Winter Is Prime Bourbon Distilling Season

Reported by: Aaron Adelson
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Updated: 1/20 5:52 pm

Recently we saw record low temperatures here in the Bluegrass. 

While these temperatures are often uncomfortable for us, distilleries love the winter.

In central Kentucky, when the temperatures go down, Bourbon production cranks up.

Distillers combine freshly harvested grains with cool water.

"It just produces an exceptionally sweet taste to the product.  That's about the easiest way to describe it," said Freddie Johnson, a Buffalo Trace Tour Guide.

Buffalo Trace makes a promise to its customers. 

"We're always making exception Bourbon at Buffalo Trace," said Johnson.

And a promise is why Johnson works at the distillery.

"I started playing around this distillery when I was five-years-old," said Johnson.

12 years ago, Johnson came home, following in his grandfather and father's foot steps.

The Johnson's own more than 100 years experience making Bourbon at Buffalo Trace.

"So coming back here is like Willy Wonka in the chocolate factory, it's just a fascinating place to be," said Johnson.

Landmarks cover the distillery. 

One plaque honors Johnson's dad, the only employee to barrel every millionth barrel produced since prohibition; however, most of the landmarks are invisible.

"I have moments that I just, I just basically walk around this distillery, and I remember things that my father and grandfather shared with me about the distillery.  It just gives you a special feeling," said Johnson.

He is the only living member of his immediate family.  His mother, sister, brother, and dad all died from cancer.

He used to work on ATT's long distance network for most of the U.S. and the world.  Johnson even had a top secret security clearance.

"My dad said who would have thought an old country bumpkin like yourself would wind up in New York City," said Johnson.

Freddie promised his dad he would return to Buffalo Trace.  He left ATT when doctors diagnosed his brother and father with cancer at the same time.

"Coming back home actually meant more to my dad than all the other things I'd ever done.  Just for him to be able to come down to this distillery, and walk around with me, and share with me the things his father had shared with him," said Johnson.

Before Johnson's dad died.  He rolled out Buffalo Trace's six-millionth barrel.

They celebrated the milestone on dad's 94th Birthday.

"It was the first time I've ever put my father to bed," said Johnson.

With time running out, Freddie, his brother and dad talked for three hours, and shared secrets. 

"Nine months later they were both gone, so if we had not done that yet...You were asking me about walking around this distillery, if I had not spent that time with them, I would have not had those memories, and those things that they still linger," said Johnson.

For nine years, Freddie and his dad worked together.  His dad passed in 2011.

"On this particular day when I left out he just said goodbye son.  I'm driving down the hill coming to work, and I'm thinking goodbye son?"

Who could work after that?  Johnson went home. 

"He opened his eyes, and he said 'You came back!'  I said yea.  I said you alright?  He said, 'That's good.  Glad your back.  Glad you back," said Johnson. 

With the promise fulfilled, Johnson's father died a few minutes later.

Johnson says honor is a core principle at Buffalo Trace. 

The Franklin County Sheriff says somebody stole almost $30,000 worth of Pappy Van Winkle. 

The Sheriff thinks it could be an inside. 

"We're not allowed to talk about it, but for those that's been around a while, it bothered us, it bothered us extremely," said Johnson.

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