Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon is a smooth and spicy treat — for those who can find it. With its distinctive bottle shape and horse cork topper, the drink is instantly recognizable, and yet notoriously difficult to buy. But what makes this elusive bourbon so alluring? Like all bourbon, it must meet the legal definition, be made with at least a 51% corn mash and be aged in charred new oak barrels. At 93 proof, it is strong but well within the legal range to be considered bourbon. It may seem like your average bourbon, but looks can be deceiving. There is nothing average about Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon and there is more to it than meets the eye.
Much of Blanton’s Bourbon production is shrouded in mystery. As a non age statement whiskey, for example, we do not know its exact age. And unlike many other whiskey producers, no age range is provided on their website. It is thought to go through a six to eight year aging process, though.
We also don’t know the exact grain content in its mash bill; we will get into that more later. We do know, though, that Blanton hails from the bourbon capital of the world: Kentucky. Kentucky has lime-filtered water and ideal growing conditions for corn, both of which help make excellent bourbon. The state has become synonymous with bourbon, with some estimating that up to 95% of bourbon comes from there. It is in this glorious bastion of caramel colored bourbon whiskey that the story of Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon begins.
Blanton’s was the first of its kind
One way to set yourself apart in an industry is to do something nobody else is doing. While today there is a thriving market of Single Barrel Bourbon, before Blanton’s, there wasn’t a single bottle of it available for purchase on the shelves.
As the name implies, single barrel bourbon is a bourbon that is aged in one barrel only. Unlike many bourbons, which use a blend of bourbons to create the flavor, single barrel bourbon relies on high quality products, as there is no way to blend out unappealing qualities. It should be noted, though, that, unlike some whiskey terms, single barrel does not have a legal definition and single barrel bourbons do not need to be assessed to be labeled as such. Not only did Blanton’s create this whole new type of bourbon, it completely shifted the idea of what bourbon could be. Single Barrel created a super premium type of bourbon — suddenly bourbon could be a high quality premium product. The ingenuity of Blanton’s changed the bourbon market forever and today many producers across the country produce a single barrel bourbon.
It is named for Albert Blanton
Blanton’s Bourbon is named for a prominent employee of sister company Buffalo Trace: Colonel Albert Blanton. Born in 1881, Albert Bacon Blanton grew up on a farm that was home to the distillery now known as Buffalo Trace. Blanton began working for the company at just 16 years old. He worked hard and advanced to becoming president of the company in 1921. Blanton successfully guided the company through Prohibition, a feat not managed by many American liquor companies, and kept them afloat during World War II when whiskey production was stopped.
It is no wonder the company wanted to name a bourbon for him. But it could not be just any bourbon. Master distiller Elmer T. Lee had known Blanton during his early years as a distiller for the company. In particular, Albert knew that Blanton would pick barrels from the middle of the warehouse — known as "honey barrels" — and would bottle them individually for special guests. It is in this tradition that Lee created Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon; it was only fitting that the new bourbon be named for Blanton himself.
It’s sorta owned and produced by Buffalo Trace
As we mentioned above, Buffalo Trace is the parent company of Blanton’s — while this is mostly true, company ownership is a bit more complicated than that.
It all started in 1983 when Age International was formed. Age International witnessed the surging bourbon market in Japan, hoping to capitalize on it. The company hired master distiller Elmer T. Lee to create a premium bourbon — at what was known at that time as the George T. Stagg Distillery — for Age International to market in Japan. In 1992, Age International sold everything to Takara Holdings. Bear with us here. Takara Holdings then immediately turned around and sold to Sazerac, the company that owns Buffalo Trace and its sister companies.
This is where things get a little bit sticky.
When Takara Holdings sold to Sazerac, they sold the distillery, which came with the sale and distribution rights for Blanton’s — but they did not sell the Buffalo Trace trademark. This means that, while Sazerac owns the Buffalo Trace distillery and does the production, sales, and distribution, technically Takara Holdings owns the Blanton’s name. Isn’t corporate business fun?
It tastes like no other
Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon is a unique bourbon that tastes like no other. It is a deep amber color with a gorgeous red hue. The bourbon starts off with a creamy feel — with notes of vanilla and caramel. Do not be fooled: While this bourbon does gain some sweetness from its corn-based mash, it is pleasantly dry. Blanton’s goes on to have rich and spicy notes with hints of nutmeg and, appropriately, corn. All of this works together to create a harmonious and enriching pour.
