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Buffalo Trace Single Oak Project

Friday, April 29th, Buffalo Trace is making an announcement of sorts at their distillery concerning a new product they are unveiling. It’s called the Single Oak Project and it appears the folks in Frankfort, KY have been mighty busy.

To sum it up, 10 years ago Buffalo Trace hand selected single trees and had them coopered into two barrels from each tree. They identified 7 critical areas they believe make up a bourbon’s “DNA”, and varied these factors with each barrel. The result apparently is 192 different barrels of bourbon they will bottling and releasing.

Check out the website here. While not what I expected them to announce, I am certainly looking forward to trying as many as I can. Let’s all hope we can actually find them on the shelves.

POST UPDATE

Buffalo Trace has a release out this morning which explains things in a little more detail.

-Drink your Bourbon!

30 Comments

  1. JWC says:

    I think many people have the concern you expressed in your last sentence: being able to procure bottles. I guess we will find out tomorrow what the price will be like.

    I will say one thing about BT: they sure come up with the prettiest packaging in the bourbon world and the juice is usually pretty good to excellent.

  2. What’s up JWC? Agreed on packaging, availability, and juice. It’s beautifully done, tougher than hell to find sometimes, and usually pretty darn tasty.

  3. JWC says:

    they already issued a press release with details about availability and price: The first release of the Single Oak Project Bourbon is expected to hit stores nationwide in very limited quantities around the end of May. Each release will consist of
    12 unique single barrel bourbons. Every case will contain 12 bottles, each from a different barrel. The first release is made up of barrel numbers 3, 4, 35, 36, 67, 68, 99, 100, 131, 132, 163 and 164. There will be a series of releases over the next four years until all of the 192 barrels have been released. All releases will be packaged in a 375ml bottle. Suggested retail pricing is $46.35.

  4. JWC says:

    @Jason: the bourbon hunt is getting tiring. the local store finally got the col. taylor le bourbon from bt. i was also able to get a bottle of pappy 15 and 20 from the spring release. bt seems to be hitting on all cylinders but man are they making it difficult for the die hards. whenever the btac or pappy’s come out, it’s a feeding frenzy and it’s been getting worse. i’m getting real close to stop future purchases of new releases and drink up what is in my bunker and what i can get from dusty hunting. but boy does the single oak project sound interesting. i may just wait it until until the winner is selected and bt produces in “bulk” the winner but who’s kidding who?

  5. David D says:

    Don’t get me started on this….

    I’m the one who has to tell those 1000 people that I can’t get them a bottle and I have to deal with their anger as if it’s my fault. I’ve started just emailing customers privately who I think would want one. I switch it up every time a new release comes out. If you got an EH Taylor, I probably won’t contact you about the experimental. I never put them in the store or online. If I’ve never met you before, you’ve got zero chance of getting one.

    That’s what it’s come to.

  6. sku says:

    Collect all 192! I’m not sure if I think this is ridiculous hype or a legitimate effort at trying something new and innovative. I guess we’ll see. The marketing geniuses (and I mean that seriously) at BT may have finally overstepped.

  7. The entire antique collection is probably about 600-700 barrels per release, with each Antique Collection product including anywhere from 100-165 barrels per product (estimate based on 2010). That makes 192 seem quite small in comparison.

    So David, get ready for the calls! ; )

    Sku, I’m not sure either. Obviously I dig whiskey geekery and I can’t wait to try it. This undertaking is certainly intriguing because of that. However, I was expecting something different and something finished. This appears to be a continuation of the research. Which again, is very interesting, just not what I was expecting. Also not sure where the relevance was in assessing prominent reviewers whiskeys to then release 192 barrels of different bourbon. Anyways, I’ll be ready to do some sipping.

  8. sku says:

    I agree Jason, it doesn’t seem to match up with their earlier press. Sort of strange. Maybe that earlier statement was a red herring or more a statement of ultimate goals than this particular release.

  9. JWC says:

    The people that irritate me (and the retailers I know) the most are people who buy ONE (yes ONE) bottle of whiskey a year and the one bottle they wish to purchase is Pappy 15. The diehards (I guess I should be included) on the internet and reviewers are feeding the frenzy. I almost regret introducing non-bourbon drinkers to Pappy, WLW or GTS but I can’t help it when I see that condescending look on their face when I mention that I like bourbon. Rather than appreciating bourbon and exploring the entire range, they ONLY WANT Pappy, WLW and/or GTS. Oh to return to the days when such products were priced in the $40′s and readily available (heck, you didn’t even have to stock up – you could just go back on buy another one off the shelf).

