Blanton’s might just be the most polarizing whiskey these days. It was instrumental in getting bourbon out of its slump years thanks in no small part to the single barrel nature, decorative bottle design, and collectible bottle tops. This popularity has skyrocketed to the point that people are willing to line up outside of liquor stores and pay double the MSRP (or more), whether it’s to obtain a single bottle or complete their horse top collection. And just like most popular things, this has attracted the disdain of many throughout various whiskey communities. A common complaint of these individuals is that the whiskey itself simply doesn’t hold up, resulting in the unaffectionate nickname “Blandton’s.”
I’ve never owned a bottle of Blanton’s myself, and I don’t expect that to change for a long time. When I got to try a sample I regarded it as $30 whiskey in a $35 bottle, which effectively killed my desire to hunt it down. On the off chance that I do find Blanton’s at a store, it’s typically at a local shop asking up to (or over) $150. Despite my indifference, I was still interested in trying the barrel proof version of Blanton’s down the line. I reasoned that the higher proof should result in more flavor and a more enjoyable whiskey drinking experience. If the experience still came up short, then I’d know for sure that Blanton’s isn’t something I need to concern myself with. And at a starting price of $130 MSRP, it has quite a void to fill. The sample I’m looking at today was sent by a fellow whiskey enthusiast.
Nose: A bit closed off. Has a seasoned oak quality to it. Light brown sugar, orange, and maybe a light cherry note. Gentle pepper and vanilla. Somewhat plain. Has a light honey bread essence after sipping.
Palate: Vanilla bean and orange with a touch of pepper and just-perceptible oak note. Honeycrisp apple at first before transitioning to Grannysmith tartness. Pepper and oak come out more with each sip, but they seem less developed than they could be. General stonefruit flavor becomes the defining characteristic.
Finish: Brown sugar and orange. Tart fruit, a hint of cream, and again with that pepper and oak combo. Somewhat short, mostly alcohol doing the warm work.
So that’s it. This is what Blanton’s, for all intents and purposes, is like after being dumped from the barrel. If I had to think of one word to describe my thoughts and emotions, it’d be “confused.” The whiskey itself is solid; I’d have no qualms about pouring this once warmed up to properly enjoy barrel strength whiskey. The flavor profile, though not terribly complex, is sound with a small to moderate supply of fruits and a few secondary flavors to include oak, vanilla, and pepper. I do wish these supporting characteristics were more pronounced, but they contribute enough to potentially elevate the whiskey from good to almost great.
And that’s just the thing. Blanton’s Straight from the Barrel (or the barrel this sample is from) is hardly spectacular. This punches closer to the MSRP its watered down version holds. In other words, this is a case of déjà vu with a Blanton’s expression being worth half its starting price. The $130 MSRP puts this alongside Woodford Reserve Batch Proof, which is also non-age stated and similarly overpriced. There are so many superior alternatives for around the same price (Bardstown Bourbon Company Discovery Series), half the price (Old Forester 1920, Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel, Elijah Craig Barrel Proof before markups), or even less (Knob Creek Single Barrel, Wild Turkey Rare Breed). So no, in no way do I think Blanton’s Straight from the Barrel earns its hefty price tag. This is simply a case of solid whiskey with a great backstory and bottle design that’s priced and allocated far beyond the realm of reason.