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Warehouse H Book Review and Blanton’s Single Barrel Select

Greetings from your resident booze bibliophile.

I regret to inform you that I don’t have any Blanton’s in the back, but can I interest you in a book about Blanton’s? “Warehouse H: The Story of Blanton’s Bourbon: America’s Most Influential Whiskey” by Dominic Guglielmi just hit the market. Whether or not you love Blanton’s, hate Blanton’s, or just don’t want your social media buddies to know you love Blanton’s, the truth is that Blanton’s played a huge role in saving the bourbon industry from obscurity. Given the monumental historical significance of the famed single barrel bourbon, it’s only fitting that it now has its own book.

Dominic Gugliemi might very well be the preeminent Blanton’s expert on Earth and runs a Blanton’s blog at WarehouseH.com. Gugliemi knows Blanton’s so well that when enthusiasts contact Buffalo Trace looking for information on Blanton’s, they’re often referred to him. Given Gugliemi’s expertise on the subject, you’ll want to pay attention to his book.

In the intro, Gugliemi acknowledges that he is a “super fan”, much like David Jennings and his affinity for Wild Turkey. It’s fine if you want to call him a “tater,” as he addresses the word and proudly wears that moniker. He might be a tater, but he’s the most dedicated and informed tater you’ll ever find… and he’s totally cool with it. He knows Blanton’s inside and out and I have nothing but respect for that. I think I’m drawn to his passion as a super fan, because I have a similar connection to my hometown Green River Distilling. Perhaps someday I’ll follow in the footsteps of David Jennings and Dominic Gugliemi and write the definitive history of Green River Distilling?

Before we get to content: Warehouse H is a hardback book with an aesthetically pleasing cover that will look great sitting on your coffee table. Gugliemi went to great effort to fill the pages with beautiful illustrations to accompany his writing. If your eye is drawn to photography, you’re going to love this. His writing style is one that will appeal to all audiences. Warehouse H is filled with nitty gritty details that will speak to the most devout and experienced of whiskey enthusiasts. However, at the same time, Gugliemi manages to write in a manner that will speak to bourbon novices that don’t yet understand the Standards of Identity for bourbon. I’ve read a plethora of bourbon books and this book speaks to me as it provides fresh information, but I’d be totally cool recommending it to someone as their first bourbon book.

Early in the book, Gugliemi goes into the history of Blanton’s and how it came to be. In telling the origin story, the author first paints a picture of the rise and fall of bourbon’s popularity. You can’t fully appreciate the significance of Blanton’s arrival in 1984 if you don’t first understand that the bourbon industry was more than on the ropes; it had more or less been knocked through the ropes. During the 1970s, bourbon was losing steam fast as lighter spirits were gaining popularity in America. The grain beverage that was gaining the most momentum was Scottish single malt whisky.

At this point in history, the (now) Buffalo Trace Distillery was known as the Ancient Age Distillery, and was owned by Ferdie Falk and Robert Baranaskas. Falk and Baranaskas worked with plant manager Elmer T. Lee to come up with an American whiskey that could compete with single malt whisky, but America didn’t really have an equivalent. Despite the American standard being large batches of whiskey, it was long known that certain barrels were better than others. The idea they came up with was single barrel bourbon to feature some of those barrels that were better than others. Single barrel and single malt use the word “single” in very different contexts, but the hope was that consumers were fixate on the word “single” just the same. Coming from 2023, I think it’s safe to say that their marketing strategy worked. The concept of a single barrel ended up being a hit.

As Gugliemi paints the history of Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon, he gives an adequate history of the Buffalo Trace Distillery along with significant personnel and owners. You’ll get a good rundown of Albert Blanton, Elmer T. Lee, and the various owners over the years. The history of the distillery hits the high points, but is not super in-depth. If you’re looking for a deep dive into the history of Buffalo Trace Distillery, this isn’t it… but that’s fine, as F. Paul Pacult’s “Buffalo Barrels & Bourbon: The Story of How Buffalo Trace Distillery Became the World’s Most Awarded Distillery” also exists. Pacult’s book is the deep diver into Buffalo Trace, while Gugliemi gives you the basic history that you need to understand the rise of Blanton’s through 2023.