This bourbon is perfectly balanced and the critics agree about its quality and desirability. Whiskey Bible referred to it as "liquid gold" and bottles of Blanton’s have won a staggering number of awards. Blanton’s has figured out how to balance the sweet and spicy notes of bourbon and reach perfection without blending barrels. They rely entirely on quality ingredients and production to produce an excellent bourbon.
Blanton’s mash bill contents is unknown
Blanton’s may rely on quality ingredients to produce their premium Single Barrel Whiskey, but that does not mean they are ready to reveal the entirety of their bourbon’s contents. Blanton’s has always been open about the lime-filtered water and the high quality corn that goes into the production of their product. But we know less about the other grains involved in the makeup of their mash bill.
Using our impressive powers of deduction, we can assume that since Blanton’s is legally bourbon, it is at least 51% corn — but that’s about where the certainty stops.
Blanton’s uses a mash bill (the mix of grains used to make bourbon), also used by other Buffalo Trace products, called mash bill number two. While some distilleries disclose the exact makeup of their mash bill, Buffalo Trace does not. Mash bill number two is said to be a rye-forward mash, thought to be around 15%. While this does not make Blanton’s a "high rye" bourbon, it does lend a nice spiciness to the mash. We may never know the exact contents of Blanton’s but as long as they keep producing such fantastic bourbon, all is forgiven.
Blanton’s is aged in a unique location
It’s not just the mash bill and fancy water that makes Blanton’s unique, its aging location has a starring role, too. We mentioned that Blanton’s is made using barrels from only the middle of the barrel house, in the tradition of Blanton himself, but they aren’t just aged in any warehouse. Nope. Blanton’s is aged in a very special warehouse.
After the repeal of Prohibition, Americans were, understandably, eager to purchase whiskey legally. In an attempt to keep up with demand, production of whiskey went into overdrive and producers soon ran out of space to hold all the barrels. Ever the problem solver, Blanton had a metal warehouse built, as it took less time to construct than traditional warehouses. This warehouse is called Warehouse H and has become famous for the whiskey it produces, with some whiskey reviewers going so far as to say it is magical for whiskey.
Because metal buildings both heat up and cool down faster than those built from other materials, the metal warehouse construction causes the aging whiskey to interact with the barrel more. This might sound like a bad thing, but it can be really good for bourbon. The temperature fluctuations in Kentucky mean that bourbon is pulled into (and pushed out of) the barrels more often than in other warehouses, leading to a faster infusion and a unique flavor.
Blanton’s is best drunk straight
Look, we will level with you here. You can mix good whiskey. Heck, you can mix great whiskey. But do you really want to be the person at the bar paying exorbitant amounts of money to put a top shelf whiskey in a cocktail where you can barely taste it just because you can? No, you do not. Companies do not go to all the effort of creating and aging high quality whiskey for years — sometimes decades — for them to be bogged down with sugars and syrups.
That being said, Blanton’s is not the most expensive whiskey out there and if you want to mix it, we can’t stop you. But the best way to appreciate the flavors and subtleties of good whiskey such as Blanton’s Single Barrel is to drink it straight or, perhaps, on the rocks. If you really want to, you can also add a splash of water or club soda but with Blanton’s less is more.
It’s expensive and hard to find
Blanton’s is notoriously hard to find. It isn’t hard to imagine why people would be chomping at the bit to find this amazing bourbon but, sadly, it isn’t the easiest to find. Part of this is just basic supply and demand. Demand for single barrel bourbon has skyrocketed, making it difficult, if not impossible, for producers such as Blanton’s to keep up. At their distillery, Blanton’s even limits purchases from individuals to one bottle every six months to conserve supply and prevent aftermarket sales.
Demand for Blanton’s has become such an issue in recent years, that there have even been counterfeit sellers of the bourbon online. Multiple websites claimed to offer bottles of the famous Blanton’s, shipped directly to consumers’ homes, only for nothing to show up.
