Make it a Double: Buffalo Trace Distillery Makes $1.2 Billion Expansion

Oct. 28, 2019


It’s not every day that dreams come true in this industry, but the news coming out of Frankfort, KY, is leading many whiskey and bourbon lovers to pinch themselves. Our friends at Buffalo Trace Distillery, one of the leading Kentucky distillers, are pushing ahead on a $1.2 billion expansion to their facility in the heart of America’s bourbon country. This new investment is the largest in the company’s post-Prohibition history and is expected to not only massively increase the company’s production capabilities but also add improvements aimed at drawing in tourists on the Bourbon Trail and turning them into Buffalo Trace fans. 

To get the straight story on this neat development we spoke with Buffalo Trace Distillery’s Master Distiller, Harlen Wheatley. Our interview has been condensed and edited for space and clarity. 


Breakthru: An expansion like this doesn’t happen overnight. Has this plan been in the works for a while?

Harlen Wheatley: We've grown for the last 20 years. We've always planned for expansion, but because demand is so strong we've had to really step it up now. Basically, everywhere you look, we've got to double our facility in size. We've got to add warehousing for barrels. We've got to add distillation, add cooking, fermentation. Everywhere you look, we've got to grow. We busted it up into phases.


Can you walk us through it?

We're in the middle of the first phase. It's about a $55 million-dollar expansion, not including aging. We're totally renovating our cooking operation, upgrading our dry house and our boiler room. We're in the middle of that, and we're set to complete that this year.

Phase two is new distillation, more fermentation, more capacity. That'll take about a year to two years to get that accomplished. That's about a hundred million dollars, not including warehouse.

Phase three is some more fermentation and that'll be fairly quick, about a year. That's about a $20 million expansion. After that, it's phase four, which is a complete distillery replacement.


What role will tourism play at the distillery, going forward?

That is a big thing for us because you do have to manage a lot of activity based on tourism. Our goal is 500,000 visitors a year. We're planning ways to handle that. For example, we’re moving parking lots around and we're expanding our gift shop. That's another big expansion we're doing this year. That'll be about a year and a half to get that accomplished. But, we have to manage 500,000 people going through the distillery. We have to work around it. So, we've isolated areas in the distillery just for tourism. We're building walls to keep the tourist where they need to be, to be safe. We're re-planning our traffic routes for trucks. The logistics are a big deal.


How are you planning to manage production and tourism?

We're going to have seven or eight different types of tours, and we’ll be able to take them off in different directions. We'll try to keep the tour size small, like 25 or fewer people. I think we're up to about 110 people just managing tourism. So, I've got 40-something tour guides. It's evolved over time for us because as we're doing tours, we're figuring out ways of balancing it with production. We have to produce, and we have to do the things that make money for us. We have to focus on that. But then we also know without the innovation, our future is not as bright. We have to focus on that too. And we balance it as we go.


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