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Issue 146 - Discovering Bourbon's past

Whisky Magazine Issue 146
September 2017


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Discovering Bourbon's past

We follow the Indiana Jones of Bourbon as he uncovers Buffalo Trace's Pompeii

Climbing down a steep ladder into a warehouse sub-basement on the river's edge at Buffalo Trace Distillery in Kentucky, Nicolas Laracuente's motion suddenly activates the lighting. It's nine o'clock in the morning, but as illuminated signs come into view it becomes clear what we're looking at: ruins of a 19th-century farm distillery intertwined with those of a more modern 19th-century commercial distillery.

The archaeologist

Laracuente climbs over stone knee high walls toward the oldest section of the ruins, explaining the various features that pinpoint its age. The stone work is crude but strong, having withstood more than 150 years of use, fire, and eventually abandonment. The newer section is made of bricks, and in some areas the pillars are twisted from the nearby river's flooding as well as pressure from above. We are climbing among the ruins of Colonel Edmund Haynes Taylor's Old Fashioned Copper Distillery, built to modernise the 1869 Sweigert Distillery in 1873 and again in 1882 after a fire. It was, for a time, one of the most modern Bourbon distilleries in the state. In 1958 the building was decommissioned as a distillery and concrete was poured over the area, preserving it for its inadvertent discovery in 2016.

Laracuente was studying pre-med at Tulane University when he decided to enroll in an archaeology class. Like many people he went in assuming that all the cool stuff had already been discovered. When he realised there were more sites out there waiting to ...

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