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Blanton’s Single Barrel Revisited

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 should 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.

Conclusions

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.

Score: 4/10

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.

CategoriesAmerican
  1. Avatar
    Duncan says:

    Great review, unfortunately in South Africa we don’t get a lot of great bourbons so when we see blantons we pretty chuffed. I don’t mind it but we also only paying $35 for this one and approximately $52 for the gold which is becoming increasingly difficult to find, although I love it and don’t mind paying that. Seriously enjoy the straight from the barrel bottles but do get one is almost impossible and then you paying a ridiculous amount of money. One the best ones I tried from a friend was an LMDW release but at £400 it’s crazy, is it that much better than the Angels envy high abv releases, not really. There so many great bourbons out there, there’s no need to be paying these prices for sometimes ok bourbon

    1. Avatar
      Joe Galinauskas says:

      Up here in the Great White North of Canada, Blantons is very easy to find, cost is controlled so it’s around $65 a bottle, and I must say it’s one of my favourite Bourbons and I’ve trued quite a few. A friend and I recently did a comparison between Blantons, Angels Envy and Mitchters, to my surprise the Mitchters won by the slightest of margins over Blantons and Angels Envy in third by a hair, all are very good
      My score 8/10

      1. Taylor
        Taylor says:

        Joe, I’ve heard that availability of bourbon (more generally) up North is more limited, but that pricing (for Blanton’s specifically) is more fair. It’s certainly not the worst option out there; this piece was intended more to point out that it commands a disproportionate amount of attention for what it is. In any case, keep on drinking widely and experimenting! Cheers!

    2. Taylor
      Taylor says:

      Duncan, Glad you enjoyed the review. I am in agreement with you. Had a delightful SFTB recently, but the quality on the entry-level Single Barrel seems to be moving inversely to the price. As you point out, there’s so much great bourbon out there, chasing these seems foolish. Cheers!

      1. Avatar
        sean says:

        I have a older bottle of Blanton’s I’ve been saving for some time, but now I think I might open it and one I bought this week ($74) to see what if any difference I can detect

        1. Taylor
          Taylor says:

          Sean, that would be an interesting comparison and I, for one, would be keen to hear your conclusions. Keep us posted. Cheers!

      2. Avatar
        CraigB says:

        I have never liked Blantons flavour profile. It’s very thin and unrewarding. Recently, I had read some good reviews of the SFTB and decided to give them one final go. It had been 7 years since I parted with my hard earned for this brand and I once again did so with trepidation. After all, this was an expensive gamble at $170 AUS but I wanted to give it a chance to prove me wrong.

        The nose was underwhelming at first due to being masked by the high ABV but after a few minutes in the glass, it opened up a little. Still rather muted, I got faint hints of vanilla and caramel and orange citrus coming through.
        From there things got considerably worse. That thin flavour profile was back with lots of wood and not much else going on. I would have said this was lucky to be 3 years old as nothing had developed apart from the tannic oak influence that leaves the finish quite bitter and thin. Ramping the alcohol up has done little favours for this weak spirit and water doesn’t help at all. I can now rest knowing that I was right in my assessment all along. It may have cost me a fortune but it’s the last time they will ever be getting my hard earned. Considering the quality of the liquid coming out of Buffalo Trace, this should be quite embarrassing for the brand but it’s still being praised by a loyal crowd. Apart from a good looking bottle and cap, I wonder what this crowd sees in it that the discerning drinker doesn’t? The mind boggles.

        1. Taylor
          Taylor says:

          Craig, sorry to hear your tale of misfortune. A$175 is like, what, US$11.32? Jokes aside, I am revisiting this same Blanton’s as I write this and it’s… pretty weak. As you note, the strange thing is how much this is revered in certain circles. The triumph of style over substance, perhaps? Regardless, others can chase Blanton’s while the rest of us go out and find whiskeys with a better quality/price ratio. Cheers!

          1. Avatar
            mark p says:

            Craig – I was in a Dan Murphy’s earlier today and spotted this release for that price and it seems astronomical for all other than devoted enthusiasts. It’s not “take a punt and see” type money.

            Taylor – $170 of our dollarybucks is about $115 of your cashnotes. Down here you’d expect a nice bottle of Single Malt for that.

  2. Avatar
    Carlton says:

    Spot on review Taylor. Almost everything coming out of Buffalo Trace these days is overpriced and overhyped, but taters jump on it like white on rice.

    1. Taylor
      Taylor says:

      Thanks, Carlton. In fairness, I find Buffalo Trace to be a mixed bag. Stagg Jr, for example, can be a very solid pour at MSRP. But, the hype is undeniable. Indeed, the spuds among us seem prepared to snatch up anything at any price, hence the misbehavior on the part of retailers. For my part, I’ll keep calling ’em like I see ’em and hope that sanity eventually prevails. Cheers!

