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The Ultimate Guide To Blanton’s Bourbon

The Ultimate Guide To Blantons

Blanton’s bourbon was created in 1984 by Elmer T. Lee. Lee was the Master Distiller at Buffalo Trace distillery, and before his retirement, he was tasked with creating a new, high-quality bourbon just one last time. Today, Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon is an internationally renowned brand, known for producing the first-ever single-barrel bourbon marketed in the US. 

Here is everything you need to know about Blanton’s, Elmer T. Lee, and Colonel Albert B. Blanton – the namesake of the famous bourbon – in this ultimate guide to Blanton’s. 

The History of Blanton’s Bourbon 

Albert B. Blanton  

The story of Blanton’s bourbon begins in 1881, when Albert Bacon Blanton, was born on a farm in Kentucky. His home was close to what was then the George T. Stagg Distillery, where he started a job as an office boy in 1897. 

Blanton became fascinated by the bourbon industry and worked in all distillery departments in a bid to expand his knowledge. By the early 1900s, he had worked his way up the corporate ladder and was appointed superintendent of the distillery. Then, at the age of 40, he was made President of the George T. Stagg Bourbon Distillery. 

Blanton took the reins of the distillery at a difficult period in history for bourbon producers: prohibition was in force by 1921. Fortunately, the George T. Stagg Distillery was able to take out a license to produce whiskey for medicinal purposes, which was not illegal under the Volstead Act. As such, the bourbon produced at the distillery was sold via prescriptions in drug stores and pharmacies. 

Albert Bacon Blanton’s statue in the gardens of the distillery.

Following the repeal of prohibition, The Great Depression and World War II presented even more challenges for the distillery. Additionally, the resilience of the distillery at its President was tested during a great flood in 1937 that saw water levels in some parts of Kentucky rise to over 40 feet. The distillery was forced to temporarily cease operations. The site was back up and running in 24 hours. 

Throughout all of these trials: Blanton was determined to keep producing high-quality whiskey, and it was during this time that the Old Quaker and Cream of Kentucky brands were born. The distillery was also renovated, complete with a clubhouse and new gardens. 

Albert Bacon Blanton died in 1959, having dedicated over 60 years of his life to the distillery, and producing some fantastic bourbons in the process. 

Elmer T. Lee 

Elmer T. Lee approached the Buffalo Trace Distillery hoping to find work in 1949. When he enquired about a job, he was told by Albert B. Blanton “[s]on, we’re not hiring any hands today”. However, at the insistence of Orville Shup, supervising engineer, Lee came back the following week and began work at the distillery as a maintenance engineer. 

During his early years at the distillery, Lee worked under the formidable Albert Bacon Blanton, who shaped his understanding of the bourbon industry. His progression through the company saw him become Plant Engineer, Plant Superintendent, and then Plant Manager and Master Distiller. 

Then, in 1984, one year before his retirement, Lee created a bourbon namesake for Albert Bacon Blanton, Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon. Lee had recalled that when Blanton was entertaining at the distillery, he would pick out “honey barrels” and have the bourbon inside them bottled one barrel at a time. This practice of bottling single barrels was revolutionary for the distillery, and Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon became the first such bourbon on the market. 

Elmer T. Lee retired in 1985, having introduced luxury single-barrel bourbon to the market in honour of his old boss. He continued to serve as Master Distiller Emeritus for Buffalo Trace Distillery. Prior to his death in 2013 at age 93, Lee was inducted into the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame and awarded the “Lifetime Achievement Award” by Whisky Advocate and Whisky Magazine. 

Lee’s influence on the bourbon industry is difficult to understate. Most bourbon distilleries now release a variety of single-barrel bourbon, all thanks to Lee’s innovative bottlings in the 1980s. 

About Blanton’s Bourbon 

Maturation 

Blanton’s Bourbon is created using a very specific maturation process. The bourbon is decanted into barrels and then aged in exclusively in Warehouse H at the Buffalo Trace Distillery, usually for around six to eight years. 

