Buffalo Trace Distillery Mourns and Celebrates


Bourbon aficionados know Buffalo Trace as one of the preeminent distilleries in America. It's the only one in the world, in fact, to have been named Distillery of the Year by Whisky and Malt Advocate and Wine Enthusiast magazines — giving Buffalo Trace something of a "triple crown" among whiskey experts — akin to the triple crown of thoroughbred racing, that other thing for which Kentucky is known for.

July, however, was a month of highs and lows for Buffalo Trace. Late in the month, it lost its legendary master distiller Elmer T. Lee. Having joined the distillery in 1949, Lee retired in 1985, but remained a constant fixture at the site as something of a master distiller emeritus or a brand ambassador. He certainly made his mark on the industry, launching Blanton's, the world's first single-barrel bourbon, in 1984. Lee was 93-years-old at his passing, and will surely be fondly remembered and dearly missed.

The mourning was short-lived, however, as the following week Buffalo Trace was named a United States National Historic Landmark. The distinction elevates the site in Frankfort, over the 85,000 locations listed in the National Register of Historic Places, to an elite cadre of 2,577 landmarks, including the White House and Empire State Building.

33 of those National Historic Landmarks are located in Kentucky — including the Churchill Downs that's home to the Kentucky Derby, and the only other distilleries recognized as historic landmarks nationwide: Burks in Loretto, the Old Oscar Pepper distillery in Woodford, and George T. Stagg in Frankfort. For reference, Jack Daniels in nearby Lynchburg, Tennessee is listed in the register, but has yet to be declared a historic landmark.