At 8:04 a.m. on Sept. 1, 2021, at New York-Presbyterian in lower Manhattan, a baby girl was born. Though tired from pulling an all-nighter, her father, Colby Black, was already plotting how to honor the occasion. Should he plant a tree? Commission an Anne Geddes-esque photo shoot? Perhaps perform a silly dance trend on TikTok?
No, the Brooklyn man would have to find a bottle of Blanton’s Bourbon dumped on the exact same day his daughter was born.
This strange pursuit has increasingly become a tradition among bourbon collectors, though it is not without its challenges.
9 – 1 – 21
Five days a week, just about every week of the year, 6- to 8-year-old barrels of Blanton’s Bourbon are removed from the metal-clad Warehouse H on the Buffalo Trace campus in Frankfort, Ky. The barrels are transported and then rolled into the Albert B. Blanton Bottling Hall, where they have their bung holes drilled out so the whiskey inside can be dumped into a trough where it is then filtered, proofed to 46.5 percent ABV, and eventually bottled. It’s become a regular stop for visitors on the always fully booked Buffalo Trace distillery tour.
Blanton’s history begins more humbly, however, launched in 1984 by Age International with an eye for the Japanese market, which was then far more excited about bourbon than America was.
Initially sold at around $115 per bottle (or about $320 today), Blanton’s needed premium packaging to command such a price overseas. It would come in a specially designed grenade-shaped vessel with a pewter bottle topper molded into the shape of a jockey atop a galloping thoroughbred. Its waxed neck would eventually feature a hangtag declaring, “The finest bourbon in the world comes from a single barrel.”
And, because each bottle came from a single barrel — Blanton’s was the world’s first widely commercial “single barrel” in fact — it could feature the literal date it was dumped on the label. Indeed, for the last 28 years or so, every single bottle of Blanton’s has had an exact date hand-scrawled on the first line of the label by one of the dozen or so bottling hall employees working on that given day. (In recent years, to keep up with demand, Buffalo Trace has begun typing some dump dates.)
Now Buffalo Trace doesn’t release its official production numbers, but if you’ve visited the bottling hall, as I have on several occasions, you’ll see that very few Blanton’s barrels are dumped per hour. By my estimation, at most, any given dump date might produce a couple thousand bottles, but probably even fewer than that. (It should be noted that the dump date printed on the label is not necessarily the date a particular Blanton’s release was bottled — it’s simply the day the liquid comes out of the barrel and quits aging. It often takes an additional day or two to be bottled.) Black just needed to find one with “9 – 1 – 21” scrawled onto it.
“I don’t particularly have any real affection for Blanton’s is the funniest thing,” says Black. “It just became an obsessive collecting thing. It’s an OK bourbon but it has this brilliant packaging. It’s like the Da Vinci Code of packaging. For obsessive-compulsive collectors, it’s perfect.”
Six years ago, upon first learning that each bottle had a unique letter on the horse-adorned bottle topper, Black attempted to collect all eight (eventually displaying the toppers on a custom barrel head). He and his wife, Robyn, have dressed as Blanton’s bottles for Halloween. When the two got married in 2018, Black even got a part of a Blanton’s barrel built into his wedding band.
“It always reminds me that she’ll let me do stupid shit, before eventually reeling me in,” he says of his wife.
But finding this particular bottle would be the stupidest, most time-consuming shit he’d ever do.
No Way of Tracking
Blanton’s would eventually get released in America, slowly become a cult hit within Kentucky, before eventually being widely distributed. Other brands would eventually begin to offer their own single barrels — Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit and Evan Williams Single Barrel were some other early entries into the category — but few would become as mainstream, almost none would offer specific dump date information on their labels, and certainly none are today as coveted and hard to land as Blanton’s. (Though, I’d argue, many taste just as good, if not better.)
For much of this modern bourbon renaissance of the 21st century, however, Blanton’s was fairly ubiquitous in liquor stores, an always solid bottle that could be grabbed whenever you needed something a little upscale but not wallet-busting, a show-stopper presentation-wise that made it ideal for gifting or special occasions.
Eventually, however, the tater mobs realized Blanton’s is produced at the Buffalo Trace distillery, despite still being owned by Age International. Buffalo Trace, of course, produces some of the most acclaimed and pursued whiskeys in America. Once its Van Winkle and Buffalo Trace Antique Collection lines became scant in stores in the early 2010s, other Buffalo Trace products were suddenly gobbled up in proxy. Within the last five years, despite the distillery increasing the yearly supply, the horse-topped bottle has improbably become a unicorn itself.
Meanwhile, specific dump date bottles of Blanton’s have become their own sort of exotic animal. The brand is more than aware of the phenomenon.
On Blanton’s official website is a FAQ page seemingly tackling questions but really trying to head off particularly annoying bourbon collectors at the pass. (Q: “I’m having trouble finding Blanton’s. Where can I get it?”) One such question tackled, “Can you help me find a particular dump date?,” is answered bluntly:
“At this point we can’t trace where specific dates end up in stores. When bottles are shipped to our distribution partners across the country we have no way of tracking which stores they sell specific bottles to.”
(Using the Wayback Machine shows this particular FAQ has only been online and perhaps necessary since 2018.)
