Drew boasts an impressive history having spent over 22 years at Seagram’s where he was one of only four Master Blenders. He also worked for several years with Diageo as Vice President of Blending and Production Planning for North America prior to joining Buffalo Trace in 2004 as the Director of Quality and Master Blender.
Buffalo Trace is “the most award-winning distillery on the planet” according to Drew who also modestly pointed out that Jim Murray of Jim Murray’s Whiskey Bible-fame had pronounced its Taylor’s Four-Grain the ‘Best Whiskey in the World”.
Drew is big into experimentation with his liquor too as witnessed by the release of Tornado Surviving Bourbon, a limited release that resulted from it getting an unexpected shot of sunlight when a tornado blew off part of the roof of one of Buffalo Trace’s warehouses by the Kentucky River.
Buffalo Trace even has its own Experimentation Warehouse at the distillery (which has been in continuous production since the 1770s – including through Prohibition – making it the longest continuously-run distillery in the US). And it’s very much in expansion mode, building a new warehouse every four to five months. Parent company Sazerac intends to invest $1.2 billion in this distillery over the next 10 years.
Most of the individual Bourbon brands at Buffalo Trace are named after its distilling icons, thus Drew offered those attending the lunch in Shanahans on the Green the opportunity to try not only Buffalo Trace itself but Eagle Rare alongside George T Stagg, WL Weller, Thomas H Handy Sazerac and finally Col EH Taylor Four Grain.
The Kentucky distillery also enjoys some 250,000 visitors a year.
By law, Bourbon has to be matured in brand new Oak barrels and corn has to comprise at least 51% of the blend.
“95% of all Bourbons will have Rye as the second product with the third product Barley Malt,” explained Drew over lunch, adding that some 5% of all Bourbon is made using wheat.
No colouring or flavouring is allowed.
Buffalo Trace & Eagle Rare
Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, distributed here in Ireland by Sazerac-owned Hi-Spirits, spends eight years in maturation and is made from the same recipe as the 10 Year-Old Eagle Rare therefore Oak is more predominant in Eagle Rare’s finish, explained Drew. But Eagle Rare is matured in a different (secret) location which also makes a difference.
“Most people seem to break down 50:50 in favour of one or the other,” he said.
George T Stagg
Then there’s George T Stagg which has the same recipe as Buffalo Trace and Eagle Rare but is aged for not less than 15 years in charred American Oak barrels.
WL Weller, aged for a minimum of 12 years, is not a Rye Bourbon but a wheat Bourbon.
“Every year these Bourbons taste slightly different” said Drew, “therefore every year contains a vintage Bourbon.”
Thomas H Handy Sazerac
After this, we tasted Thomas H Handy Sazerac, a straight Rye whiskey containing not less than 51% Rye plus Corn and Barley Malt. This six year-old Bourbon won the Best Whiskey in the World award.
Col EH Taylor Four Grain
Finally we tasted Col EH Taylor Four Grain (Corn, Rye, Wheat, Barley Malt), one of the distillery’s experimental releases which has proved highly successful.
Jim Murray rated it the “best whiskey in the world”, commenting that when he tasted it “time stood still”.
The liquor spends just 12 years, maturing before release. So much for quality of spirit being related to age in vat.
“This whiskey dispels the myth that to be good, a whiskey must be old,” commented Drew who, together with his wife, Ellen, was to fly onto the UK to continue the promotional tour before heading off to Berlin and then home.