If you’re looking for tasting notes and reviews on bottles of Blanton’s, you won’t find much of that at all in this book. However, you’ll find plenty of information about each offering for Blanton’s. You’re likely aware that the American market has offered a 93 proof version since 1984. You might also be aware that there are numerous expressions that exist for the export market. However, how much do you really know about the export bottles? If you’re interested in knowing about the export bottles and other various limited expressions, Gugliemi has those details for you. As a bourbon lover, I knew there were export offerings, but I had no clue just how many export offerings existed. I’ve always been a bit bored with the 93 proof domestic offerings, but I’m definitely curious about trying some of the export expressions detailed by the author.

Each chapter of the book is filled with little segments referred to as “Blanton’s Fast Facts.” If you like impressing your friends with your bourbon knowledge, you’ll want to commit these little fast facts to your memory. The author details what makes Blanton’s what it is. You’re likely aware that Blanton’s is aged in Warehouse H. You’ll learn that Warehouse H was built in 1934, coming out of Prohibition. Warehouse H was constructed with metal walls in order to assist with faster maturation, as other rickhouses on property were not built with metal. Gugliemi also discloses that in the modern age, not all Blanton’s barrels spend their full maturation period in Warehouse H. While some barrels might spend their time completely in Warehouse H, some barrels are aged in other rickhouses and then moved to Warehouse H to complete their maturation. Scandal? Maybe. However, to attempt to keep up with demand, it’s just not possible to age every barrel completely in Warehouse H.

As a super fan, Gugliemi addresses the hype and controversy around Blanton’s. He acknowledges that Blanton’s isn’t necessarily the best tasting bourbon on Earth. He plainly says that most bottles are not worth spending exorbitant amounts of money and time to procure. The author understands the use of the word “tater” surrounding Blanton’s. However, he also understands that Blanton’s might be the bottle that gets people interested in bourbon. He reminds us that we all started somewhere. Even as the most experienced bourbon drinker, you’ve probably owned Blanton’s at one time or another… and you likely have a bottle in your collection right now. However, he also admits that Blanton’s in 2023 is likely a lesser bourbon that it was in the early days when it took the whiskey world by storm. Due to the glut era, early Blanton’s was likely older whiskey.

If you love whiskey history, this a book you need in your collection. You’re going to enjoy this book and I guarantee you’re going to learn things that you didn’t previously know. Even if you’re above owning a bottle of Blanton’s, this book will make you appreciate Blanton’s. There is no denying that historical significance of Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon. Even though Blanton’s might bore you today, it played a big role in the existence of every premium bottle you’re sipping other than Blanton’s.

When reviewing a book on Blanton’s, it is necessary to review a bottle of Blanton’s. The author tells readers that many of the bottles of Blanton’s that consumers will find are a bit lackluster in comparison to the hype they generate. However, he also notes that the magic is often in the Single Barrel Selects, also known as store picks or club picks. In an effort to find a little magic of my own, I’m reviewing Blanton’s Single Barrel Select Kentucky Straight Bourbon that was selected as a joint effort by the Owensboro Bourbon Society and J’s Liquors.

To provide a little background: the Owensboro Bourbon Society is the second oldest bourbon society in America. J’s Liquor was once a privately owned liquor store in Owensboro, KY that boasted a tasting bar widely considered to be a bourbon tourism destination. J’s Liquors and the Owensboro Bourbon Society have and had a reputation for quality single barrel selections. The bottle I’m reviewing belongs to the founder of the Owensboro Bourbon Society and this will be the first time I’ve ever tasted this specific barrel. How will it do?

Proof: 93
Dump date: 12/18/2018
Barrel No. 211 on rick No. 2 in Warehouse H
Bottle No. 218

I chose to pour my sample into a handblown glass from Pretentious Glass Company in Knoxville, TN. Pretentious Glass Co. refers to this design as Bamboo. It’s a beautiful piece of glass that I enjoy immensely.

