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Issue 11 - A trace of greatness

Whisky Magazine Issue 11
September 2000


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A trace of greatness

Stuart Maclean Ramsay roams among the magnificent buffalo of Kentucky.

One fine gentleman,'' is how Jimmy Russell, Master Distiller at Wild Turkey describes his friend and fellow bourbon alchemist, Elmer T Lee.

“And he makes a good whiskey, too,” Jimmy adds. I met with Elmer, Master Distiller Emeritus of the Buffalo Trace Distillery by Frankfort, Kentucky, earlier this year. The meeting took place at Stony Point, the elegant limestone mansion that overlooks the whiskey landscape of Buffalo Trace. We were joined by an ebullient Mark Brown, President and Chief Executive Officer of the distillery, who answered my first question, the origin of the word, ‘trace'.

“The distillery site is located on an ancient buffalo crossing, where the animals forded the Kentucky River,” Mark explained. “It was part of the Great Buffalo Trace, a pathway or trail carved out by the buffalo as they thundered from salt lick to salt lick through a landscape enveloped with river cane and forests of white oak, ash and cherry trees. These traces in turn became pathways for the destiny of our ancestors – the explorers, and settlers who moved into the western wilderness.”

The Great Buffalo Trace led to the first survey of this area north of the Kentucky River, carried out by the McAfee brothers in 1773. The present distillery site became a settlement two years later when Hancock and Willis Lee established their camp with a small company of ‘comrades'. Although harassed by local Indian bands who did not take kindly to white men interfering with their ance...

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