The Quest for “The Unreachable Star” in Bourbon

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The Quest for “The Unreachable Star” in Bourbon
To call someone a dreamer is the equivalent of saying “get your head out of the clouds.” Those guilty of such treatment deny an essential aspect of human nature: all men have a tendency to dream. This propensity encompasses every aspect of our daily lives and is ultimately a desire for a world that is not this land of exile. Those who dream strive for the perfect even while trapped inside a very imperfect world. In other words they continue to reach for the “unreachable star” described so well in the stirring song, “The Impossible Dream.”

This is why I appreciated receiving a press release from Buffalo Trace Distillery announcing the results of their most recent experiments to produce a perfect bourbon. After writing an article on this world class spirit some years ago, I figured there was nothing left to say about bourbon. There are three essential ingredients: corn, rye and barley. It is aged in a charred white oak virgin barrel. Each distillery strives to achieve their own unique taste profile and many are winning awards the world over. It is a classic example of organic society, as explained in the book, Return to Order, since it springs from the very soil of the “Bluegrass State.” Distillers provide an excellent product and make loads of money doing it. They are happy and so is the consumer. End of story. No!

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Waiting Fifteen Years for a Better Bourbon

To be satisfied with a product that is simply good or even excellent, is not enough for those who dream. Such men search for perfection as opposed the simply sufficient 40-acre-and-a-mule Amish version. This is another defining characteristic of a true organic society. When it comes to Buffalo Trace, this includes even the time allotted for stave drying.1 Otherwise known as “seasoning,” this process permits the right amount of tannins and wood sugars during the charring of the barrel. This in turn, allows for the alcohol to extract the right flavors.

The Quest for “The Unreachable Star” in Bourbon
Barrels of Bourbon will sit in Buffalo Trace warehouses for up to fifteen years. It’s really not that long when one considers that this distillery’s bourbon making tradition began in 1786.

The standard seasoning time for Buffalo Trace staves had been six months. In their quest for an improved taste profile, it was decided to prolong the stave drying time to thirteen months. Two separate groups of barrels were filled with Buffalo Trace Rye Mash #1, and left to age. Every few months, master distiller Harlen Wheatley and members of the “tasting panel” would check the development of the product. They discovered that the taste differences began to show up early on and only improved over the course of the next fifteen years. Yes you read that correctly. They patiently waited fifteen years for the results. It’s really not that long however when one considers their Bourbon making tradition began in 1786.FREE e-Book, A Spanish Mystic in Quito: Sor Mariana de Jesus Torres

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They found that the six-month drying time for staves produced flavors such as caramel, vanilla, and oak. Thirteen months, however, “created a bourbon that tastes of sweet nuts balanced with mild spicy notes, creating a robust flavor.” While it may have taken them fifteen years to craft this newest creation, you don’t have to wait that long. This new Bourbon is now available for purchase.

Finding The Holy Grail of Bourbon

The question you might be asking yourself is, where does it all end? After all, isn’t perfection impossible, this side of heaven? What motivates people to continue? I will let Buffalo Trace master distiller Harlen Wheatley tell you.

“We are driven to experiment,” he said, “because of our goal to find the “Holy Grail” of bourbon, that is, creating the world’s perfect bourbon. Fortunately we are blessed with leadership that is fully supportive of this goal.”

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The Quest for “The Unreachable Star” in Bourbon
A behind the scene tour of Buffalo Trace distillery often leaves tourists captivated by the quest of those who strive to attain the perfect bourbon.

Their search for perfection is clearly far from over and stave drying time is merely one of their undertakings. According the above mentioned press release, there are over 1,500 experiments that include everything from the unique mash bills to the type of wood and barrel toasts. These experimental barrels lie undisturbed in those marvelous Buffalo Trace warehouses as if in a dream state just waiting to reveal another tantalizing flavor for bourbon lovers the world over.

This gives an entirely new perspective for those who take time to visit. Pay close attention though. What you are looking at, are not just a bunch of dusty barrels. The golden liquid they contain is the product of men who dream the impossible dream and by so doing bring us all closer to heaven. The world truly is a better place, as the song says so well, because such men strive to reach … “the unreachable star.”


  1. Staves are the individual wood strips that form the sides of a barrel.

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