5 Questions With Buffalo Trace ‘Bourbon Archaeologist’ Nick Laracuente

Jim Casey03/06/23
5 Questions Buffalo Trace Bourbon Archaeologist Nick Laracuente

(Courtesy Buffalo Trace | Tower Image by Brandon Chesbro)

Buffalo Trace (Sazerac Company) archivist and exhibit designer Nick Laracuente has a rather unique job title—and one of the best nicknames in the bourbon biz. Nick is best known as the “Bourbon Archaeologist” for playing a key role in the 2016 discovery and excavation of Colonel E. H. Taylor Jr.’s 19th-century distillery at Buffalo Trace Distillery, now dubbed “Bourbon Pompeii.”

As passionate about archaeology as he is about bourbon, Nick sat down with Outsider to answer 5 Questions about being the Bourbon Archaeologist.

1. What’s your education/work background that led to becoming the Bourbon Archaeologist at Buffalo Trace?

Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky (photo by Brandon Chesbro: Outsider)

Nick Laracuente: I’m a professional archeologist, so I did historic archeology for about 21 years or so. Everything from Phase 1 surveys in Louisiana [during undergrad at Tulane University] to excavating Spanish Presidio sites in Florida during grad school [at University of West Florida]. And I came up to Kentucky to work on my PhD, and I was just like, “There’s not a whole lot of people paying attention to this historic bourbon industry, archeology-wise.” And I started excavating forgotten distilleries, old farm distilleries, things like that.

Just by nature of not that many archeologists working in alcohol, period, I became the foremost expert on the archeology of bourbon, which is crazy. I got the moniker “Bourbon Archeologist” and in a documentary. And then “Bourbon Pompeii” happened, and the bourbon career just took off.

2. What’s some of your day-to-day work like at Buffalo Trace?

Nick helped unearth the OFC fermenting vats at Buffalo Trace in 2016 (photo by Brandon Chesbro: Outsider)

Nick Laracuente: We’re always learning something new here. I run the archive, and currently, I have a team of five interns who help run the department with me. And so, we’re constantly going through new acquisitions. We estimate something like 300,000 objects, so we have a lot here at Buffalo Trace. And then we have a lot that we have to store offsite, just because of the size of some of these things.

I think the biggest artifact we probably have is the original hopper that was in the old mill house. And that was taken out during one of the renovations. That’s about the size of a small building. And then, the smallest artifact that we have might be one of the stamps that [Colonel E.H.] Taylor or [Albert B.] Blanton used. It runs the gamut, just absolutely incredible.

3. Speaking of Colonel E.H. Taylor, what were some of the innovative things he was doing back in the 1880s when he built the Old Fire Copper Distillery that later became Buffalo Trace?

Col. E.H. Taylor Jr. (photo by Brandon Chesbro: Outsider).

Nick Laracuente: I think probably the biggest thing Col. Taylor was doing was practicing what he was preaching. The O.F.C. facility he built in the 1880s, I think, shows his dedication, with copper-lined fermenting vats, slate floors, and the finely finished warehouses with steam heat—it was extremely expensive. And I think, at a certain point, it broke him a little bit financially because of the expense of setting up something that was basically perfect from the innovation and the sanitary standpoint. He’s making the best product of that time. Especially based on what else is going on in the 1880s in the random unsanitary practices of some of the other distilleries. He championed the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897.

Of course, we saw that more clearly with Bourbon Pompeii [in 2016] and the copper-lined fermenting vats of brick and limestone [that were unearthed].

4. Now that 1883 fermenter discovered during Bourbon Pompeii has been rebuilt and is making bourbon again. That’s got to be rewarding as both an archeologist and bourbon lover?

Buffalo Trace’s rebuilt 1883 fermenting vat (photo by Brandon Chesbro: Outsider).

Nick Laracuente: Absolutely, it is. My job is all about sharing the stories, weaving the information together, and trying to serve up the information so others can enjoy it. And people like you can write about it. That’s the reward.

5. You’ve got access to some of the best bourbon in the world. What’s your daily sipper—and what are you breaking out on a special occasion?

(photo by Brandon Chesbro: Outsider)

Nick Laracuente: I go back and forth between Eagle Rare and Weller Special Reserve. If it’s just everyday-want-to-relax, I go with the Weller. If I want a touch of spice, I’m going Eagle Rare. I love those two. For the next special occasion that I have, I’ve got a Weller Single Barrel that I’m just waiting for the right time to open.