  10. AaronWF says:

    On the one hand, I appreciate BT’s public focus on an element of whiskey-making that is completely invisible to 90%+ of American whiskey drinkers: the barrels. And not just barrels, but wood. Putting focus on trees and forests seems to me a rare spectacle of agility for a company that grows bigger and bigger by the season, and I can’t help but admire them for creating a campaign around such a niche.

    On the other hand, it is all a bit precious. While inconsistent with the rough, manly, salt-of-the-earth image that bourbon has favored in the past, I suppose this kind of process-oriented marketing has already played out extensively in the wine and scotch industries.

    Yeah, I’m into it, but like JWC said, the bottle-hunting gets tiresome. I’ve managed to get lucky and scoop up a few bottles of Pappy15 this week (no small feat even in what I’ve gathered to be the more fortunate market of Chicago), but BT is stepping into a bit of a contradiction by catering to a growing market of bourbon enthusiasts with an ever-shrinking supply of product.

    Consumers are not well known for their patience, but clearly, there are vast rewards to be had in allowing time to take its course with whiskey! I think BT is aiming for quality in a long-term vision, so I’m definitely optimistic overall.

  11. David D says:

    Wood is honestly the most important aspect of whisk(e)y. I learned so much on a recent trip to Scotland and now I can’t stop obsessing about it. BT is to be commended in undertaking this type of adventure. I find it fascinating and inspiring that they’re doing it. However, as others have stated, what use is it to cater to whiskey geeks when the people they’re catering to can’t get a bottle? I’ve got 12 bottles of the experimental sitting in my shop and I’m sweating over how to distribute them.

  12. JWC says:

    @David – I agree about the importance of wood. However, if BT were as selective with the wood in this perfect bourbon project as they claim to be (and I believe them), HOW THE HECK ARE THEY GOING TO REPLICATE IT ON A BIGGER SCALE? No one can dictate to Mother Nature, particularly when you are talking about something like oak trees that need so much time to mature.

  13. sku says:

    Looking further at the website, it’s actually an impressive piece of new media advertising. They are soliciting people to set up profiles for the purpose of reviewing the whiskeys on the site. It’s an interesting concept, though it seems overly specialized to me. I also wonder if they will exercise editorial control over the reviews themselves.

    In some ways, this whole thing is a big gamble. The idea of 192 distinct barrels could well overwhelm consumers and turn them off, as Bruichladdich has sometimes done with its large volume of releases, though that certainly hasn’t stopped them from putting out some good stuff and having it recognized as such, but 192 is an awful lot to hold consumer interest.

  14. Great point Steve. We’re talking a hell of a lot of different whiskeys. Different mashes, different chars, different warehouses – it’s definitely a tad overwhelming. But again, the whiskey geek in me loves this. I think they may also feel that the enthusiasts will be the one to scarf them up, and thus the ones that complete the online reviews. So who knows, they may really get some fantastic data from this. But good grief – which one do you buy if you run across a good number? Tough decision for many consumers.

  15. Eric S. says:

    Living in Ohio… a horrible state for finding any kind of selection of bourbon, I’m sure I’ll never see a bottle of this on any shelf in any store. Oh well, such is life in a control state.

  16. Dave says:

    While I can’t quite see myself being a collector of these bottles, I think that getting a flight of small pours from different bottles at a good whiskey bar would be an awesome way to experience this.

  17. Dave, I concur. Far less up front investment and you get to try more and compare together. I’d be up for that.

  18. JWC says:

    @Jason – which one do we buy? Since BT will be letting the pros taste them first, I’ll probably wait for the reviews and then make a decision. Trying to get every single bottle, even if possible, would be too expensive for me – it would eat up my annual Scotch and bourbon budget (and then some).

  19. David D says:

    If I were Buffalo Trace, I would not let any reviewer, blogger, or writer taste any of them. Some getting better scores than others will only cause a panic over certain bourbons and less enthusiasm over others. These are going to sell out anyway without tasting notes. so there’s no need to have them reviewed.

  20. JWC – I wish I could point anyone in the right direction but the way they are doing this is almost as though you really won’t know what you’re getting. Getting every one would be ridiculously impossible I’d think. But I look forward to trying a couple.

    David – I agree. There’s not really much point to doing that if you are BT. I definitely plan on reviewing anything I can get my hands on, but I’m sure BT doesn’t care if that happens or not. Why would they? This stuff will be gone once they shops get it.

  21. Ben says:

    I think the explosion of comments and debate on this one is exactly what BT were hoping for. I reckon this project is just enough real experimentation and just enough gimmick to really get people talking, which is clever on their part.

    Right or wrong, I was dismissive of regular BT for being what I deemed to be a fairly ordinary bourbon considering the hype. For all any of us know, these bottles will simply be variations on a decent bourbon with that added frenzy and exclusivity that whisky enthusiasts get a kick out of. I’ll probably never get the chance to try any, yet somehow that doesn’t bother me much. Call me a cynical Brit if you like but my guess is in time people are going to just forget this and move on.

