Buffalo Trace Distillery Tour – Frankfort KY
113 Great Buffalo Trace, Frankfort, Franklin County KY
This distillery has an amazing history, continuously distilling bourbon for over 200 years – even during the prohibition years. After being on the Maker’s Mark and Jim Beam tours focusing on how bourbon is made ( you can only hear that bourbon has to be made with a minimum of 51% corn so many times…) at Buffalo Trace I signed up for the National Historic Landmark Tour.
Being an architect I was of course interested in the historic buildings in this complex, but this tour also shared the history of the storied brands that have been released at Buffalo Trace, and the stories of the people that made it all happen. These stories included the famous familiar names on the bottles as well as the people behind the scenes that have worked at the distillery and enjoyed the comaraderie of being part of the Buffalo Trace family.
Our tour guide was Freddie Johnson. If you go on this tour, try at all cost to get Freddie as your tour guide. Having basically grown up at the distillery, he has first hand insight and experiences that he shares as only he can. His father and grandfather were key lifelong employees at Buffalo Trace for decades. James B. Johnson Sr., Freddie’s grandfather started working at the distillery in 1912 and was one of the first African-American foreman in Kentucky. Col. Blanton entrusted him to operate the distillery, and was his right hand man at business meetings. Freddie’s father James B. Johnson Jr., perfected the ability to repair leaking barrels, and became Warehouse Supervisor, again the first African American to hold that position in Kentucky. Freddie conveys the history of this special place in a very personal, engaging way.
The buildings in this complex are impressive. Strong masonry warehouses and production buildings that literally span centuries are clustered along the river. Even though this is a working distillery, still producing some the best bourbon in Kentucky, you can walk around and just feel the unique history that was made in these buildings by Col. Blanton, Col. E. H. Taylor, Pappy Van Winkle, Elmer T. Lee, George T. Stagg, and of course Freddie Johnson and his family.
For additional photos of the architecture from my tour see my Architecture Blog