Mystical, beautiful, and all-too elusive — the unicorn bottles of the world are loved by many, but getting a bottle is no easy task. As impossible as it may seem to spot a single-horned beast in the wild, it can be even harder to find a unicorn drink on shelves. Blanton’s single-barrel bourbon wasn’t always so hard to find. It made its 1984 debut in the U.S. at a sweet price of $24 (expect to easily pay upwards of $100 nowadays) and effectively put “single-barrel” bourbon on the map.
Before you start hunting for a bottle of your own, here are 15 things you need to know about Blanton’s.
It was the world’s first “single-barrel” bourbon.
“Single-barrel” bourbon wasn’t a thing before 1984 (so we have no idea how anyone had a decent weekend). Among the many generous acts of Elmer T. Lee’s career at Buffalo Trace was this final parting gift — the creation of a super-premium bourbon category, i.e., bourbon taken from one barrel and bottled as is. Not only did Lee revive the bourbon industry, he created a lasting category that almost every major bourbon producer answers to with a bottle of its own.
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It’s a “high-rye” bourbon.
Blanton’s is distilled by Buffalo Trace in Frankfort, Ky., which is famously mum about the exact contents of its Mash Bills # 1 and # 2. We do know that Blanton’s is distilled from Mash Bill #2, a “high-rye” mash bill — meaning after the higher proportion of corn common in Buffalo Trace bourbons, the rest (or much of the rest) of the mash bill is made up of rye. Whereas wheated whiskeys tend to be softer, a kick of rye in a mash bill usually produces a bit more in the way of fruit and spice, flavors that play nicely with caramel and char. It’s worth noting, though, that the final flavor profile varies from barrel to barrel.
We owe it to a guy called Blanton and his thirst for good bourbon.
Yes, there was a Blanton — Albert Bacon Blanton. Lee named his game-changing single-barrel after Blanton, a man who had worked his way up from 16-year-old desk clerk at what would become Buffalo Trace Distillery to distillery president from 1921 to 1952. Blanton grew the distillery exponentially and saw it through Prohibition and World War II. Naming the single-barrel for Blanton is a tribute: Back in the day, Blanton would put aside what he considered to be the best bourbon, which came from barrels aged in the center of the all-metal Warehouse H (see below). To this day, that’s where Blanton’s single-barrel Bourbon is aged.
Single barrel isn’t a legal term.
Like the “all natural” on your bologna or “farm fresh,” quite possibly also on your bologna, “single-barrel” isn’t a legally defined term in the United States. Yes, that leaves a lot of wiggle room for creative interpretation. So far, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau ( TTB) hasn’t set up a legal definition. So for now, we’re working on the honor system.
Legal or not, “single barrel” still really matters.
Sure, we’ll roll our eyes at “single-stalk corn syrup” and “single-pig salami” when they inevitably enter the market, but we take the implications of “single-barrel bourbon” seriously (because it’s actually a thing). While bourbon in general is blended by brand and distillery to create a desired flavor profile, a single-barrel bourbon categorically rejects blending. Instead, we embrace whatever inimitable magic the aging process has done to the whiskey inside one particular barrel.
Blanton comes from a famous warehouse.
There’s almost never a fun reason to bring up “warehouse lore,” except — of course — in the case of Blanton’s. The bourbon is aged in Buffalo Trace’s famous Warehouse H, the distillery’s only all-metal rickhouse (or barrel-aging building) and the very place where Blanton himself would stow his select barrels of whiskey.
When Blanton’s first launched, it was a flop in the U.S.
It’s hard to believe a product made in the U.S. wasn’t originally appreciated by people living there. But it’s true. In fact, Blanton’s creators designed it that way. Young Americans in the ‘70s rebelled against their parents’ drinking habits (ah, the angsty youth) and opted for vodka.
Similarly, Japanese youth wanted something different than the Scotch their elders were drinking, so bourbon it was. Blanton’s marketing plan to reach Japanese drinkers was a success, and it became a favorite export in the country. Reverse psychology at play, Americans eventually envied the Japanese bourbon trend. Soon enough, Blanton’s took off in the country it came from.
Blanton’s barrels are kind of coddled.
Most whiskies are machine-dumped, which means the barrel contents are mechanically overturned. In contrast, Blanton’s barrels are hand-dumped, which sounds like an upgrade (and looks like this), adding a level of persnickety care to the bourbon-making process.
Blanton’s barrels are also mildly tortured.
