The use of forest terroir and exotic, local tree species has become a growing part of modern whiskey-making, but Buffalo Trace Distillery began working about 15 years ago, resulting in a re-imagined whiskey brand called Old Charter Oak.
Most bourbon whiskey is aged in oak from the American Ozarks, Appalachia or northern Alabama, but Buffalo Trace Distillery wondered if barrels made from oak trees grown in China, Canada or France would create bourbons with a different taste profile. What about trees grown in different states? Does a barrel produced from a tree grown in Georgia differ from a barrel produced from a tree grown in Oregon? Further, what about red oak, or pin oak, or laurel oak, would barrels produced from these oak species produce bourbons with different taste profiles?
By Federal standards, bourbon is required to be aged in a new, charred oak container. But there is no specification it must be American white oak, it’s just that nearly all bourbons made today are aged in white oak. This new Old Charter Oak line is an entire collection of bourbon aged in oak barrels from different oak varietals, and is designed to explore, honor, and celebrate the role of oak in making great whiskey. The oak trees used for this brand will vary by country of origin, or species, or U.S. state. Some barrels are even made from century oaks, 100, 200, or 300 year old oak trees.
All the Old Charter Oak Bourbon series will be released over time, starting with the first release of Mongolian Oak Bourbon this winter. In 2019, there will be two other new releases, from oak trees harvested from other countries. Subsequent releases are planned a few times each year, indefinitely. “As of now, we have bourbon aging for the Old Charter Oak collection set for release now through 2030, but we’ll keep producing more each year for more new whiskeys beyond that,” said Kris Comstock, senior marketing director.
The first release in this series, Mongolian Oak, is a bourbon aged in barrels from trees grown in Mongolia, which were sourced by Master Distiller Harlen Wheatley in 2006, but it was 2008 before the barrels arrived at Buffalo Trace and filled with Buffalo Trace’s Mash #1. Aged 10 years, the Mongolian Oak tastes vastly different from bourbons aged in barrels made from traditional American white oak, although not overpowering, this new whiskey is full bodied. “We know, from previous research we’ve done, how important oak is to the final taste profile. The barrel is responsible for about 50% of the flavor profile in bourbon,” stated Wheatley. “So it only made sense to take that one step further and see how different barrels from different oak tree varieties would taste in comparison to what we think of as ‘traditional’ oak barrels.” The suggested retail pricing for the Mongolian Oak is $69.99, but the different oak varieties released over the years will have different price points, all in a similar range.
The Mongolian Oak Bourbon will be available starting in December 2018, but supplies will be limited. These whiskeys will be bottled at 90 proof. More information can be found about the Old Charter Oak series www.oldcharteroak.com