Buffalo Trace ‘disproves’ whiskey theory

1st December, 2016 by Amy Hopkins

Buffalo Trace has concluded the first phase of ageing experiments at its innovative Warehouse X, “disproving” the belief that light affects the colour and alcoholic strength of whiskey.


Buffalo Trace’s experimental Warehouse X

First opened in 2013, Warehouse X allows Buffalo Trace master distiller Harlen Wheatley and his team to test the impact of different environmental conditions on maturing Bourbon.

The building is comprised of four independently operating chambers that allow specific variables – including natural light, temperature, humidity and airflow – to be tested, and contains around US$1 million worth of monitoring equipment.

Buffalo Trace has now completed the first phase of the experimental programme, which focused on natural light. Over the course of two years, the team kept barrels in various stages of light.

Chamber One of the warehouse held barrels at 50% natural light, matching the temperature of the barrels inside the chamber to the temperature of the barrels in the outdoor breezeway.

In Chamber Two barrels experienced 100% darkness and were kept at a consistent temperature of 72 degrees Fahrenheit. Chamber Three also had 100% darkness but barrels were kept the same temperature as the barrels in the outdoor breezeway.

Chamber Four barrels saw 100% natural light as the temperature was kept the same as the barrels in the outdoor breezeway.

Buffalo Trace said the barrels in the open air breezeway were probably subject to “some of the greatest temperature variance any Bourbon barrels have ever experienced”, ranging from -10 F to 105 F.

The pressure inside these barrels varied from -2.5 PSI to 2.5 PSI.

After collecting and analysing 3.5 million data points, the team found an “interesting correlation” between light and PSI, and also “scientifically proved” the belief that more heat creates higher strength alcohol.

They also found the amount of light “does not really affect” the colour or the proof of the Bourbon inside the barrels.

However, Wheatley said: “Even though we proved light doesn’t affect the colour or the proof of the whiskey, that doesn’t mean that honey barrels [those next to windows in standard warehouses that are typically distiller’s favourites] don’t taste a little bit better. Perhaps because of other factors than natural light. We did prove factors like temperature, pressure, humidity and air flow all play a role in the end result.”

Buffalo Trace will now move on to the next Warehouse X experiment, which will focus on temperature and is expected to last two years.

Speaking to The Spirits Business earlier this year, Mark Brown, president and CEO of Buffalo Trace parent company Sazerac, said of Warehouse X: “At Buffalo Trace we are absolutely convinced that the best whiskey in the world is yet to be made.

“Now we’ve been blessed and won a lot of awards and got 99/100 ratings, but we haven’t actually got a straight 100 rating. That tells us there’s still a lot of opportunity.”

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