KENTUCKY — Kentucky industries have been battling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic for a year, and Spectrum News 1 wanted to understand how 12 months of shutdowns and restrictions have affected one of the Commonwealth’s most storied industries: Bourbon. 

What You Need To Know

  • The COVID-19 pandemic, along with shutdowns and restrictions, impacted Kentucky's bourbon industry

  • Like other sectors, some in the bourbon industry began working from home

  • The changes, however, haven't been all bad

  • Buffalo Trace in Frankfort has celebrated expansions, new events in the past year

“Everything was chugging along. We were well on our way to seeing more than 300,000 visitors,” said Meredith Moody, the home place development director for Buffalo Trace in Frankfort. 

The Buffalo Trace water tower stands above the entire distillery including the retired firehouse, constructed in 1950 to protect the barrels of whiskey. Now it's a sandwich shop and museum.

It’s thought by some to be the oldest continually operating distillery in the country. Driving up to its numerous buildings and barrel houses, you can tell immediately it’s a well-aged facility. Like any bastion of bourbon, the buildings and surrounding trees have that dark whiskey tinge caused by the emitting ethanol vapors. 

The origins of Buffalo Trace are as old as the state it's in, so maybe “change” isn’t the first word that comes to mind. Perhaps the word “tradition” is more suitable. However, in the face of a pandemic, change wasn’t only inevitable, it was immediate. 

“Anyone who could work from home started working from home, including myself,” Moody said.

One of the oldest warehouses on-site sits directly across the renovated and expanded gift store.

“It’s my favorite warehouse. I think it’s 1885,” she said as she walked in.

In an era of social distancing, a distillery as spatially large as Buffalo Trace benefits. In-person tours are not only up and running, they fill up daily. Tour groups have plenty of space, wandering the campus’s wide boulevard walkways and sizable gift shop, “Just not production facilities where people are working,” Moody explained. The open vats of bubbling mash are off-limits here or at any other whiskey maker in the Commonwealth. 

Barrel houses like this one are still accessible on Buffalo Trace tours.

It’s hard to say timing is ever good during a pandemic, but in 2020, Buffalo Trace went ahead with plans to expand its event space and tasting areas so there’s more room than ever for visitors. 

It used to be part of the production facility. It’s an expansive wood-beamed hall lined with the large portraits of the Buffalo Trace lineage. The ceilings are high, above 20 feet. Along the far wall, private tasting rooms are “capstoned,” if you will, with large sliding doors. If you grew up on a farm, you’ll feel right at home in this barn-chíc vibe. 

“We took very good care of setting up the processes for when people return. We make sure everyone is socially distanced,” Moody said.

Even when change is sudden, it’s not always bad. For instance, “Whiskey Wednesdays” at Buffalo Trace, a free virtual tour, is being watched by people all around the world.

“We’ve actually had 1.3 million people watch our 'Whiskey Wednesdays' since we started this last year. We’ve actually seen more people that way, virtually, than we could have on site," Moody said.