Given its status as the most acclaimed and coveted bourbon distillery in existence, virtually every release coming out of the Buffalo Trace Distillery is met with some measure of excitement in the bourbon enthusiast community ranging from "generally ecstatic" on the low end to "I'm going to sell my house so I can buy this whiskey" on the high end. Falling somewhere in the middle, but arguably toward the higher end, is the Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection.
The Experimental Collection, naturally, experiments with bourbon in unexpected ways by altering the recipes, barrel treatments and more. Buffalo Trace has been releasing very limited-edition bottles from this collection periodically since 2006, and the brand-new Experimental Peated Bourbon is the 26th such release. As you can probably guess by the name, Buffalo Trace brings in some smoked peated malt for this new bottle — an ingredient mainly associated with Scotch and rarely used in bourbon — swapping in the smoky grain for barley in the distillery's rye bourbon mashbill.
The goal of Buffalo Trace here was to impart a bit of smokiness from the peat to complement the sweet notes from the corn and the spiciness of the rye. The bourbon was aged for about 9.5 years in new charred white oak barrels, which it had entered at 125 proof. The resultant spirit was then bottled at 90 proof.
Buffalo Trace Experimental Peated Bourbon: What We Think
Buffalo Trace's distillers set out to make a smoky bourbon, and they definitely succeeded. The Experimental Peated Bourbon has a pleasant amount of smoke that's always present but never overpowering, largely achieving the complementary effect to regular Buffalo Trace. Think of sipping some Buffalo Trace next to a campfire — but not too close — and you'll have a pretty good idea of what this experimental bourbon tastes like. Unfortunately, given the distillery's rabid fanbase and the extremely limited nature of this release, it's going to be impossible to get for most people.
What Buffalo Trace Experimental Peated Bourbon tastes like
Looking at the whiskey, it's a deep amber color and has a decent amount of viscosity. Swirl it around in a glass and you'll get some sticky legs that cling to the sides in wide swaths, creating a sort of mountain range on the interior of your drinking vessel. That's somewhat surprising, given that this is only 90 proof and higher proof whiskeys tend to have longer legs, so I wonder if the peat plays a role in adding some body here.
Buffalo Trace lists the tasting notes for the Experimental Peated Bourbon as follows:
- Nose: Smoky and nutty with hints of leather, mahogany and cacao beans
- Palate: Light smoke and brown butter
- Finish: Sweet toffee
Tasting notes tend to differ from person to person, so here's what I experience when drinking neat from a tulip tasting glass.
- Nose: Smoke is the dominant note here, but it still isn't overpowering. I also pick up a hint of leather and just a whisper of vanilla. Overall, it smells ... classy, like a well-apointed private library with a fireplace going. It smells more like something I'd want to drink in the middle of winter, rather than the current 80-degree sunny May day on which I'm tasting it.
- Palate: There's a hint of initial sweetness, but not a lot, that's reminiscent of corn and brown sugar. This quickly dissipates, however, and gives way to a wave of smoke and earthiness. This is where the bourbon really almost transforms into a peaty Scotch for me, though it's a bit less smoky than that.
- Finish: The finish is not sweet for me, rather, it's the smokiest part of the experience. I'm not left with the usual burn or warming of whiskey (not much of it anyway), but a hearty campfire smoke. It's pleasant, and I can see this being a go-to whiskey for cold-weather camping.
The Experimental Collection is a lot of fun
Outside of how this odd bourbon tastes, the Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection in general is a lot of fun. The bottle looks almost homemade, driving home the limited and experimental qualities, with the label providing far more information than is typical. The total production of the whiskey is given (6 barrels), along with the date distilled, date barreled, still and entry proofs, the date it was bottled, the age it was bottled, the type, age and even maker of the barrel (Independent Stave Co., if you're curious) and even which floor of which warehouses at the distillery the barrels came from. In typical Buffalo Trace fashion, there's no mashbill breakdown, but it's still a ton of information for bourbon geeks to nerd out over.
The bad news: Good luck getting a bottle
Since this is a very limited run of a Buffalo Trace product, that, unfortunately, means that this whiskey will be nearly impossible to get. The MSRP is just $46.99, which is kind of a joke in a couple of ways. For one, the whiskey certainly tastes more special and more expensive than that. And two, almost no one with the intent of drinking it is going to be able to buy it for that amount. Many of these bottles will be scooped up by resellers and sold on the secondary market for profit. Just look at some of the prior releases in the Experimental Collection for proof: they're routinely being sold at places like Drizly and Frootbat for over $600.
While I've never had a bourbon quite like the Buffalo Trace Experimental Peated Bourbon, the idea of a smoky or peated bourbon is not necessarily new. Brooklyn-based Kings County Distillery is well-known for producing its own peated bourbon, and it's readily available for less than $40. If you're more interested in just going super-smoky in an American whiskey and are less concerned about peat, then WhistlePig's SmokeStock Whiskey — a collaboration with pellet grill-maker Traeger — is a lot of fun and can be had for $73.