Blanton’s J’s Liquors and Owensboro Bourbon Society Single Barrel Select – Review

Color: To the eye, I’m see a beautiful gold. With a gentle swirl, long lasting legs are present on the sides of the glass. Based on visual appearance alone, this bottle of Blanton’s is off to a good start. For me, appearance is not an overly important factor, but it’s worth noting that this is indeed a good looking bourbon.

On the nose: The first scent that wafts to the brim of the glass is honeysuckle. It’s a rather unmistakable scent. I’d be fine if honeysuckle was all that I smelled, but let’s see what else is present. Vanilla makes itself known. It’s not an overwhelming vanilla as if my nose was hanging over a bottle of vanilla extract, but subtle. Next, I’m getting Bazooka chewing gum. I had to sit a think for a second about the familiar scent until my mind zeroed in on why it was familiar. Subtle orange zest makes the next appearance. It’s far from overwhelming, but it nicely compliments the other scents in my glass. Lastly, I’m getting a combination of baking spices and pecan. Perhaps I’d best describe it as German roasted nuts that tend to pop up around Christmas time. The German roasted pecan scent isn’t nearly as powerful as what I smell in my local shopping mall around Christmas, but it’s definitely there. When you put it all together, this is a wonderful nose. I don’t feel like any one scent particularly overwhelms another.

In the mouth: While spirits lovers judge whiskey on numerous factors, taste is my more important factor. Right out of the gate, I get caramel. It’s not an overly sweet caramel. Honey makes the next appearance. The honey note is far from what you pick up on a whiskey finished in a honey barrel. To match the nose, I detect vanilla. The vanilla comes across as taking a tiny lick on a cone of vanilla ice cream that barely touches the tongue. It’s not overwhelming, but there. The candied pecans show up again on the palate. I love it when the nose and the palate are in sync. Finally, I’m getting a hint of the Bazooka chewing gum on the palate as well. Given that I pick up Bazooka gum on both the nose and palate, perhaps this bottle should have come with a tiny comic strip? Harlan Wheatley: if you’re reading, consider it? Overall, I find the nose and the palate to be largely in sync. The body is rather thick. I’d almost refer to it as a slightly syrupy. Thinking back to the legs, this is definitely not a thin bourbon.

On the finish, the caramel is still present. The vanilla that I detected early now feels a bit more like Nilla wafers. The vanilla is there, but it feels a bit cakier. Hidden in the finish is a slight note of unsweetened cocoa powder. One of my favorite notes in whiskey is orange zest and I happily find it in this finish. With the combination of the orange zest and cocoa, I’m reminded of the round chocolate oranges that shows up in stores around Christmas time. Finally, I get a bit of leather. It’s not overwhelming or too drying, but it’s there. The leather note helps counterbalance some of the sweetness that I’ve picked up. I’d say the finish is about medium in length. The finish is very pleasing, but I’d like for it to hang around a bit longer than it does.

Conclusions:

Blanton’s is one of the most polarizing bottles in the bourbon industry as it’s both coveted and mocked. Most of the bottles that show up are indeed rather uninspiring in relation to the accompanying hype. As with all single barrels, you’re going to get variance from barrel to barrel. With this specific barrel, the hype is rather warranted. This specific barrel is legitimate. Without doubt, the Owensboro Bourbon Society and J’s Liquor found a little bit of magic in a sea of average. I’m choosing to score this specific barrel of Blanton’s a 7 out of 10. I’ve had other bottles of Blanton’s that I’d likely have scored a 5, but this particular barrel is quite a bit better than others I’ve experienced.

Score: 7/10

With this bottle in hand, I’ll happily ignore your tater taunts. However, I’m faced with the reality that the next bottle of Blanton’s I try is likely to be a step down. In this moment, I’m happy.

CategoriesAmerican
  1. Zenatello says:

    I didn’t buy this book, but I am very happy about the pointer in the direction of Paul Pacult’s book on Buffalo Trace. It is well researched and fun to read, and gives a great overview of the arc of the development of the modern bourbon industry from the very early days. Now I know who all the people are who have been honored by having their names appropriated for Buffalo Trace products. One of the best whiskey books I have read.

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