    On another note, I’m seriously interested in the Angel’s Envy, which I think comes across as a very genuine enterprise, and I look forward to trying some whenever it hits this side of the pond.

  22. snakeman says:

    When I first read the press release, after visiting the sight BT set up for this, I was excited. But when I saw how many different expressions will be available in the series, and the the price, I lost interest. These limited releases will drive people into a frenzy trying to get some, or if they have DEEP pockets, the whole set. After the $80.00 price I had to pay for EH Taylor, and the cost of the current BTEC releases, I not going to be playing into all of the hype anymore. And they will sell every one of this project’s bottles. Now If I’m still alive when the final selection that wins this project is made, bottled, and release 10 years from now, I might consider buying one bottle to drink.

  23. Josh Scott says:

    For those interested, I posted on this topic on Straight Bourbon awhile ago when the Washington Post article by Jason WIlson was released. Some very interesting dialogue has taken place since then including some insight by Chuck Cowdery who was present, on behalf of Malt Advocate, at the live event.

    http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/showthread.php?t=15702

    ~Josh (MacinJosh)

  24. Josh, thanks for the post link. It’s a great one and Chuck Cowdery’s insights are very good information. Thanks!

  25. Brandon says:

    Cowdery’s post is very enlightening. It is a pretty cool project in terms of experimental design and geekiness. And they’ve obviously done a good job of generating buzz among the target audience.

    But the bottom line is that this doesn’t seem like it will be remotely accessible to the average (or merely above average) consumer. And the fact that one needs to have at least two bottles to adequately evaluate the experiment makes it doubly impossible. Might as well just convene a panel of “experts”, give us a report, and call it done.

  26. Texas says:

    “But the bottom line is that this doesn’t seem like it will be remotely accessible to the average (or merely above average) consumer. And the fact that one needs to have at least two bottles to adequately evaluate the experiment makes it doubly impossible. Might as well just convene a panel of “experts”, give us a report, and call it done.”

    I could not have said it better. All this is is a cool experiment for BT that will only involve wealthy and well connected collectors and “experts”. The American whiskey industry is enjoying great times because it is a great product for a good price. This kind of thing is going to lead to what you have in the Scotch market with $11,000 Bowmores and the like. I love single-malt scotch but the reason I am now in the majority a bourbon and rye drinker now is price. This economy is not the time to start leading quality bourbon down a super-premium route. Anyone want to be that the previously reasonably affordable BTAC (for what you get) will see a huge price spike come this late October?

  27. Ian says:

    I can’t wait for this and I am already strategically passing around my business car in order to procure all 12 barrels from this May release.

    I’m either a sucker for marketing or just a hard up bourbon geek…..

  28. Ian says:

    Texas, IMO, this is nothing like Scotch pricing. BT is offering great experimental batches at “relatively” affordable pricing. The BTAC hasn’t seen a price increase…..ever. What makes you think that all of a sudden we will see one this year? With just a short time of speaking with the good people at BT, you can tell that they are out to create exciting, unique, and high quality bourbons at an affordable price.

    I commend BT for continuously experimenting and evolving the bourbon market. As a bourbon geek that can never get enough quality taste variations, I look forward to the Single Oak project release.

  29. Texas says:

    Ian,
    I did not mean literally that I thought BT would start having bottlings that cost $11,000, but I think BT is starting to focus WAY too much on the very high end of the market. For the folks in that segment, more power to you, I’d like to be there myself, but am not at this point.

    The Scotch distilleries did not raise prices to exorbitant levels because they needed to, instead they convinced themselves that they were some sort of super-exclusive product. I am concerned that BT is heading down this same road. Bourbon has always been the everyday-man’s (or woman’s drink). If we turn it into a premium product, that helps nobody, and I don’t think it helps the companies.

    The cost of the BTAC has already gone up a lot in the past 4 years, I think in large part it is due to the premiumization of the brand. The more BT focuses on these high-end experiments rather than producing a new high-quality, but low to mid-price bourbon for the masses, the more I think it begins to drive away the average consumer.

    I think the Scotch industry drive a lot of drinkers in the U.S. back to bourbon and rye (like me). The bourbon industry can always drive folks back to beer..

  30. Was discussing this with some friends over wine last night – now it would be VERY interesting if a winery were to offer similar variations on the same wine in different barrel types, char level, etc. The aging period isn’t as long, so it wouldn’t be such a long term endeavour. As for the BT, I think it would be a shame to taste any of these without a broad lineup to experience the differences firsthand, and that will not be easy…