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Issue 137 - What's Coming Down in Kentucky

Whisky Magazine Issue 137
July 2016


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What's Coming Down in Kentucky

Buffalo Trace and the Single Oak Project

The damp quiet of the Missouri forest is shattered by the ringing roar of a Stihl chainsaw. The hard-hatted logger sheers off a shallow face cut to direct the fall of the big white oak tree, then pierces the heart of the tree with the tip of the saw. He flat cuts the middle, leaving only a narrow 'hinge' in the front, and a somewhat larger 'trigger' in the back; his assistant hammers wedges in front of the trigger to hold the path open for the saw.

The moment comes, and the logger guns the engine, steps up, and rips through the trigger in one smooth action. As he does, the tree slowly gathers way, and as the trigger disappears in a shower of wet sawdust the tree falls with tremendous impact... right where the logger planned it.

He steps back, doffing his hard-hat and goggles, and now you see that it's Buffalo Trace Master Distiller Harlen Wheatley. He grins broadly. “I'd like to see those craft guys beat that!” he says, clearly relishing the hands-on aspect.

Wheatley was out in the woods of southern Missouri following up on one of the more visible parts of Buffalo Trace's massive experimental whiskey program, the Single Oak Project (SOP). Begun in 1999, the project is part of the “Holy Grail Project,” a whimsically-named but totally serious search for the components of the perfect Bourbon.

The SOP was named for the salient factor in a program that actually considered seven different variables. Recipe (wheat or rye), entry proof (105 or 125), stave seasoning ...

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