Renovations at Buffalo Trace Distillery uncover rare find

Frankfort, Ky. (WKYT)- The history of Kentucky's distilleries is as rich as the bourbon that flows through them. It's no secret the bourbon industry is big business in the state and has some distilleries looking to expand and draw in more visitors. Buffalo Trace in Frankfort was looking to do just that when they made a big discovery, one that dates back to the 1800s. WKYT's Amber Philpott takes you inside the rare historical find that has the distillery the talk of the bourbon world.

The distillery at Buffalo Trace has passed through several hands in its more than two hundred years in existence. Every year visitors walk the grounds, smell the mash and taste the bourbon bottled at Buffalo Trace. Recently though something other than bourbon has people talking about the distillery.

"So we are uncovering pieces of Kentucky's past that have really been forgotten until now," said Nick Laracuente a Bourbon Archaeologist.

A company in Mt. Vernon called Enomalies has created a full interactive virtual walk through of the findings that can even be seen in virtual reality.

The past was uncovered while looking to the future and a new project. The distillery wanted to add meeting and event space in a decommissioned building long used for storage along the Kentucky River. It needed shoring up and that's when workers uncovered something no one even knew was there.

"We discovered we have five stages of construction here behind us, everywhere from 1869, 1873, early 1900s and a little bit of today," said Laracuente.

The distillery brought in Bourbon Archaeologist Nick Laracuente, he was blown away!

"This is a picture into the past; we can actually touch things that have not been touched in about 100 years or so."

The find dates back to the days of Colonel E.H. Taylor and his OFC Distillery.

In April the first brick pillars were found along with remnants of walls. More digging uncovered the original 1873 distillery foundation and fermenters from 1882.

"We are so excited about it and jazzed and lucky to have all this stuff preserved and we are just thankful. Every day we discover something new," said Amy Preske with Buffalo Trace.

Through lithographs and old documents Laracuente and a whiskey historian have been able to piece it all together.

To understand the scope you have to climb down in, it's like taking a step back in time.

"We're standing inside the 1873 distillery foundation walls right now," said Laracuente.

It's a perfectly preserved look into a building that was destroyed by fire in 1882.

"He's like we are going to rebuild this in one year, bigger and the best ever and that's what we have basically around us," said Laracuente.

OFC stood for Old Fire Copper; Colonel Taylor believed lining his vats with copper made his whiskey better.

"There is some dispute already now that people are starting to hear about this, whether or not that really changed the product."

The unearthed vats once held 14,000 gallons of mash in their production days. The folks at Buffalo Trace hope to recreate them one day.

"We will re-commission one of the fermenters and start actually producing from that fermenter as he originally did," said Preske.

Several artifacts like thick pieces of glass have been found and even some of that old copper from the vats.

"This would have been down under and sheathed down inside the vats," said Laracuente.

And every day lends itself to a new find.

"When Buffalo Trace staff saw this and they realized what was here they did the amazing thing of saying all right we need to stop. We need to completely rework the project and we need to preserve this to show the public what we have here," said Laracuente.

It's like a puzzle tying the future of Buffalo Trace to its past.

There is still a lot to be done, work will continue in phases. The end result is to have it preserved in a way where visitors in some capacity could be able to see it for themselves, but that is still a long way off. The remaining upper levels of the building will be renovated as planned for meeting and event space.

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