In April 2006, a tornado struck Warehouse C at the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky. In the aftermath, the building looked like a diorama: part of the roof and one wall had been artfully removed to reveal the 25,000 barrels stacked inside. Miraculously, not a single one of those barrels was damaged—proof, perhaps, of the Major League manager Leo Durocher’s maxim: God watches over drunks and third basemen.
Repairing the warehouse took several months, and during that time the barrels on the upper floors were exposed to rain, heat, and sun. Mark Brown, Buffalo Trace’s president and CEO, joked at the time that the distillery should sell the whiskey as “tornado-surviving bourbon.”
It turned out to be no joke. The barrels were opened about five years later (the liquor inside had then aged for nine to 11 years) and, says Brown, “the darnedest thing is, when we went to taste the whiskey, it was really good. I mean really good.” The company decided to label the bourbon “tornado surviving,” and aficionados—who also found it superior to the usual product—quickly snapped it up. One went so far as to write Buffalo Trace and ask whether it planned to make more. “Not deliberately,” Brown replied.
Yet the tornado bourbon got the distillers wondering: What are the perfect conditions for storing the barrels in which bourbon ages? It’s a question that no one had really asked before, despite the oft-noticed phenomenon that barrels situated near the windows in warehouses have a tendency to become what managers call “honey barrels”—that is, ones that produce above-average whiskey. Moreover, the storage question was a logical follow-up to one that Buffalo Trace had already been pondering: How do you make a perfect barrel?
Read more. [Image: Buffalo Trace Distillery]