I have so many questions.
Mostly, though: what is it with Blanton’s? It seems to inspire an enduring reverence and fascination for some, long after they’ve collected all eight horse stopper variants. Others scoff and sneer at “Blandton’s,” as it’s derisively named in certain circles. I know: a disagreement about bourbon! Stop the presses!
To gauge current sentiment about this brand I went to my normal source for wholesale vehement opinions, better known as Twitter. Opening a can of worms, I inquired “What do you think of it? Love it? Hate it? Meh?” The comments leaned heavily toward: it’s below-average-to-fair bourbon, overhyped, and overpriced at MSRP. A few brave dissenting voices risked ridicule by the cool kids in professing their preference for the brand.
One point about which there can be no disagreement is that Blanton’s – when it appears on shelves – is being priced with intensifying chutzpah. For reference: retail prices for Blanton’s should typically fall in the $60 to $70 range. The word “should” in that sentence is doing increasingly heavy lifting of late, as retailers are seemingly engaged in a game of “let’s see who will pay the most for a bottle of Blanton’s?” The Instagram bourbon rip-off spotters (they exist) have recently produced examples of this with asking prices of $90, $100, $130, $150, even $200.
Who is paying $200 for a bottle of Blanton’s? I’m pretty sure Russian oligarchs prefer vodka, and the Saudi royal family are notorious teetotalers. This is an interesting whiskey market bifurcation in a more general sense; the reasonably-priced bottles disappear while those bottles attempting to generate an exceptional profit for their sellers sit around, paradoxically creating the psychological effect that these are more valuable, thus increasing peoples’ willingness to pay… maybe?
Speaking of disappearing bottles: depending on your area, Blanton’s can be frustratingly difficult to lay hands on. I get not-infrequent messages from my virtual acquaintances asking if I can procure a bottle of Blanton’s for an upcoming birthday, anniversary, graduation, or what have you. I call my guy; he says he’s fresh out. I feel bad for these folks; they want their Blanton’s! I have actually put aside two bottles that I intend to pass along at cost to worthy suppliants.
Back on the topic of cost: I paid $70 for my prior bottle of Blanton’s, as I bought it from my local retailer who is an honest fellow and doesn’t exploit his customers. Kindly read that review if you’re interested in the winding story of this expression’s genesis. It was… fine? A bit awkward in places, but still mostly flavorful. I’ve paid more for worse (or, rather, my friend did), but I’ve also had better for less. Where does that leave Blanton’s, in the grand spectrum of bourbon whiskey in the $70-100 range?
While those are my overarching philosophical quandaries of the moment, I’ve also got questions of a more prosaic nature. Like, why are the labels the way they are? Why do they tell us the date the barrel was dumped, which is more or less useless without the date that it was filled? Why do they hand-write the rickhouse, when it’s always “H?” Why is the proof handwritten when it never changes, while the ABV is printed?
Setting aside Blanton’s in particular, another question that has been on my mind is: How frequently I should revisit single barrel expressions? After all, the allure of the single barrel (for me, at least) is that they should show some degree of variation from one to the next. Thus, shouldn’t they be considered after enough time has elapsed to allow for new barrels – and their accompanying novel aromas and flavors – to enter the market?
In the hopes of answering at least some of the aforementioned questions, I’ll be reviewing a Blanton’s Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey today. This barrel is #172, from Rickhouse H (always), rick #7. It was dumped on 4/17/2019 and is bottled at 93 proof (46.5%). This was a generous sample from a kind supporter (thanks, William); for the purposes of price-sensitivity in scoring, I am going to pretend this was purchased for $70.
Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon – review
Color: Polished brass
On the nose: This smells young; it’s got a green, stemmy quality at first. I’m getting some underripe melon notes of cantaloupe and honeydew. There’s the waxy floral smell of a bar of soap and a spicy, hot nip of Tabasco sauce. The green notes re-emerge again, this time in creamier form, like aloe vera scented hand lotion. A really intense inhalation teases out the faintest aroma of a cheap milk chocolate bars.
In the mouth: Immediately stony and firm on the entrance. The high point is at the front of the tongue, when this blooms with a creamy orange flavor. The stony texture reemerges before this suddenly falls mute just at it hits the top of the tongue. Where there should be a crescendo, instead this turns dumb and flattens out. There’s a vaguely watery woodiness (or woody wateriness) before this finishes abruptly. Throughout the mouth there’s naught but a wisp of chalky stone to remind me that I had been drinking this.
My last bottle of Blanton’s was imperfect, but it had far more character than this one. At a price of, say, $35, I would decry this as rather dull but not horrendous, awarding it an average mark. As this is double that price, I feel obligated to dock a point.
As sorry as I am to have to hop on the disdainful bandwagon, I’ll concur with Blanton’s detractors on the basis of this bottle. It’s not very good on its own merits, and fairly disappointing in consideration of the cost.
It will be interesting to see what happens with this brand. I can envisage it being a casualty of the bourbon boom and bust, with a chastened Takara Shuzo/Buffalo Trace forced to reclaim the expression’s reputation with some true “honey barrels” of the type which gave rise to Blanton’s in the first place. Here’s hoping, anyway. In the meantime, I’ll be looking elsewhere in search of better value for money in the single barrel category.
Image for illustration purposes (it’s not the same single barrel folks), kindly provided by Master of Malt.