Of all the bourbons that require next to no introduction, Blanton’s is most certainly a frontrunner. Spend any length of time in a liquor store and you’re bound to hear someone ask one of the employees “do you have Blanton’s?” But why is it so popular?
The most logical place to start would be the brand’s backstory, with the name being traced back to 1881, the year Albert Bacon Blanton (yes, that middle name is legitimate) was born. He ultimately saw Buffalo Trace become the biggest American distillery as of 1952, thanks in large part to a 100-building expansion. During his tenure as distillery president, he created a select bourbon supply in Warehouse H, where the Blanton’s of today is aged and picked from. Fast-forward to 1984 and bourbon, right in the middle of its dark days with the popularity of light spirits and cocktails, saw the introduction of Blanton’s itself, touted by Buffalo Trace as “the first ever Single Barrel Bourbon sold commercially.”
Single barrel whiskeys have a reputation for variability due to the nature of them being poured from an individual cask rather than being batched from multiple barrels. This means one bottle can taste considerably different from another and, in the case of Blanton’s, there’s the added collectability factor with the cork tops spelling out “B-L-A-N-T-O-N-S”. After being introduced to market, other distilleries followed suit, either with their own single barrel expression or a more selectively batched product like Jim Beam with Booker’s.
What makes looking back on Blanton’s origins so interesting is that it was essentially created to reignite interest in bourbon, which it did so well that many regard it as the most overhyped bourbon currently on the market. This brings us to discussing the whiskey itself, reiterating the fact that Blanton’s single barrel nature means the experience can absolutely vary from bottle to bottle. Yet when the whiskey is already a challenge to obtain, getting picky about the details of a given bottle becomes nothing if not impractical. The bottle I’ll be looking at was purchased at the Buffalo Trace gift shop, dumped on 5/7/21 from barrel 220 on rick 12. As with all standard Blanton’s bottles, it’s a sour mash made from Buffalo Trace’s mash bill 2 and is bottled at 93 proof.
Nose: Dull citrus. Begins orange-like before transitioning to more of a tart lemon. A touch of effervescence and pepper. Hint of cinnamon crops up throughout the sweet mash flavors. Stale cornbread backbone begins to dominate with the expected light vanilla notes. Maybe a hint of sassafras.
Palate: Pale cherry and caramel. Mild vanilla, hints of orange, and a blip of herbal/floral notes, but that’s stretching. Get a bitter note somewhere between watered down oak and burnt tobacco—burnt brown sugar perhaps? Comes across as a touch earthy as well.
Finish: A sprinkle of pepper. Just perceptible oak influence begins to bring out more of a caramel note, but it dwindles and dies before coming into its own.
Blanton’s is a crowd favorite for several reasons. Its origins make a cool tale to tell, it’s a fun bottle to hold and look at, there’s a level of collectability between the corks and single barrel nature, and the drinking experience is the opposite of demanding. In a way, it’s the ultimate casual bourbon drinker’s whiskey. When I think of a bottle that’s perfect to pull out on unsuspecting guests just to see their reactions, Blanton’s is what always springs to mind. Also worth mentioning is that the mere act of looking at the bottle, sometimes ponderously, makes the sipping experience feel that much better, even if it’s all just in my mind.
Once we remove all external factors and focus on the whiskey itself, Blanton’s ends up being the definition of simple and serviceable. If you asked me to name Blanton’s most striking feature as a blind pour, I’d probably come up short. Almost everything about it is rounded off with nary a rough edge to speak of. I tend to prefer whiskey with a slightly bold but not overly aggressive personality, so you can imagine how I feel when presented with something as passive as this. Yet even to someone like me, owning a bottle of Blanton’s felt like a rite of passage. It may just be the ultimate reminder of a final product not necessarily matching the hype and presentation. Blanton’s is a fun bottle to have, talk about, and can serve a variety of drinkers well during a relaxed time; it just fails to leave an impression once you remove the bottle and everything that comes with it.