As of 2022, Blanton’s Single Barrel may sell at just $60 to $70 a bottle, but that doesn’t mean you will pay the listed price. Since this bottle can be so hard to come by and demand outpaces supply, distributors know they can fetch a high price for it. Often, sellers will add incredible markups, coming in at more than $100 per bottle.
Blanton’s vs other Buffalo Trace bourbons
Blanton’s is just one type of bourbon that comes out of the Buffalo Trace distilleries. Buffalo Trace offers niche products, such as a wheat-based Kosher Whiskey, a Bourbon Cream, and even a wheat and grain vodka. But their real claim to fame is their bourbon.
Buffalo Trace are the makers of famous names: Eagle Rare, E.H. Taylor, and, of course, Buffalo Trace. These bourbons may be produced by the same company, but they are in no way interchangeable.
For one, these whiskeys are not all aged for the same amount of time or in the same way. Elmer T. Lee is also a single barrel whiskey and is likely the closest in production to Blanton’s. They are both aged for around the same time and made from the same mash bill but Elmer T. Lee is aged in a more conventional brick or wooden warehouse and, believe it or not, that makes an impact on the final flavor.
Other differences include mash bill; Buffalo Rare and E.H. Taylor both use mash bill #1, whereas Blanton’s uses mash bill #2. These other bourbons also are not coming from a single barrel, the thing that put Blanton’s on the map in the first place. All these subtle changes lead to Blanton’s having its own distinct flavor that cannot be matched — even by the same distillery.
The tops are collectable
Blanton’s goes above and beyond to set themselves apart from the rest of the bourbon world, both in the way they produce and in the way they show. One key example comes right from the top: The Blanton’s bottle top. Other distillers might spend their time deciding between cork and screw top but at Blanton’s they have to decide which horse to use.
Blanton’s bottles are all topped with one of eight horse and jockey toppers. According to the Blanton’s website, the horses, introduced in 1999, are meant to pay homage to Kentuky’s horse traditions. Each bottle topper represents a different letter in the name of the company, with a small letter found on each top which, together, spell out BLANTON’S. And yes, there are two different N horse toppers. When lined up, the horses and jockeys show a horse race, with the S showing the horse’s victory. If you manage to find and collect all eight, you can even mail them to Blanton’s where they will mount them and send them back to you. No, we’re being serious.
Blanton’s tops the bottles by hand in a completely randomized pattern, so collecting them all involves a lot of time, lots of luck, and a whole lot of bourbon.
The bottle is like no other
Blanton’s doesn’t stop with just producing a one-of-a-kind bourbon. Oh no. They had to go a step further and design a bottle that is like no other, one that would be impossible to miss by even the casual bourbon shelf observer.
To create a bottle that could match their stunning horse toppers and their impressive original single barrel whiskey, Blanton’s went all out. Where most bottles are tall and thin, Blanton’s decided to go against the grain and easy shelving, and made an oblong bottle. The bottle itself resembles something between an egg and a disco ball with its faceted sides. Its unique shape makes it instantly recognizable when it shows up on shelves or in movies.
The label is also distinctive. The parchment style band that wraps around the bottle includes flowing, old fashioned, printed script. Accompanying this is a handwritten bottle date, as well as the barrel and rack number. However, there has been some speculation that, as of February, 2022, the labels have transitioned to being fully printed.
Blanton’s is the John Wick Bourbon
Eagle-eyed fans of action thriller John Wick may have noticed a distinctive rounded bourbon bottle that appears alongside Keanu Reeves in the film. In the movie, Reeves’ character John Wick returns to his hotel, injured from a fight. When he asks the concierge for a doctor, the concierge suggests a drink: bourbon. The next scene cuts to a shot of Reeves pouring himself a drink from the unique Blanton’s bottle. While the horse topper does not make it into the shot, it is clear from the bottle and label that Blanton’s is the bourbon of choice for John Wick.
Bourbon played such a prominent role in the film — and in the glass of the namesake character — that Silver Screen Bottling Company actually produced their own limited edition bottle of John Wick themed bourbon, named for the movie’s hotel, The Continental. This bourbon, however, is not Blanton’s. So for those looking for true movie authenticity, there is only one rounded, horse-topped bourbon that can fit the bill, and that bourbon is Blanton’s Single Barrel.