Kentucky isn’t the only place on earth to make bourbon whiskey, but it’s darn close. Kentucky is well known for fresh limestone water, fertile land for farming, temperate climate, and a history of bourbon making. But to make great tasting bourbon, distilling is only half the recipe. The other half is the unique flavors garnered from oak barrel aging – and not all oak comes from Kentucky.
Ronnie Eddins, former Warehouse Manager at Buffalo Trace Distillery, traveled over the Ohio River to get a look at some of the Midwest’s most prized white oak. His adventure starts in the Missouri Ozarks, where we learn a little about the land, the forests, and the people there who grow some of the world’s best trees for bourbon barrels.
Handpicking each tree to be used in the Single Oak Project took some time. But not nearly as much time as our experts have spent learning about how oak type, growth patterns, and tree location can affect the quality of bourbon whiskey years down the road.
In this video, experts from Buffalo Trace Distillery, Salem Wood Products, and Independent Stave Company talk about the high-quality white oak trees that were chosen for the Single Oak Project. Watch as these pros reveal what wood makes the best barrel and how they find that wood on a lot with thousands of trees to chose from.
Once the specific trees were chosen from the best forest in the country, they were sent to a nearby lumberyard in order to be made into staves and air seasoned. The trees and subsequent staves were carefully tracked during seasoning. Those staves were fashioned into two unique barrels — one from the top half of the log, and one from the bottom half.
Thus, each barrel was created from a single oak tree. Watch the video to learn even more.
After nearly a decade of aging, Buffalo Trace Distillery was finally ready to bottle these incredible bourbons. Meticulous care and attention has been paid to this process, resulting in 192 whiskeys, each remarkably different from one another. And not just remarkably different, but measurably different. Learn the unique make-up of each, including recipe, wood grain, warehouse location, and more. You can rate the bourbon and see how other drinkers feel those unique aspects affect the final whiskey.
It’s all part of the Single Oak Project — the biggest experimental undertaking of its kind.
The Single Oak Project bourbon aged in barrel #80 was rye recipe bourbon, entered into a barrel made from oak harvested from the bottom half of the tree with staves seasoned for 12 months. The grain size of the wood was considered average and the barrel received a number four char inside. The whiskey entered the barrel at 125 proof and was aged in a concrete floor warehouse.
We are now making plans to start producing the winning formula from Barrel #80, for future batches of Single Oak Bourbon. The oak must be harvested, staves dried for 12 months, and then the bourbon must be aged for eight years. Mark your calendars for the year 2025!
"The knowledge gained from conducting this research experiment is priceless," stated Mark Brown, president and chief executive officer of Buffalo Trace Distillery. "We can now compare and confirm how each of these variables in the bourbon making process affects the finished product, which will only refine our experimental program and help us create even better whiskeys in the future."
Many thanks to all the whiskey enthusiasts who have participated. Although the winner has been determined, please continue evaluating these whiskeys. After each review, you will see all the “DNA” of each particular bourbon and gain a better understanding of your taste preferences. You can read more about the Single Oak Project results here."This year they concluded their extraordinary experiment, by far the most important commercially undertaken in whisk(e)y history…. Picking out the differences was almost certainly the most fascinating project of a career covering a quarter of a century."