Next week Buffalo Trace will open the doors of a new American whiskey tasting and retail space in Covent Garden. Called Buffalo Trace Distillery London, it’s the distillery’s first official home outside of Kentucky, USA.

We got a sneak peek at what’s to come last night. In fact, our group were the very first people who don’t work for Buffalo Trace to stand in the space. We should state here and now, that no whiskey is being made here. The name ‘distillery’ in the title is something of a red herring. This is a space to celebrate and promote bourbon. There are two on-site bars, a shop full of merchandise (some exclusive to the London store), and lots of whiskey. 

Buffalo Trace’s bourbon education

“It’s all about learning about bourbon and telling your friends about it”, global brand director Andrew Duncan tells us shortly after we arrive. He also says that bourbon is not that well-known outside the United States. 

Jake Wenz, CEO and president at Buffalo Trace Distillery, referred to something similar in the press release: “At Buffalo Trace Distillery London, we’ll offer a space for spirits novices and lovers to learn more about a whiskey type they are perhaps less familiar with – bourbon. Our aim is to inspire visitors to broaden their palates, and perhaps their cocktails, and we’re hopeful after learning about bourbon and tasting it, they will add it to their drink list.”

It’s interesting to hear that perspective. In the US, bourbon is thriving. But there’s clearly a desire for an image refresh abroad. The approach from Buffalo Trace is also intriguing. This is not an information-heavy whiskey museum. Which it easily could be. At Buffalo Trace, there’s a lot of history and production to get through. 

Buffalo Trace claims the title of ‘America’s oldest continuously operating distillery’, as records show the first distillation occurred on the site of the distillery in 1775. That’s the same year as the American War of Independence started. There wasn’t even a state of Kentucky then. The names associated with the brand read like an American whiskey all-star line-up: Albert B. Blanton, Elmer T. Lee, E.H. Taylor, Jr., George T. Stagg, Orville Schupp… Then there’s the production side of things. Bourbon, rye, and vodka are all made on-site, including some of the most sought-after whiskeys in the world like the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection or Pappy Van Winkle. 

But at Buffalo Trace Distillery London, there’s only smatterings of information on the walls. There’s no long tour, no video to sit through. The main focus is getting actual whiskey into people’s hands and then the education begins. Let’s talk tastings. 

Buffalo Trace Distillery London

Buffalo Trace Distillery London

Buffalo Trace’s tasting experience

There are two tastings on offer:

       1. Taste of the Trace – This entails a guided tasting of Buffalo Trace Distillery’s core product lineup: Buffalo Trace Bourbon, Sazerac Rye, Bourbon Cream and the option of a Buffalo and Ginger Ale cocktail sample. Here’s what I love about this. It’s £19.99 for a ticket. In fact, there’s an Early Bird price of £14.99 until 5 May, but regardless, that is a genuinely accessible price (in Convent Garden of all places) which means that all kinds of people can actually get some proper bourbon in their glass and learn about whiskey. Bravo. 

       2. Tradition & Change: This is a more intimate experience with a premium lineup, including White Dog Mash #1, Buffalo Trace Bourbon, Eagle Rare 10-Year-Old, E.H. Taylor Small Batch, and a small pour of a Buffalo Trace Old Fashioned. Tastings will range in price depending on selection, up to £34.99, again a very good price given those pours. Also, starting off with new make (or white dog as Americans call it) is a huge plus for me. I always want to see the distillery DNA on display.

Our tasting was the Tradition & Change experience with two added showstoppers (more on that later). We began with the new make, the pure distillate that goes into the barrels, in this case specifically Buffalo Trace’s Mash Bill #1. It’s a mix of Kentucky corn, Minnesota rye, and North Dakota malted barley and while the exact recipe isn’t disclosed, it’s believed to be roughly 75% corn, 17% barley, and 8% rye. Duncan takes us through a little ritual of pouring a drop of new make on our hands, then rubbing them together. I’ve done this before. You open up the aromas and because it’s just alcohol and grain, your hands feel super soft and moisturised afterwards. A nice plus. 

What I haven’t done is then a big theatrical clap after rubbing the new make into my hands. Duncan leads us in this exercise, telling us to smell our hands afterwards and see how it brings out the corn notes in the distillate. Then another clap. Now there’s more of the rye spice. One more clap reveals a yeasty, bready note. It’s a fun little routine that I think will engage consumers who might otherwise be slightly confused as to what this clear, abrasive spirit is in front of them. I’m a big believer that demystifying new make helps you understand whiskey.