Having said that, Black was able to learn that barrels dumped on Sept. 1, 2021 were put into bottles that were most likely shipped on the 3rd to New York, Massachusetts, Oregon, Colorado, and Montana among other states.
He obviously couldn’t have prepared before the birth — he didn’t know the birthdate yet and bottles inherently wouldn’t have been on shelves. Post-birth, however, with little to do during his four-month paternity leave except watch an often-sleeping baby, he’d sometimes spend four to five hours per day calling or emailing liquor stores — he claims only around 10 percent of employees would even heed his request to report their bottles’ dump dates to him. He also began going to every liquor store in the city; sending friends in other key states to search their own liquor stores.
“I figured, a few weeks of hard work, I could get this done,” he explains. “I thought I could just throw money at the problem.”
At Least One Out There
In a way, Black wasn’t wrong to think that. If the easiest solution to score most rare whiskey is to simply pull out your pocketbook, specific Blanton’s dump dates might be the one release in America where cash is not necessarily king. If you were willing to shell out, say, $2,000, you could easily land a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year within the hour online. The same doesn’t hold true for Blanton’s dump date bottles; even if you’re willing to overpay like Black was, sellers simply might not have the specific date needed.
Thankfully, today there are numerous websites, social media groups, and apps to aid one in locating a specific dump date. There are Instagram accounts like @blantonsdumpdate and @blantons_dump_dates, “Helping Everyone to Locate Those Special Blantons Dump Dates,” (sic) according to the account’s bio. On Straight Bourbon, a longstanding industry message board, a typical post reads “I am currently looking [for 10/07/20 and 03/27/19] dump date bottles of Blantons (sic) for a wedding gift! If anyone can help, please let me know!” While almost daily Reddit users will post to r/bourbon looking for specific dump dates.
The granddaddy of them all, though, is surely bourbondumpdate.com, which was launched in 2019. The user- generated registry tracks specific dump dates and what states these bottles were found in (even what letter from B-L-A-N-T-O-N’-S is on the cork topper). Founder Chris White was a bourbon fan always searching for bottles for special occasions like birthdays and wedding anniversaries. His struggle to find specific dump dates really hit home when he was unable to easily score a bottle to memorialize the death of a friend’s daughter.
“I knew time was of the essence or it would make it even harder to find,” he explains. He eventually located a bottle in England; he would create bourbondumpdate.com to aid people in similar situations as him.
Black attacked his problem by also getting a Wine-Searcher Pro membership ($69 a year), which gave him thorough search results for most liquor stores across the nation. He began stalking Facebook, Instagram, and Reddit, which not only has a Blanton’s subreddit, but ones dedicated to dump date–chasing in various states. If he saw a sealed bottle posted on any social media, he’d zoom in to try and read the label, or comment on the post asking for the dump date.
Unfortunately, several months in, he was having little luck. It had truly become a case of searching for a dump date in a haystack.
“I wish I had done the math when I started. I would have realized, ‘Ah, this isn’t worth it.’ I somehow never thought to think how many of them are out there. I knew there was at least one, though, and that was enough.”
The Final Legwork
Most dump date hunters face similar obstacles to Black. Countless Reddit posters lament spending many months, if not years, on the hunt and still never finding their desired dump.
If you are unable to find a specific dump date bottle, you could always buy an empty bottle with the dump date of your choice via Ebay; or simply order a print of a Blanton’s bottle painting on Etsy where, for an additional $10 fee, artist Aimee Griffith will add the dump date of your choice.
You might not be surprised to know that if dump date hunting has its proponents and has generated its own little cottage industry, it has plenty of drinkers willing to mock the practice as well.
On a November 2021 episode of the “Bourbon & Banter” podcast, co-host Bob Bennett shared the story of an expecting father who urged the midwife not to birth his son on a Saturday — you see, Buffalo Trace doesn’t dump Blanton’s barrels on the weekends and he’d have nothing to collect.
“It’s lost on me the desire to find the specific dump dates and do all the legwork,” claims Patrick “Pops” Garrett, the show’s other co-host.
Black was willing to do more legwork than most, however. And it finally paid off by mid-January when a man wrote him from Sabula, Iowa. As Iowa was not on his list of possible states, he thought it might be a scam. Still, the guy, Brian, was willing to trade his 9 – 1 – 22 Blanton’s for another bottle of Blanton’s, a “T” stopper, and $200. Done!
On Saturday morning of this year’s President’s Day weekend, Black and another friend from Brooklyn drove down to Iowa, hoping for the best. (Fittingly, somewhat, it was literally the first time he had ever been away from his new daughter.) On Sunday, Black pulled into the parking lot of the amusingly named Stalker’s Pub, where he met Brian.
Though strangers until that moment, they went into the pub and actually had a fantastic afternoon pounding Busch Lights, enjoying one of Iowa’s finest breaded pork tenderloin sandwiches, watching Hawkeyes basketball, and eventually making the Blanton’s swap.
And, some 20 years from now, Black will be excited to finally open the bottle, even if he realizes a newly minted 21-year-old probably won’t care.
“I’ll say, ‘This came out of the barrel the day you came out of your mom,’” Black jokes. “In our house, we don’t call it a birthday, we call it a dump date.”