  3. Greg
    Greg says:

    “Paid more for worse and less for better” is an utterly perfect description of where Blanton’s falls along the bourbon spectrum. It used to be a decent value-for-money daily sipper (believe it or not!) before being swept away on the Buffalo Trace hype train. It was never really advertised as a premium bourbon until recent years. I’m not old (yet), but I am old enough to remember a time where Blanton’s used to collect dust on store shelves.

    You are likely right that an increase in production capacity for Blanton’s has also increased its hit-or-miss capability. Some bottles I’ve had were spectacular, some were average, and 2 were duds. Unfortunately, that’s the nature of single barrel products. There’s always going to be variation. Which is why giving awards, praise, and luxury status to single barrel or single cask products has always seemed strange to me. The average consumer, or even the whisky fanatic, will likely not be able to get a hold of a particular expression that was so lauded.

    And that’s not even speaking to its distribution. Some places have allocation lotteries for Blanton’s, which is absurd. You may as well have allocations for Elijah Craig or Evan Williams. Up in Ontario, we do receive shipments of Blanton’s once or twice a year and it’s priced quite well (~$65 or ~$47 USD), but the demand is strange for such an average bourbon. Earlier this year someone walked out of a Toronto store having purchased their entire stock of 200 bottles in one go. Such a purchase can only have been done with the intention of reselling them to uneducated buyers, who are unaware of other equivalent or greater bourbons they could acquire for the same price.

    Which is why articles like this are so important. They keep buyers educated before spending their hard-earned money. Yet, I fear the day that entities like Murray or Breaking Bourbon declare Woodford Reserve Double Oaked, Four Roses Single Barrel, or Wild Turkey 101 as their pick of the year.

  4. Taylor
    Taylor says:

    Greg, thanks for the many salient comments. This discussion has been happening online across forums for a while now; this is more a collection of viewpoints and my comments thereon, rather than any particular individual insight I have developed. You make an interesting concluding point: the hype hurricane can hit any expression, at any time, usually following plaudits from a prominent critic. I’m personally afraid that Rare Breed Bourbon or Evan Williams Bottled-in-Bond will suffer a similar fate. Until then, we can enjoy what we’ve got while it’s around. Cheers!

  5. Avatar
    Sharon says:

    While I completely respect the varying opinions of fellow bourbon lovers, I personally fell in love with Blanton’s ( and Buffalo Trace as far as that goes) the first time I tried it. I’m a southern girl and have enjoyed drinking whiskey and bourbons since I was 16-17 years old That being said, I really enjoy the smooth, buttery notes initially, followed by hints of vanilla & spice with Blanton’s either straight up or over large ice cube . Down south, it’s extremely difficult to find Buffalo Trace and basically have to travel to Georgia or Tennessee to get Blanton’s , especially in today’s COVID environment. I’ve paid between $60- $95 for Blanton’s with BT averaging between $30-$40. Cheers to All. -Sharon

    1. Taylor
      Taylor says:

      Sharon, 16-year-olds shouldn’t be drinking whiskey by law, but let’s set that aside. You’re entitled to your opinion about this (and any other) whiskey. The purpose of this article was mainly to highlight that the quality has gone down in recent years as the price has gone up, resulting in many other competitive options out there. I’d encourage you to try a few and see if any tickle your fancy as much as (or more than) Blanton’s. Cheers!

  6. Avatar
    Joe says:

    I enjoy Blanton’s very much. That said, I won’t pay more than $60 for a bottle. I enjoy lighter Bourbons, and don’t enjoy high proof bottles that so many seem to feel are the “proper” Bourbons. I don’t care if I face the scorn of the “cool” kids, they probably drink high hop IPAs and other trendy beverages. I appreciate your review and opinion, as I do everyone who shares the enjoyment of whiskey with respect rather than snobbery.

  7. Avatar
    Matthew says:

    I can tell you exactly why Blanton’s got so expensive. Keanu Reeves spends a not insignificant number of minutes clutching a bottle of it in the first John Wick movie.

    1. Taylor
      Taylor says:

      Matthew, this isn’t the first time the “Keanu effect” has been brought up with regards to Blanton’s. I haven’t seen the movie, thus am unable to determine how persuasive Mr. Reeves’ sales pitch was. However, I’d be willing to guess that this is but one factor causing the increased scarcity of Blanton’s. I suspect it’s mostly about blanket positivity for everything that comes out of Buffalo Trace; looking at what’s happened to the lesser Wellers and Eagle Rare, for example, would point to that conclusion. Cheers!

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