Harlen Wheatley

Interview Date: October 30, 2008

Excerpts from oral history interview with Harlen Wheatley, the current Master Distiller of the Buffalo Trace Distillery. Harlen describes his educational background and how he happened to begin working for Buffalo Trace. He gives us a look into the day-to-day life of a master distiller, describing his responsibilities in the distillery as well as in the public, promoting his products and educating people about bourbon.

Harlen also explains the origins of bourbon whiskey and the characteristics that distinguish it from other spirits. He outlines the bourbon-production process from beginning to end, including the selection of ingredients, cooking, distillation, aging and tasting. He explains how variables in the different phases of production affect the product’s flavor and talks about Buffalo Trace’s Experimental Collection of bourbons, ¬†which is designed to explore the effects of such variables.

Finally, Harlen talks about the decision to rename the distillery Buffalo Trace, the birth of the Buffalo Trace brand, and its unique flavor profile. He also shares his opinions about the future of the distillery and the bourbon industry as a whole.

About Harlen Wheatley

Harlen Wheatley describes himself as a Kentucky boy through and through. Raised primarily in Florence, Kentucky, Wheatley came to work at Buffalo Trace in 1994 after receiving a B.S. in Chemistry from Northern Kentucky University and a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Kentucky. He became Master Distiller in 2005, succeeding Gary Gayheart.

Favorite bourbon: Buffalo Trace

Link to full interview video and transcript on SPOKEdb, the online catalog for Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries.

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