We Visited Buffalo Trace Distillery's New London Digs And It's A Must-See For Whiskey Lovers

Being a bourbon fan in the U.K. can be difficult. Unless you hop on a nine-hour flight to Kentucky, your options are limited. Sure, there are some excellent whiskey bars, one-off tasting experiences, and general whiskey shops around the country, but finding a venue dedicated to bourbon is mission impossible. This is why I was so excited to be invited to a tasting event at Buffalo Trace Distillery London. It's an interesting step for a company that has seen rapid growth over the last 20 years, as it's now trying to expand its global reach.

Buffalo Trace's footprint in Kentucky is vast, with new warehouses being built almost continuously to support the millions of barrels it produces. While the American distillery may be massive, its London storefront is nestled in a quaint space on Covent Garden's busy streets. A 400-mile round trip from the soaked streets of Northwest England to the equally sodden streets of London seemed like a minor inconvenience to sample this new experience. Read on to find out everything you need to know about Buffalo Trace London.

Finally, a dedicated experience for U.K. bourbon lovers

It may be obvious to some, but it's important to get one thing out of the way: this is not a distillery. I overheard another guest asking this question, so I thought it was important to clear up. As the distillery's Global Communications Director, Victoria Zabel-Wirdak, joked with me, it couldn't be classed as bourbon if it was made in the U.K. So you'll find no cookers, fermenters, or stills here. If that sounds like a disappointment to some, the U.K. isn't short on world-class distilleries if you want to know how whiskey is made. And even though exact methods change from one distillery to the next, all whiskey is more or less made with the same principles.

The reason to be excited about Buffalo Trace London is that it's the first of its kind. Nowhere else in the U.K. can you step into a store for one of America's most famous distilleries. Even Jack Daniels (the most well-known whiskey name in the U.K.), doesn't have a physical foothold in the country. While other bourbon tasting experiences can be fleeting, highly priced, or poor quality, Buffalo Trace's establishment offers a permanent home for anyone looking to taste fine bourbon. At the tasting, they emphasized a desire to become a globally recognized brand, and this store was one part of the process of making that happen.

The shop has a cozy spot in Covent Garden

Finding prime real estate in London is a difficult task, but the store is conveniently located. If you're taking a trip to London, you won't need to go inordinately out of your way to find it. Situated in the heart of Covent Garden, it's close to most major train stations, and a few feet from the Covent Garden underground station. The London leg of my journey started with walking from London Euston station and a whistle-stop tour of the famed British History Museum. Its proximity highlighted the shop's accessible location, and before long, I walked on to find my way to Buffalo Trace.

Stepping out onto Long Acre Road, the distillery stood out among the crowd. The dark green and gold coloring provided an elegant effect, especially in contrast with many of the bland-looking shops surrounding it. I'm not sure if this was more to do with the non-stop rain, but the warm lighting and the wooden fittings inside made me eager to walk in. Once I did, you're surrounded by many bottles of bourbon adorning the walls in a relatively small space that nevertheless did not feel cramped. The smell of fresh wood greeted the nose, which felt suitably apt. If the distillery wanted to make an impression with the space, it certainly did. The modern lighting and fixtures contrasting with the traditional building materials were a nice metaphor for how great whiskey balances the old and the new.

London's Buffalo Trace Distillery offers plenty for bourbon lovers

The floor space is divided into three sections. The first is the storefront where you have a selection of merchandise and bottles to gaze upon. Beyond that, you have a curtained-off area that contains two separate tasting rooms. It gives those who are there for a tasting experience a sense of privacy and quiet away from the busy shop. Now, however, we come to the only disappointment of my experience. There were only two bourbons on sale: Buffalo Trace and Eagle Rare. The other bottles available were Sazerac Rye, Bourbon Cream, and Wheatley Vodka.

While I didn't expect to see any Pappy or Stagg, it would have been nice to see a few more brands from the Buffalo Trace catalog, with the likes of Weller, E.H. Taylor, or even the more premium bottles of Benchmark. All of the expressions in the shop can easily be bought online in the U.K. Therefore, I think expanding the portfolio would give whiskey lovers even more reason to visit. That being said, this isn't just a whiskey shop. There were many pieces of stylish merchandise on display, and two different tasting experiences were offered. There is a cheaper experience going through some of the core lineup and a more premium experience offering the likes of Eagle Rare and E.H. Taylor Small Batch. For whiskey lovers in the area, it makes it an enticing place to be.

It's a chance to learn the rich history of Buffalo Trace

Buffalo Trace has a unique and storied history. The distillery honors many of its whiskey pioneers when naming its bottles, and the tasting experience room features portraits of many of them. During the tasting session you'll get to learn a lot about this history while sampling whiskeys along the way. In front of you, you'll get a card to fill out with the four spirits that will be a part of the tasting session. The room is tastefully decorated to provide a warm and inviting experience, making you feel a world away from the bustling high street outside.

After a walk through the grains used in the mash bill, we got to enjoy White Dog Mash #1. It's an acquired taste, but what I love about white whiskey is that it gives you a unique glance into the raw taste of whiskey. After a bit of water to cool the palate, we moved on to the unmistakable flavor of Buffalo Trace before enjoying Eagle Rare. With its clean and dry profile, it beautifully showcases the vanilla and almond notes. The real treat of the session was the E.H. Taylor Small Batch. Another clean spirit, it gives you a beautiful warmth with some pepper and fruits, along with an elegant vanilla sweetness. Those four whiskeys give you a brilliant journey through how the age and mash bill affect the final product.

We met Buffalo Trace's Master Blender, Drew Mayville

There were a few special treats on this tasting session that won't be a standard part of the everyday schedule. The first was having it presented by the brilliant Drew Mayville, Buffalo Trace's Master Blender. With an engaging charm and charisma, he spoke passionately about his 40-plus years of experience, the role of a Master Blender, and the history of Buffalo Trace. It made the trip extra special, especially being able to pick his brains about age statements, blending, and mash bills. It was also amazing to learn he's the man who invented Buffalo Trace Bourbon Cream, which I recently reviewed.

The other two special treats were the glasses to the left and right on the board above. On the left, we had Pappy Van Winkle 20-year. I've had it before, but chances to drink it are very few and far between. It is probably my favorite bourbon, and it was a delight to have another chance to indulge in it. The glass to the right was the incredibly hard-to-get and expensive Double Eagle Very Rare. Simply put, I've never smelled or tasted anything like it. It has an incredible and luxurious taste, with each flavor being deeply rich. With a long, dry and warm finish, I ended the tasting experience a very happy man.

We hope Buffalo Trace can be industry trendsetters

The overall experience at Buffalo Trace Distillery London was a great one. Even without those special treats, I would have thoroughly enjoyed my visit. But I do wonder if it has got the selection of whiskeys right for the tasting experience. Both experiences are affordably priced, although I feel there is scope for a more premium experience. I'm sure bourbon lovers would be happy to pay that a little extra to taste something a bit more special than the whiskeys you see on the card. With two tasting rooms, it will be interesting to see if this changes over time. However, for those curious about whiskey, there is a huge amount to learn throughout the experience.

I left the tasting experience with hope for two things. One is that this Buffalo Trace shop can be a long-term success, and two, that it's not the last of its type. It would be great to see more American companies follow Buffalo Trace's lead. Perhaps an overly optimistic third hope would be that it opens a shop a little closer to my home! A quick Google Map search revealed that the premises used by Buffalo Trace were previously rented by Coca-Cola. It perhaps shows that even the biggest beverage companies can struggle to attract visitors to a physical store. However, what Buffalo Trace offers here is unique, and I'll be sure to visit again next time I'm in the British capital.