It’s hard to say if anyone has ever come to blows over the eternal question, “Are Bison Buffalo?”. In 1997, at Cheyenne’s annual Buffalo Days celebration, noted historical biologist Norman “The Helix” Bergstrom was hit from behind with half a plate of funnel cake after he loudly stated the probably accurate, though publicly unpopular aphorism that the American Bison (Bison bison) was barely related to actual buffalo of the African (Syncerus caffer) or Water (Bubalus bubalis) variety. While the dessert tosser remains at large, it’s widely thought to have been the work of rogue etymologist Herve Stover who steadfastly maintains that the word “buffalo” is of French origin, originally used by fur traders in the American Midwest as early as 1650, thereby legitimizing calling the shaggy beasts American Buffalo. Who knows…it’s really best to stay clear of such heated battles.
In any case, the American Bison/Buffalo clearly had a head for finding the surest path over land and water. Indeed, those once huge (thanks a lot, selfish settlers) herds cut such impressive trails, like the one from Illinois to Kentucky, deftly crossing the Wabash and Ohio Rivers, that their routes became known as buffalo traces and were then co-opted by settlers too lazy to find their own way across this semi-great land. Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon honors this frontier tradition with their own excellent tradition of whiskey making and as we all know, whiskey leads to fights over whether or not bison are actually buffalo. Just to get confusing for a minute, Buffalo Trace Bourbon is made by the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, KY, which also makes Sazerac Rye, which is a good thing, too, because Sazerac owns the Buffalo Trace Distillery. Now that we’ve got that cleared up…
The Nose: Big, soft comforting nose, butterscotch, candied orange, brown sugar, caramel (you see where I’m going with this?). Really nice notes of French vanilla and charred wood with just a touch of toasted nuts. There’s also a delicious hint of corn oil here, like after-popping-popcorn-in-corn-oil corn oil.
The Palate: Smooth, rich, sweet entry. Nice slightly oily mouthfeel. Great brown sugar/caramel and French vanilla notes carry over from the nose. That toasted, slightly oak-y quality is still there as well. Rye comes through and helps the oak start building towards a spicy, sharp finish. Just a slight earthy greenness helps balance out the sweet.
The Finish: Lingering and drying, still a lot of vanilla and sugar notes, but the vanilla is now more earthy and bean-like. The rye, which waited a while to come out is pretty big here.
Thoughts: Man, this is a pretty spectacular bourbon for the money…not that that should come as a surprise as nearly everyone thinks pretty highly of it. True to the current bourbon trend, it’s big, smooth, rich, and sweet; far more mature and complex than the price would lead you to believe. Seems like it’s easy to find this for around 20 bucks making it well worth checking out.