Warehouse H was constructed following the repeal of prohibition in 1933. Albert Bacon Blanton chose to build the warehouse out of metal, mostly due to the reduced construction time. However, after some time maturing bourbon in the newly constructed warehouse, Blanton realised that the whiskey was imbued with a different quality than his other bourbons.

Kentucky experiences a varied climate throughout the year.

The thin metal walls allowed the warehouse to emulate the temperature outside. The fluctuation in temperature during Kentucky’s four seasons allowed the whiskey to mature much faster, with the hot summers and cold winters being felt through the thin metal walls of the warehouse. This created a complex and layered spirit that had steadier interaction with the oak inside the barrel. This change was noticed by Blanton, and today the expression is matured exclusively in Warehouse H. 

The rick (or floor) on which the barrels are stored can also make a difference in how the bourbon matures. If a barrel is stored on the bottom rick of the warehouse then it will be subject to more subtle temperatures than those stored in the middle or at the top of the warehouse. As such, the bottom-floor bourbon will age slightly slower and become a gentle and sweet bourbon. 

Barrels stored in the middle of the warehouse experience consistent temperature changes resulting in a mellow and complex bourbon. And, on the top floor of the warehouse, the barrel will be subjected to the highest fluctuation in temperature, resulting in rapid aging and lots of oak influence from the barrel. 

The Bottles 

Blanton’s Bourbon is bottled in an almost spherical bottle and adorned in a label that tells you everything you could wish to know about the whisky inside. The information on the label comprises: 

  • The ‘dumping’ date – when it was bottled 
  • The barrel number 
  • The warehouse
  • The rick number 
  • The alcoholic proof/ABV 

The stoppers on the Blanton’s bottles are always one of eight designs, all depicting a horse and jockey. These stoppers pay tribute to Kentucky’s famous horse-racing industry, with the racing and bourbon industries being two major contributors to the state’s culture and economy. 

Each stopper depicts a horse and jockey in a different position during a race. They are also stamped with letters which, when all collected and placed in order, spell out ‘Blanton’s’. 

Blanton’s Core Range 

The Blanton’s brand has four distinct core range bottles available in the US and worldwide. 

Blanton’s Original Single Barrel 

Image via Whisky Auctioneer.

 

The original single barrel expression from Blanton’s is based on the barrels that Albert Bacon Blanton would select for visiting VIPs to sample. They are taken from the middle of the warehouse – well-balanced and complex spirits that appeal to a variety of palates.

Blanton’s Straight From The Barrel

Image via Whisky Auctioneer.

This expression of Blanton’s is bottled at cask proof, and is aimed at connoisseurs of cask strength whiskey. The high ABV elevates the flavours in the bourbon and is best enjoyed neat or with a splash of water.  

Blanton’s Gold Edition 

Image via Whisky Auctioneer.

Blanton’s Gold Edition is a very complex bourbon with spicy rye notes with sweet honey and tobacco. It is a balanced expression that suits a variety of palates and is bottled at 51.5%. 

Blanton’s Special Reserve 

Blanton's Bourbon Special Reserve
Image via Whisky Auctioneer.

Blanton’s Special Reserve is distributed exclusively in selected international markets and is not available in the US. The distillery bottles the whisky at 80 proof, so it is perfect for bourbon beginners. It can also be used in bourbon cocktails. 

Buy Blanton’s Bourbon 

The most expensive bottle of Blanton’s bourbon ever sold at auction is the Blanton’s 1986 Frankfort Bicentennial Bourbon, selling in December 2022 for $6,500. The whiskey was bottled in 1986, two years after the creation of the brand, to celebrate the bicentenary of Frankfort, Kentucky. This is the earliest special release of Blanton’s on record. Standard Blanton’s Bourbon bottlings can range from around $50-$150 per bottle and are available through whiskey retailers and online auctions. 

 

Beth Squires

Beth joined Mark Littler Ltd full-time in October 2020 following the completion of her university degree. Since then she has gained wide-ranging knowledge of all things whisk(e)y, and has written extensively for both company and external publications. Beth is passionate about industry innovation, marketing, and sustainability. With a particular affinity for independently bottled rare scotch, Beth is also a whisky bottle investment specialist.

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