Bourbon Industry

Latest Buffalo Trace experiments test theories on entry proof

Buffalo Trace Distillery's Wheat Mash Enrty Proof Family 2.
Buffalo Trace Distillery's Wheat Mash Enrty Proof Family 2.

Does a stronger proof make a better bourbon? Buffalo Trace Distillery tested that question with its latest Experimental Collection.

Buffalo Trace put the same 130 proof wheat recipe bourbon into barrels at four different proofs, from 125 proof to 90 proof, and aged it all for 11 years and 7 months.

Then bottled it at 90 proof so you can decide for yourself which tastes better.

Some distillers theorize that a higher entry proof, especially for a wheated bourbon, makes for a better bourbon because alcohol ages better; others say lower entry proof leads to a more mellow, consistent finish, according to Buffalo Trace.

The results, according to the distillery:

■ Wheat 125, well-rounded flavor, tastes of cooked berries and sweet honey with hints of spicy cloves and pepper.

■ Wheat 115, rated best tasting by Buffalo Trace quality analysis team, is sweet and fruity, with buttery toffee notes and a dry oaky finish.

■ Wheat 105, has a nice balance of sweet caramel, vanilla and dry oakiness.

■ Wheat 90, has more wood characters and slight sweet notes, along with mellow hints of cedar and other wood flavors.

"This was an interesting experiment for us to conduct, and by keeping all of the variables consistent such as the proof off the still, aging time and placement next to each other in the warehouse, we were able to focus just on the entry proof into the barrel and see how it affected taste and evaporation rate," said Harlen Wheatley, Buffalo Trace master distiller. "We were pleased that what we consider the ideal entry proof for a wheated bourbon, at 114 proof, was pretty close in proof to what we evaluated to also taste the best in this experiment. ... Another point of interest is the higher entry proofs, the higher the evaporation rates, which is something we've always suspected but now know for a fact."

The wheated recipe barrels are part of 1,500-plus barrels of whiskey aging at Buffalo Trace, all made slightly differently or aged in unique ways.

This collection is priced at $46.35 per whiskey, so $185 if you want all four.