“We just figured bourbon was going to come back,” says Goldring. And he was right. Its first product, Buffalo Trace, ignited a bourbon renaissance when it was released in 1999. BESTING THE COMPETITION “If you wake up in the morning and you think you have a J-O-B, you’re in the wrong place,” Goldring tells me. “This is a fun business. Everybody likes to talk about their favorite beverage alcohol, and it’s easy to have a passion for something that is so much fun.” With that joie de vivre , he set his sights on rival liquors whose products he felt were inferior to his own. “We thought bourbon, certainly, was a better product than scotch.” Indeed, Goldring placed scotch directly in bourbon’s line of fire. Scotch, in Goldring’s prescient estimation, was a dominant whiskey worldwide not because of its quality, but because of the British Empire’s global footprint. They would move into a continent and bring their booze with them. It simply had a head start on the superior American whiskey. And before long, he says, people started to realize that bourbon does taste great. “I’m not just saying that because I’m in the bourbon business,” he adds. It comes down to the basics: Bourbon is made in new charred oak barrels and aged. Scotch starts with used bourbon barrels, which means bourbon has a much better flavor to start with. Indeed, one is likely to find used Buffalo Trace barrels all over the world — and with good reason. The Sazerac Company hand-selects each of its barrels, down to the particular part of the tree that will be used in the barrel’s construction. Moreover, scotch makers

are the result of hard work and human hands. “Our master distillers over the past 200 years are all iconic,” he says. And their legacies continue to drive the company forward, from one success to the next. “Edwin Edwards once said that if you sit by the river long enough, all of your enemies will pass by,” Goldring says. “If you hang around long enough and you’ve got integrity, quality and craftsman- ship, you will get recognized for who you are. And nothing is more important than word of mouth, which I believe we have achieved with the consumer and our industry.” TOWARD THE FUTURE When the Sazerac Company bought what would become Buffalo Trace Distillery, Goldring and Mark Brown, the company’s president & CEO, had no way of knowing that the distillery would one day grow to 2,500 employees, its 130 acres expanded to 450. The buildings on the facility span three centuries — the most recent such structures include the addition of one new warehouse every four months. “Many years ago, we built an experimental warehouse in trying to achieve what we call the Holy Grail of whiskey,” says Goldring. They’ve taken different types of barrels made from woods from different parts of trees. They’ve used different types of grains and continually work at making better whiskeys. But what does it mean to be the “Holy Grail” of whiskey? How would you know it if you found it? Goldring compares it to making a gumbo. “Every day a chef adds a little bit more sugar or a little bit more flour to his recipe in working to get the shape better. You don’t make any dramatic changes, but when you get there you’ll know it.” You’ve got to tinker with it, he says, and you’ve got to keep tinkering with it. Here,

can add flavoring like caramel and coloring. With bourbon, what you see is what you get. Whatever comes out of the barrel is the end product. Such shortcuts versus the integrity of bourbon lead to huge differences in flavor profiles. But scotch isn’t the only player on the market that a successful bourbon distillery must overcome. Although there seem to be hundreds of bourbons hitting store shelves, hoping to capitalize on the liquor’s popularity, there are only about 12 real bourbon distilleries in the United States. This is, in part, because it’s so difficult up-front to start a true such distillery. (For comparison, there are about 12,000 wineries in the United States and 7,000 breweries.) Government regulations are a hindrance, but it’s also a question of time: Unlike vodka, which can be distilled today and bottled tomorrow, it takes six to seven years to make great bourbon. The first four years of that, you lose 25 percent of the bourbon to evaporation. For a 20-year bourbon, the evaporation rate goes as high as 75 percent. “If you wonder why a Pappy Van Winkle is so expensive,” says Goldring, “it’s because there ain’t much left when you get to 20 years old.” It is one thing when you own the company to say that you make the best whiskey in America, but whiskey writers the world over are in almost unanimous agreement. The bourbons of Buffalo Trace Distillery are lauded annually with every award yet conceived. Among its most celebrated bottles are Buffalo Trace, W.L. Weller, Benchmark, Eagle Rare, Pappy Van Winkle, E.H. Taylor, Zachariah Harris, Blanton's and Elmer T. Lee. All

Buffalo Trace Distillery has a towering advantage over its rivals. They have dozens of different whiskeys, each slightly different: different proofs, different ages, different barrels, all in climate-controlled warehouses. They have laboratories with machines that analyze the DNA of what is in the barrel. The company, he explains, has a keen interest in agricul- ture, even growing their own corn on their property using non-genetically modified crops. “Because we have so many different whiskeys, if you take a look at 90 percent of all the small distillers — and I mean small,” he emphasizes, “they start off making one whiskey and they really don’t know how it’s going to taste in six years, much less if the consumer is going to like the taste of what they have produced.” The question then is, what does a small distiller do in six years if they’ve produced something the consumer doesn’t want? The answer: not much. This allows the Sazerac Company to take chances that others cannot. Still, one thing Buffalo Trace has struggled with for a decade is demand outpacing supply. “What other people have done is reduced the age and reduced the proof, and we have refused to do that, nor have we gone out to buy whiskey on the open market. Every crop comes directly from Buffalo Trace.” Maintaining the integrity of their product is first and foremost in Goldring’s mind. Indeed, when considering the care that goes into making any bottle bearing the Sazerac Company name, the word that comes to mind is not factory, but rather, art studio. From the care and cleaning of the facility to



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