Buffalo Trace Distillery London tasting

Manager Kiel Roche leading a tasting

Duncan runs the tasting with manager Kiel Roche, who sets an inviting tone early in the tasting. He gives away the ‘secrets’ to bourbon tasting revealing you can’t go wrong by suggesting you smell vanilla and oak. There’s a breakdown of why you could smell more by raising the glass to each nostril as well as why you would use water and how it’s a personal choice. We’re encouraged to eat a buttered popcorn-flavoured Jelly Bean with our hands over our nose, then to try it again with our nostrils freed to demonstrate how much aromas play a role in taste. Roche also recalls a gentleman who was met with laughter when he said a whisky reminded him of his nan’s house, explaining that he eventually worked out the aroma he was getting was potpourri. He uses this to demonstrate how personal tasting notes are and that they’re subjective too. This is the kind of open, disarming language I also like to see, as too much whiskey discourse is often about what you shouldn’t do, how not to drink it etc.

We then go through a whiskey flight of Buffalo Trace Whiskey, Eagle Rare 10 Year Old Whiskey, and Colonel EH Taylor Small Batch Whiskey. We’re told that Eagle Rare is now on a four-day rotation at the distillery, such is the demand. We have plenty. Just click that link. Like magic, isn’t it? The flight was all very enjoyable and even though I’d heard a lot of the information that was espoused before during the tastings, the quality of the liquid was entertainment enough for little old me. It should be for most. 

Pappy van Winkle bourbon

Pappy van Winkle bourbon is world-renowned

Pappy Van Winkle 23 and Eagle Rare 25

Then came the showstoppers. Two glasses innocuously placed behind our tasting mats that just so happened to contain Pappy Van Winkle 23 and Eagle Rare 25 Year Old.

Pappy Van Winkle 23 review

I’ve been doing this job for a while now and I’ve never actually seen a bottle of Pappy in person. Pappy Van Winkle bourbon is an almost mythical product, highly in-demand due to its extremely limited production and exceptional ageing process. This bottling was made from a wheated bourbon mash, aged for 23 years and bottled at 47.8% ABV.

23 years for a bourbon is massive. It does show. Boy is it oaky. But it’s also as rich and sweet as Dolly Parton with reams of decadent dessert notes (custard, marshmallow, toffee, chocolate) and this beautiful, concentrated red fruit element (think cherries and raspberries). The high wheat in the mashbill ties it all together with this pillowy, creamy texture. I walked around with the empty glass for a while just to keep nosing it. 

Eagle Rare 25 Year Old review

Then onto the 25-year-old edition of flagship bourbon Eagle Rare. This is the only bottle EVER brought to the UK and one of just 200 in total released. It’s the oldest expression of Eagle Rare ever bottled and it costs $10,000. It’s also notable for being aged in the experimental new warehouses at the distillery, part of a multi-decade, 20-million-dollar-plus program. 

Usually, Eagle Rare whiskey is matured in the cooler first and second-floor warehouse levels. For the first 20 years of this whiskey’s life, that was the case too. But then it was moved to Buffalo Trace’s Warehouse P, a climate-controlled space where the distillery can alter humidity, temperature, airflow, and light. It allows them to test various factors that affect their whiskey’s maturation and assess its impact on aroma and flavour, while trials on different species of white oak and other barrel char levels are also ongoing there. 

It’s a potentially revolutionary new space which, in this case, enabled Buffalo Trace to age bourbon for 25 years. It works, too. This is not that oaky a whiskey. It’s more herbal and floral as it opens with warming citrus, tobacco, and candied sweetness in support. Eagle 25 Year Old is balanced. At its big age, every aroma and flavour has room to breathe. The note I kept coming back to was that it was like opening a bar of milk chocolate, maybe Dairy Milk Caramel. They cost less. They’ll never do this.

Buffalo Trace Distillery London shop

The space offers whiskey with a fun and healthy dose of education

Exciting stuff, but you don’t need the showstoppers to enjoy this experience. Buffalo Trace Distillery London is a warm, inviting space to learn about whiskey that doesn’t break the bank. I think newcomers and whisky lovers alike will get something out of it. Below are the whiskies we tasted, plus a couple of extras, to get you in the spirit of things. 

Our pick of whiskies from Buffalo Trace

Buffalo Trace Whiskey 70cl 

The classic, easy-drinking, made-for-mixing, bargain flagship – this whisky just never disappoints. 

Eagle Rare 10 Year Old Whiskey 70cl

Kentucky straight Bourbon whiskey, matured for at least a decade and bottled at 45% ABV. What’s not to like?

Sazerac Straight Rye 70cl

One of the ultimate bartender favourites, use this rye for all your cocktail needs. Though it is delicious neat too. 

Colonel EH Taylor Small Batch Whiskey 70cl

A sublime small-batch bourbon named after an incredibly important 19th-century figure whose production methods are still used today. 

Bonus ball: Wheatley Vodka 70cl

If whiskey isn’t really your thing and you’re more interested in treating a loved one to a bottle of the good stuff and an educational experience, then you’ll be pleased to know there is a crisp, clean vodka from Buffalo Trace to enjoy too.

Tickets can be pre-booked for tastings at Buffalo Trace Distillery London now via