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Buffalo Trace reveals experimental ‘failures’

Buffalo Trace has racked up more than 5,000 experimental barrels in its warehouses, but the group has admitted a number of innovation “failures”.

Buffalo Trace has revealed details of a number of its failed Bourbon experiments

Since the 1990s, Kentucky-based distillery Buffalo Trace has experimented with Bourbon distillation and ageing, opening its Warehouse X in 2013. This site allows master distiller Harlen Wheatley and his team to experiment with the affect environment has on maturing whiskey.

Today, the distillery is ageing more than 5,000 barrels of experimental stock – the largest number of experimental barrels ever held as inventory at Buffalo Trace.

Last August, Buffalo trace said Warehouse X, which contains around US$1 million worth of monitoring and reporting technology, was already yielding “interesting insights”. It is comprised of four independently operating chambers that allow specific variables – including natural light, temperature, humidity and airflow – to be tested.

“Today, our experiments are more focused within the confines of Bourbon whiskey,” said Wheatley.

“We have hundreds of potential future experiments on our list and discuss regularly with the experimental team to prioritise the most interesting ideas and the experiments that deliver the most useful information.”

However, the group has admitted that a number of its experiments have led to failure, including an attempt to age Bourbon in small five, 10 and 15-gallon barrels, which after six years produced liquid that “never reached its full potential”.

Other failed experiments include a Bourbon made with barley, Bourbon aged in sour wood and a 26-year-old Bourbon that was deemed to be “past its prime”. Buffalo Trace bottles the results of unsuccessful experiments and stores them in its archives.

“It’s important to learn from your mistakes too,” said Wheatley. “We learn as much from our failures as our successes, sometimes even more so from the failures, so that’s why we want to keep a record of them so we have them for future research.”

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