Buffalo Trace Finds Foundation From 1873 Distillery

Buffalo Trace Distillery has gone back to its early distilling days, literally, with the discovery of early foundations and fermenting vats dating back to 1873.

The discovery happened when Buffalo Trace began renovating an old building on property called the O.F.C. Building, once used for distilling, but long since vacant, the company reports. The building sits alongside the Kentucky River and was going to be turned into meeting and event space.

Construction crews went in to shore up the foundation. As digging proceeded, the original 1873 distillery foundation, as well as fermenters from 1882, were unearthed (pictured atop).

The distillery immediately stopped work and called in two area experts: Historic Preservation Consultant/Whiskey Historian Carolyn Brooks and Bourbon Archaeologist Nicolas Laracuente.

Brooks and Laracuente confirmed what Buffalo Trace had suspected, the company says. The foundation and fermenters were from an earlier build of the distillery and dated back to the days of Col. E. H. Taylor, Jr, in 1873.

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A historical depiction of the fermenters in 1882.

This distillery, called the O.F.C. Distillery, was later destroyed by fire in 1882 (though work began immediately to restore it). The 1873 foundation was left in place and Taylor expanded the distillery, installing the 11,000 gallon fermenting vats in a large construction project that was completed in a single year.

Taylor described it as “the walls of the O.F. C. fermenting room are constructed of rough ashler from limestone quarries – the floor is grouted in best English cement . . . The vats . . . are constructed of brick, laid in English cement – the base six feet below the level of the floor, and the top eleven feet below the ceiling. They are first lined with first quality of Portland cement, and this again lined with the best sheet copper, manufactured especially for this purpose.”

The foundation and the vats were covered with a cement floor when the building was decommissioned in 1958 and forgotten, until today.

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A depiction of the mash floor in 1882 (upstairs from the fermenters).

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The mash floor today.

“To have a find like this, that dates back to Taylor’s time in the 1800’s is simply amazing,” says Mark Brown, president and chief executive officer, Buffalo Trace Distillery. “We look forward to preserving these discoveries for many more generations to enjoy.”

Bourbon Archaeologist Nick Laracuente agrees, stating “archaeological investigations at large, continuously active, distilleries like this never yield intact remains since the buildings and equipment are typically salvaged, repurposed, or torn down. We were lucky to discover it. But, what is even more impressive is that Buffalo Trace took the time and effort to completely change their project in order to preserve and interpret this unique piece of whiskey history.”

This discovery has altered this National Historic Landmark Distillery’s plan of renovating the first floor of the building for meeting and events space. Instead, the new discoveries will be preserved and available for visitors on a future tour to be announced, complete with at least one restored fermenter that will be operational in the near future.

The remaining upper levels of the building will continue to be renovated according to the original plan for meetings and events.

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