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Podcast #10 - Buffalo Trace Master Distiller Harlen Wheatley

I was more excited for this interview than any of the previous ones simply because I've never really had the chance to sit down with anyone from Sazerac and openly discuss the products.  I had a great time talking with Harlen and he was very forthcoming both in his opinion about whiskey and the background of his products.  This is a must-listen interview for any whiskey fan.  We covered the philosophy behind maintaining a large portfolio, the amount of Stitzel Weller bourbon in the Pappy Van Winkle whiskies, and his love for the traditional Buffalo Trace formula.

This podcast episode can be downloaded here or from our archive as well as our iTunes homepage.  You can always listen with our embedded Flash player below as well.

-David Driscoll

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    Amazing Web page, Stick to the great job. thnx.

Reader Comments (12)

nice interview david, very informative.

March 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCharlie

Individuals interested in hearing more from Harlen Wheatley and other Buffalo Trace figures might be interested in this link to the University of Kentucky Buffalo Trace Oral History Project:

The oral history project includes interviews with Wheatley, Mark Brown, Elmer T. Lee and other individuals who have either worked at Buffalo Trace or are familiar with its history. We have also interviewed former master distiller Gary Gayheart and noted bourbon historian Mike Veach. These interviews will be added to the website in the future.

Short on time? Go the the above website and choose About the Project for a six minute summary video by videographer Joanna Hay.

Tom Troland
University of Kentucky
Lexington KY

March 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTom Troland

Great interview. Immense thank-you David, for throwing your bucket of water on the Stitzel-Weller blogosphere inferno. My opinion of the anxiety over Stitzel-Weller distilled vs. Buffalo Trace distilled Van Winkle products is that most hardcore Stitzel-Weller fanatics are having a nocebo response to Buffalo Trace products that functionally mirror Stitzel-Weller's. Sure, a decade-and-change ago everyone loved the Old Rip Van Winkle 15 (screw-cap barrel bottles) from Lawrenceburg; but no one then fathomed the sheer awesomeness that would become Buffalo Trace's Antique/Experimental Collections. So yes, Stitzel-Weller products were/are wonderful, but I'm much more excited about Buffalo Trace products because Stitzel-Weller's distillations cannot be improved... Buffalo Trace's can and will be.

March 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRN

@ RN: I actually found Wheatly's (is there a better last name for a distiller?) comments, his caveats notwithstanding, a bit contradictory to the information published on this blog: Without seeing Preston's actual response(s) and the question(s) presented to him, I am willing to conclude that his answer(s) may encompass the blending mentioned by Wheatly. The most interesting part was the revelation (to me at least) that there is basically one wheated recipe. Although never stated explicitly, one can assume that the same recipe was used by Stitzel-Weller and is now being used by BT (for all the wheated bourbons). Thus, the distinction between old Stitzel-Weller Pappy and new BT Pappy is simply a matter of rickhouse location and perhaps the make-up of the barrels.

@ Tom Troland: UK's preservation of BT's history is commendable. The video clips, although long, are worth one's time.

March 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCharlie

Charlie - what did you find contradictory? It's pretty much the same info, except for the 15 which Harlen wasn't sure about, but thought could be a blend.

March 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDavid D

It's no secret that the stated differences between Buffalo Trace's Weller and Van Winkle offerings are derived from cask selection and warehouse location. Podcast #7 with David D and David OG, also discussed this subject. As to how similar Buffalo Trace's wheated practices are to whatever Stitzel-Weller's were... I have no idea. I do know Buffalo Trace is making stellar wheated stuff... the William Larue Weller is amazing.

March 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRN

@David D: contradictory was too harsh. The 11/20/2010 post made no mention of blending (which in hindsight seems obvious and necessary) which lead me to believe that there was a hard and fast line between Pappy bottles containing 100% ST bourbon and Pappy bottles containing 100% BT bourbon.

@RN: if there is a consistent wheated recipe, I would really be interested in "how similar Buffalo Trace's wheated practices are to whatever Stitzel-Weller's were...."

March 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCharlie

Don't know. I've never been into Stitzel-Weller tediosity.

March 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRN

Another great podcast! Well done. And love the teasers....April!!

March 9, 2011 | Unregistered Commentersku

David, another great one man. I enjoyed the Perkins podcast last week and this was really helped lift the skirt on the "mystery" of ORVW whiskey. Keep em coming!

@RN I agree with you. I love Pappy - love it. The 15, in my opinion, is stellar stuff and nearly perfect most of the time. I, however, have always been hopeful that quality would remain high, but never fearful that BT would somehow lower the standard. BT is a fine distillery capable of excellence likely beyond S-W. I can't wait to hear many declaring "the latest 15 isn't quite up to mark. I bet it's due to being a blend of BT and S-W stock............." Frankly, I thought the last Fall/Winter release of Pappy 15 was as good as ever.

March 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJason Pyle

Indeed. Now If only an exclusive cask selection of 100% Buffalo Trace distilled Van Winkle 10 or 12 were available retail...... David.

March 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRN

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