I originally hadn’t made plans to deviate from the official Bourbon Trail. Although some of the other distilleries sounded interesting, we were traveling to Kentucky with a mission to see as many of the official distilleries as possible. That is until I learned that the Buffalo Trace Distillery was a 15 minute drive from the hotel we would be staying at the first night of our trip AND they had a ghost tour which naturally took place in the evening. What the latter meant was that it would be possible to visit a distillery on our first day in Kentucky and not have to leave at 5 AM in order to get there on time.
Before I jump into my experience with the ghost tour, here’s a little bit of background information on the distillery. It’s located in Frankfort, the capital of Kentucky, and has been known by various names in the history books including the George T. Stagg Distillery and the O.F.C. Distillery. The company claims that the land the distillery is currently on was once an ancient buffalo crossing on the banks of the Kentucky River and is named after the American bison.
Records show that distilling started on the site that is today Buffalo Trace Distillery sometime in the late 18th century. The oldest building on the site, the Riverside house, was constructed in 1792 and is still standing. People aren’t allowed in the house due to its dilapidated state, but you could get up close to it. It was amazing to see such a historic structure still standing, especially since it hasn’t been 100% preserved. The first true distillery was constructed in 1812 and over a century later during Prohibition it was allowed to remain operational in order to make whiskey for “medicinal” purposes. (Most distilleries in Kentucky were closed at that time and never reopened once Prohibition was repealed.) Buffalo Trace was also the first distillery in the country to have a climate controlled warehouse for aging whiskey.
Ghost tours are held Thursday through Saturday at 7 PM and like other tours offered at the distillery, are complimentary. You do need to email the gift shop prior in order to make a reservation as they are limited to a certain number of people. Since it was still summer, for the hour the tour was taking place, it was still light outside although towards the end of the tour when it was nearing 8 PM, the sun was finally starting to go down. But in general, ghost tours and daylight don’t always mix. The tour was led by two Buffalo Trace workers, although the one woman was the one who did the talking and explaining. Being a ghost tour the specifics of the bourbon making process weren’t explained, fine with me since in the next two days I would visit five other distilleries in which I did learn about the making of America’s only native spirit.
The tour included an outdoor stop in the area near the Riverside House, which is nestled among the more industrial area of the distillery grounds. Although its origins date back to the early 19th century, it had a feel Boardwalk Empire feel to it and I could just imagine the characters of Nucky and the now deceased Owen Slator and others walking the grounds, after hours of course. And I will say this, all six of the distilleries I visited were unique. While they all make bourbon, none had the same look or feel to them and for this I really appreciated Buffalo’s more historical industrialized ambiance. We proceeded to go inside the rickhouse where the whiskey barrels age. If there was ever a place for ghosts to hide out and frequent, a dark and dusty rickhouse would be it.
Finally we visited Stony Point Mansion, the home of Albert B. Blanton which overlooks the distilling grounds. Under Blanton’s direction, the Buffalo Trace distillery made it through Prohibition, the Great Depression, a terrible flood and other challenges during the 20th century. He started working at the distillery at the age of 16 and would go on to become its most famous president. Today the house is home to various offices and supposedly the ghosts are extremely active. I did find that ghosts are big in Kentucky with many of its residents hard core believers. Our tour guide was wonderful and even though I don’t get as “caught up” in ghosts as some, she was still extremely informative and knowledgeable on both the distillery and the history of the local area.
Following the tour came the bourbon tasting. I abstained as it had been a long day and extremely hot, so I got to indulge in some excellent root beer that they produce. However, for those who were up for tasting, you had a choice of two bourbon samples, as well as a cream liqueur that they produce. They asserted that if you were a fan of Bailey’s Irish Cream you would never go back to drinking that after sampling theirs.
More in this series!
Bed and Breakfast Review-Beautiful Dreamer (Bardstown, Kentucky)
Bardstown Kentucky Dining Recap
Bardstown, Kentucky-a photo essay
Maker’s Mark Distillery
My Old Kentucky Home’s Federal Hill
Kentucky’s McCracken Pike-drive of a lifetime
Distillery Recap-Four Roses and Wild Turkey