been christened with a more appropriate name?

Wheatley is a bourbon guy through and through.

He drinks very little wine (except for “Merryvale Cabernet and the occasional Grigio”. Neither is he a beer guy, (although he likes the “spirit” of craft brewing).

I nabbed a quick chat (and a Buffalo Trace dry Manhattan) with the 41 year-old distiller at Brix restaurant just prior to a Buffalo Trace dinner where I got a “distilled” version of the Buffalo Trace story. Buffalo Trace, a corn, rye and malted barley-based bourbon, is distilled in 100-barrel batches. It is sweet, with vanilla and spice overtones. Sweet and smoke unite splendidly with the Manhattan and duo of canapés, smoked tenderloin with beef marrow glaze and a pork rillette rolled in bacon-y breadcrumbs, topped with smoked pork loin. (I can see me cribbing that combo for a dinner party opener). Eagle Rare is single barrel bourbon; smoky, rich, almost oily and with a fiery note. Each barrel has a slightly different personality. This bourbon is best sipped “neat”.

I miss out on the Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve, which I am led to believe is a gorgeous mouthful of spirit.

Lucky Victoria Whiskey Festival attendees Saturday and Sunday are likely to get a wee dram. Harlen is conducting the The Buffalo Trace Distillery Masterclass, Saturday afternoon (4:20 pm) to walk participants through the process of distilling bourbon, and taste them on the whiskies.

This bourbon fan sure wishes she could pop across the Strait.

Before saying adios to Mr. Wheatley I confess that my bottle of Buffalo Trace is drained, and I’m working through a bottle of Old Weller, given to me as a gift. “That’s OK, ‘cause that’s one of ours,” he drawls with a tone as smooth as the whisky itself. “And by the way, Old Weller is a wheat-based whiskey”. How fitting.

For up-to-date info on the Victoria Whiskey Festival log on to www.victoriawhiskyfestival.com.

For an in-depth tasting note on this spirit, read Treve Ring’s review in DRINK.

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