Why This Rare Buffalo Trace Bourbon Is So Special

Decanter, rocks glasses, and bottle of rare Buffalo Trace whiskey that's been aging since 1980
Decanter, rocks glasses, and bottle of rare Buffalo Trace whiskey that's been aging since 1980 Courtesy Image

Buffalo Trace capped off the bourbon world’s 2020 rare releases with one of the quirkiest bottles we’ve seen in years: Buffalo Trace 1980.

It’s actually one of three rare spirits released within Last Drop Distillers’ “2020 Autumn Collection.” The rare spirits brand is owned by Sazerac, the same parent company as Buffalo Trace distillery.



It’s unusual to hear of a bourbon being released 40 years after it was barreled. But this isn’t a 40-year-old whiskey either. Confused? Stick with us here.

The Buffalo Trace bourbon in question was distilled in 1980, back when the distillery was known as the George T. Stagg Distillery. Buffalo Trace’s parent company, Sazerac, purchased the distillery in 1992.

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These barrels sat in the same space until 2000—a full 20 years. They weren’t even inventoried by the new parent company until 1998, and it took another two years for the company to decide what to do with the liquid.

Keep in mind here that in 1998 the bourbon boom hadn’t hit yet, so this stuff wasn’t the gold mine it would have been had it been “discovered” today. So in 2000, at the ripe age of 20, this whiskey was vatted into stainless steel to halt the aging process.

Vatting is a fairly common process to stop the whiskey from getting too old. The idea is that once whiskey tastes good, it stops having contact with wood. It may be vatted for months or years before bottling.

Halting the aging process doesn’t necessarily stop flavor evolution—all it does is cut off the number you can put on the bottle, and keep the liquid from starting to taste like furniture polish.

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So while this whiskey is a full 40 years out from its barreling date, it’s still “only” 20-year-old bourbon… from 1980 (you can read more about that here).

Here’s the thing about “aging” outside of wood: While it doesn’t add wood influence, stainless steel can evolve certain flavors over time.

Now that the Last Drop brand (which Sazerac purchased a couple years ago) gets to bottle this rare and weird whiskey, we have an inkling about what it’s supposed to taste like.

This 1980 Buffalo Trace is “the definition of flamboyant, with an orchestra of flavors, each flavor harmoniously mingled,” according to the distillery. “It transforms miraculously from a dark chocolate, almond, leather, caramel and oak to a gentle warming spiciness, concluding with a virtual symphony on your palate.”

As for the details, well, this is the bad news. Only 240 bottles were filled.

At 90 proof and $4,600 per bottle for retail, this is an immediate collector’s item—no one will likely do this to whiskey intentionally again for decades, and when they do, the result is likely to be much different. So this is a true one-of-a-kind bottling, from a distillery already known for one-of-a-kind whiskeys.

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That number is also worldwide, so the U.S. will likely see even fewer released. And if the price of Pappy goes up 1,000 percent after retail… we can only imagine how expensive this one is going to be.

The good news is that with their experimental warehouses and spaces, Buffalo Trace is examining steel aging, and we could see replicants of this product in our lifetimes.

Last Drop Distillers is also releasing an overproof Jamaican rum from 1976, and a 1959 vintage Grande Champagne Cognac, but that’s not what you’re here for is it?

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Having tried half a dozen of the Last Drop spirits released since the company was founded more than a decade ago, we can safely say these are all going to be delicious. The challenge—even if you have the money—will be finding one.

If you can’t, well there’s always the next set of releases (hopefully with a higher volume of liquid). So, here’s to hoping the summer collection fills a few more bottles—we could use those warm days ahead to look forward to.

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