In today’s climate, a new premium bourbon label seems to be born everyday. However, the bourbon business was not always so popular. In fact, the 1980s are generally considered one of the worst periods for American whiskey, when many distilleries were shuttered and brands consolidated to a few large distillers. So, launching a premium bourbon brand at that time would seem downright insane. But, that’s exactly what Elmer T. Lee did when he released Blanton’s Single Barrel bourbon in 1984.
At the time, Elmer was the master distiller at Buffalo Trace distillery, which was then known as George T. Stagg Distillery. Elmer released Blanton’s in honor of Colonel Albert B. Blanton, a previous master distiller. For the bourbon stock, Elmer selected barrels aged in Buffalo Trace’s only metal-clad warehouse, which is known as Warehouse H.
Blanton’s bourbon is sourced from the higher-rye mash bill made at Buffalo Trace, which is known as mash bill number two. Buffalo Trace doesn’t disclose exact mash bill proportions, but mash bill number two is thought to be about 15% rye grain. Other popular brands that use mash bill number two are Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel, Ancient Age, and Rock Hill Farms Single Barrel. If you’re interested in some bourbon history, there is an interesting relationship between Buffalo Trace and the brands that are made from mash bill number two that is worth reading about.
Before getting to the tasting notes, there are a few interesting tidbits about Blanton’s. First, Blanton’s label proclaims that it is “the original single barrel bourbon whiskey.” And, there are some higher-proof Blanton’s variants only available in non-US markets that would be worth seeking out when traveling.
Tasting Notes: Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon
Vital Stats: Blanton’s is a single barrel bourbon bottled at 93 proof. As mentioned above, the mash bill is a rye-based bourbon mash bill that includes about 15% rye grain. For this review, the particular barrel is barrel number 250 from rick number 41 of Warehouse H. An age statement is not included, but the bourbon is generally assumed to be around nine years old. Shelf price for Blanton’s is usually between $50 and $60.
Appearance: In the glass, Blanton’s appears amber-brown with moderate legs. While not normally something worth discussing in-depth, Blanton’s packaging is the exception. The shape of the bottle resembles a rhombicuboctahedron, or, if you prefer, a hand-grenade.
Since Buffalo Trace loves to hear from their customers, I’ve emailed them for the official ruling on the general shape of the bottle. The stopper for a Blanton’s bottle is one of eight different designs of a horse and jockey. Each different cork corresponds to a different stage of a horse race and comes with one of the letters to spell out “Blantons” (note that the apostrophe got shafted in this deal).
Nose: Notes of citrus, attributable to the rye grain, and toffee, from the barrel, lead off the front, and soft notes of clove and caramel follow. Overall, the nose is well-balanced but a bit soft when compared to the new higher-proof offerings now filling shelves.
Palate: Similar to the nose, citrus notes balanced with sweeter notes like vanilla and caramel lead off the front, and some very light floral notes follow. For the finish, the sweet notes completely dissipate, and the finish takes on a dry, and slightly bitter tone, with notes of toasted nut and oak joining the floral and citrus notes.
I often recommend Blanton’s as a great holiday gift, as the packaging is distinct, and I don’t think anyone would complain about receiving a bottle of Blanton’s as a present. However, for stocking the home bar, other great options are available at lower prices.
For example, Henry Mckenna Single Barrel Bourbon is ten years old and 100 proof with a shelf price of about $30. Other Kentucky bourbons that come to mind for a lower cost are Wild Turkey Rare Breed, Eagle Rare Small Batch, and Four Roses Single Barrel.