Bourbon and beyond

In conversation with Buffalo Trace master blender Drew Mayville

Buffalo Trace master blender Drew Mayville loves experimenting with bourbon and whisky. Supplied photo

It’s rare to find someone who describes their job as “fun,” and even less so if they’ve been in the same business for more than 38 years. But then not everyone has Drew Mayville’s job.

Mayville is the master blender at Buffalo Trace, the world’s most award-winning distillery. He was in Vancouver recently to chat about all things whisky and bourbon.

Mayville started as a lab technician at Seagram’s in his native Ontario, then moved into tasting and blending. In 2004, he headed down to Kentucky to join Buffalo Trace, the United States’ oldest continuously operating distillery, and one that’s earned hundreds of awards and accolades over the last two centuries. There he’s stayed: He’s now director of quality as well as master blender for Buffalo Trace’s parent company, Sazerac. These days, in addition to making drinks, Mayville travels the world educating people about them.

Mayville gets his biggest kicks from experimentation. “One recent example is our Colonel EH Taylor Four Grain, which just won best whisky in the world in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible,” says Mayville. “He said when he tasted it, time stood still. Isn’t that a glorious description? Yet it started as an experiment—there was no grand plan. We just try things out and see what happens, not focus on what the market wants. Our aim is to make what tastes best.”

In fact, the brand currently has thousands of barrels under different conditions. Some will make it into production and some won’t. “Sometimes we don’t like how something turns out and it’s a failed experiment, but that’s OK, too—it’s just part of the process,” says Mayville.

He likens himself to a veteran orchestra conductor: “It’s about knowing how to bring in all the different instruments. If you listen when they play together, the sum is always better than the individual parts.”

—by Aileen Lalor

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