Bourbon tasting with Drew Mayville, Master Blender at Buffalo Trace

I had an amazing afternoon last month, enjoying the privilege of a tasting led by the Master Blender of Buffalo Trace, Drew Mayville. He had rocked up to our top local cocktail bar here in Leicester, Manhattan34, and was only doing events in Edinburgh and London in the UK during this visit as I understand so it shows you the reputation of this bar and its bartenders if you haven’t been before!!

Anyway, Drew was an engaging and entirely compelling speaker and an absolute mine of bourbon knowledge. He gave us some detail about his own career and how he had come to Buffalo Trace, at about the same time as I heard of the brand whilst still at university! He then talked us through an expert tasting session, giving some amazing cues on how to taste, what to look for to understand the impact of the different mash bills and aging that the bourbons had gone through, and all done with a smile and a twinkle in the eye. As I say, a thoroughly enjoyable but also deeply educational afternoon!

In particular I really enjoyed hearing about the development of the distillery and the company, and finding out that the Buffalo Trace is a real thing – the mark the buffalo had left in that area of the Kentucky landscape, moving in their (originally) vast herds.

Drew was talking to a room of industry professionals and so he assumed everyone understood the fundamentals of bourbon production and in the interests of brevity, I will too. However if you’re not sure, there is a great resource on the Buffalo Trace website about the process, just click here.

White Dog Mash #1

Made to educate about the range of flavours within the new made bourbon spirit before aging. So it is 125 proof, and gives an incredible pepper kick – this is Buffalo Trace as it is when it goes in to the barrel, the raw distillate. However, it does still have a slight sweetness in the mouth from the corn, balanced by the rye as the small grain. Once that initial hefty kick fades off as the mouth becomes accustomed to it I certainly found it an interesting and rewarding drink to enjoy. But you’ll definitely love it or hate it!

Buffalo Trace

The one you’re all familiar with – light straw colour and sweet nose of the 8 (plus) year aged bourbon with interesting spice on the tip of the tongue, the dryness of the oak in the centre of the mouth and then hints of vanilla fudge coming through. An incredibly balanced and extremely pleasant drink.

Eagle Rare

This one is 10 years aged, so we were learning about the developing impact of the oak on the dryness and the finish – to me this felt as though it was not as balanced, but it had more complex dimensions on the nose – the spice from the oak is intense and has started to create some notes of dried fruit. Not as much my cup of tea as the straight Buffalo Trace, but it clearly depends on your taste as there were many nods of approval in the room.

Stagg Jnr

Now this is one hell of a boubon. Eight years aged and strong on the nose with apricot notes, this is an explosion of heat and spice in your mouth, but surprisingly smooth. Lovely fruit flavours are layered with black pepper and twiggy notes from the barrels! It has a dry tannic feel but yet leaves a syrupy coating in the mouth. This is the fatty acids in the drink, which has a high proof as a cut version would cloud. It has a joyous, rounded finish with some very light vanilla coming through after you have drank it. Truly a voyage of discovery with every sip!

Sazerac Rye

With 51% rye and corn as the small grain, this cannot be called a bourbon. It was a spritely six years old and has a smooth nose with the spice leaning towards the clove end of the spectrum. It’s a delight of smoothness in the mouth, some vanilla but also quite fruity, almost peachy and just the merest hint of spice. I adored it. One of the drinks of the day for me.

Small batch E H Taylor

This has to be 100 proof and was aged for around 7 years. Its beautiful amber colour and large halo were reflected in the very light, delicate nose. It gives an elegant spice hit just on the roof of the mouth, and also an airy fruitiness – no intense oak or tannin here but complex, light and ever so slightly floral. Lip smacking.

Van Winkle Wheated Bourbon

This was the surprise of the day for me. With 51% corn and wheat as the small grain and 12 years of age, we thought we knew what to expect, but the sweet, and almost menthol notes flavours were pretty crazy, especially considering it was barely there on the nose. This menthol note gave a tingle in the mouth, but with some complex sweet and fruit flavours – like sweet as in candy, and some floral stone fruit along with the caramel tone. Beautiful to drink. Difficult to describe! (Plus I’d drank quite a lot of bourbon at this point) Rare as hen’s teeth too as far as I can gather, so good luck finding some to enjoy for yourself!


Bestselling author and freelance drinks writer. Champion of pubs and breweries. Occasional printmaker.

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