With the bourbon inside, Blanton’s barrels are aged for several years in Warehouse H. Since metal conducts heat, the walls of Warehouse H act like an amplifier for Kentucky’s temperature fluctuations, increasing the impact of heat and humidity changes — all of which encourages the barrels to absorb and then flush out the bourbon more often over the course of aging. The more interaction between bourbon and barrel, the more flavor in the end.
There’s a ton of vital info on the labels.
Schools stopped teaching cursive for a while, but it’s making a comeback. We like to assume it’s because people realized the next generation wouldn’t be able to read the Blanton’s label (or perhaps they feared the emotional clumsiness of a world where emotion is expressed exclusively in Emoji). It’s good news for Blanton’s drinkers, since all that flowy handwriting lets you know the barrel number, the number of the rick (or storage rack) the barrel was taken from, the proof the bourbon was bottled at, the final bottle’s ABV, and even the date the bourbon was dumped.
Beware of Blanton’s Scammers.
Blanton’s isn’t cheap these days, with demand outpacing supply and causing price hikes by retailers. Those willing to pay the premium price will do just about anything to get their hands on a bottle. Online scammers jumped at the opportunity to take advantage of them.
Blanton’s was one of two Buffalo Trace bourbons that fell victim to an online scam in which consumers bought bottles that never came. Social media ads and several fake websites drove purchases. In a press release, Buffalo Trace warned Blanton’s fans to be vigilant and reminded them that none of the company’s products are for sale online.
You can collect the horse stoppers. And it will drive you mad.
There’s an adorable horse stopper atop every bottle of Blanton’s single-barrel Bourbon. Each one has a letter inscribed on it that you can find in a little circle on the lower left part of the stopper. Collect all eight and you get “B-L-A-N-T-O-N-S” (and some peace of mind). FYI, the “S” shows the horse crossing the finish line; you can tell because the jockey is fist-pumping. But don’t join him in the winner’s circle just yet — double-check that your “Ns” aren’t identical. The first is a regular old N, but the second should have a colon after it, as shown here.
There’s a risk of inconsistency from bottle to bottle.
That’s part of the magic and curse of a single-barrel product. Bourbons are typically created by blending whiskey from multiple barrels to reach a desired flavor profile. But — as you now know — single-barrel bourbons like Blanton’s take a different approach. Every individual barrel ages differently, even when aging in the same warehouse with others. Thus, the final product might taste unique from bottle to bottle.
Granted, you’re still operating in bourbon territory, so there are fairly limited elements at play (corn mash, a proportion of rye, barley or wheat, charred virgin oak, Kentucky superstition). The range of possible flavors is nothing too crazy. However, each barrel might showcase varying degrees of brown sugar, smoke, caramel, clove, vanilla, hazelnut, orange peel, and other flavor notes.
Blanton’s collectors have nothing on one Ohio man’s $100,000 stash.
Dominic Guglielmi has managed to get his hands on 42 rare collectible Blanton’s bottles. Those aren’t bottles for drinking, Guglielmi told Gear Patrol in an interview. In total, he has amassed a Blanton’s collection that he estimates is valued between $75,000 and $100,000. It all started when his boss gave him a bottle as a gift. A few Google searches and a business trip to Japan later, Guglielmi came home with some Japanese releases. He’s sought out rare bottles ever since — with great success. While Guglielmi’s not sharing his bottles with anyone else, he does share knowledge on his website and blog, Warehouse H.
Blanton’s has finally blessed the U.S. with two previously unavailable editions.
For years, U.S. Blanton’s lovers pined after two products they couldn’t get their hands on in the states. (Yes, the irony of a distinctly American product not being available in America is not lost on us). But Blanton’s single-barrel Gold Edition and Straight From The Barrel bourbons are now finally available on the American market.
The Gold edition, a 103-proof version of Blanton’s classic single-barrel bourbon, made its way to U.S. shelves in the summer of 2020 and is released in limited quantities once a year at a suggested MSRP of $120. Straight From The Barrel — an uncut, unfiltered bottle — wasn’t far behind. In fall 2020, it made its domestic debut with a $150 price tag. Like the Gold edition, it’s only released once a year, so Blanton’s fans need to keep their eyes peeled if they want to get their hands on either of the sought-after bottles.
How much is a bottle of Blanton’s?
Though the MSRP for a bottle of Blanton’s is $65, it generally retails for around $160, if not more, depending on availability and retailer.
Why is Blanton’s so hard to find?
Blanton’s has become extremely popular in recent years. As a result, the high demand for the single barrel bourbon exceeds supply of the spirit, leading to a perceivable shortage.