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The Story of Blanton's Bourbon

Updated: Mar 3


Blanton's single barrel bourbon

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


Blanton's Bourbon has become one of the most sought-after American-made whiskies globally. As the brand will celebrate its 40th anniversary in 2024, we wanted to take a closer look at its history to find out how the brand was created and revisit its past releases. We welcome you to join us.



 

Colonel Blanton & The Birth of The Brand


Our story dates back to 1897 when a young Albert Bacon Blanton was hired as an office boy at the George T. Stagg distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky. At just 16, Blanton impressed his superiors and was quickly promoted to house, warehouse and bottling superintendent in a mere three years.


Following the onset of Prohibition, Blanton took up the position of distillery president in 1921. Despite the challenges posed by the ban on alcohol, he managed to secure a 'medicinal whiskey' license, allowing him to continue distilling. Blanton remained with the distillery even after its ownership changed hands in 1929 when the Schenley Distillers Corporation purchased the site from George T. Stagg & Co. In 1933, the new owners invested heavily in the distillery's expansion, transforming it into a state-of-the-art facility that took five years to complete.

Colonel Albert Bacon Blanton

Image by Blanton's Bourbon - Colonel Albert Bacon Blanton


During his time at the distillery, Blanton oversaw a lot of the aesthetic improvements that took place. He constructed a clubhouse, numerous gardens, and his personal property, the Stony Point mansion, which provides a stunning view of the distillery. Under Blanton's guidance, the site grew from just 14 buildings to an impressive 114-building complex. He eventually retired in 1952 and passed away only seven years later.


In 1983, Age International took over the distillery with Blanton's successor, Elmer T. Lee, as the master distiller. Lee was responsible for creating a new bourbon brand that would appeal to a more exclusive audience. To get inspiration, he looked back at the times when Colonel Blanton used to entertain important guests and dignitaries. The Colonel would handpick 'honey barrels' from the centre cut of Warehouse H and then bottle one barrel at a time. After finding the solution, Lee created a bourbon that would be bottled as the first single-barrel whiskey for the market. The resulting brand, Blanton's, was launched in 1984, paying tribute to the old distillery manager and master distiller while targeting the growing whiskey market in Japan.


Age International introduced three other new single-barrel bourbons during its ownership. These included Elmer T. Lee (1986), Rock Hill Farms (1990) and Hancock’s Presidential Reserve (1991). When the distillery was sold to Sazerac in 1992, Age International retained the rights to the bourbons they wanted, which included Blanton's, and entered into a long-term manufacturing agreement with the distillery.




 

The Whiskey


Blanton's single-barrel bourbon is just one of the many brands produced at the Buffalo Trace distillery. The distillery uses four different mash bills to create the bases for its whiskies, and Blanton's is crafted using Mash Bill #2, a higher-rye (12-15%) bourbon mash. What sets this brand apart from others made with the same base is that it is aged in No.4 heavily charred barrels and housed in Warehouse H for an average of six to eight years.


Warehouse H was constructed after the era of Prohibition when whiskey distillers were experiencing a surge in demand for their products. Blanton commissioned a warehouse built with metal walls to increase storage space for his barrels as fast as possible, as it could be erected relatively quickly. As time passed, he discovered that the warehouse's thin metal walls caused the whiskey to age faster and more to his liking. Today, all Blanton's bourbons are drawn from this single warehouse - one of the reasons why the whiskey will always be limited to a certain quantity.


Warehouse H, The home of Blanton's Bourbon

Image by Blanton's Bourbon - Warehouse H, The home of Blanton's Bourbon


 

'The Race'


Blanton's Bourbon is a brand that pays homage to Kentucky's rich tradition of horseracing. The bottle features a unique stopper that showcases a horse and jockey. Introduced in 1999, eight different stoppers are available, each marked with a letter that spells out 'Blanton's' when the complete set is assembled; for those who love the brand and its exceptional design, a collector's set of all eight stoppers was released the same year.


Since all Blanton's bourbons are bottled by hand, there is no particular order in which the stoppers are placed. All the letters are produced in equal quantities, so there are no rare stoppers. But if you collect all eight stoppers, you can send them to Buffalo Trace Distillery, who will mount them on a barrel stave at no cost. Please be aware that unofficial stopper staves are being sold online due to the brand's popularity.


Blanton's bourbon horse race stoppers

Image by Blanton's Bourbon



 

The Blanton's Single Barrel Range


Please note that we have not provided a comprehensive list of individual releases and their alcohol by volume (ABV) for Blanton's bourbon. Blanton's is a single-barrel bourbon; even limited-range releases contain whiskey from more than one cask. For instance, in the case of Special Release 2022, multiple single casks have been bottled with varying proofs under the label.



The labels of Blanton's have always included handwritten details of the barrel. The only bottles with entirely handwritten labels have been made available in the form of 'Private Stock', bottled in 2007 for La Maison du Whisky.


Blanton's has also released its bourbons in various presentations over the years. Some include simple square boxes, custom bags, and even limited humidor releases.

Blanton's bourbon cigar box

Image by whisky.auction - Private Stock 2007 / The Whisky Ardvark


Blanton's is one of the few American whiskey brands that feature Japanese writing on its label in bottles destined for the Japanese market. The rights to the brand are still owned by Takara Shuzo (Age International), a Japanese company.

blanton's bourbon stopper

Image by Caskers



 

Blanton's The Original Single Barrel


Blanton's bourbon

Image by The Whisky Ardvark - Blanton's Original 1984 vs Now


Blanton's is the first commercial single-barrel bourbon launched in 1984 by master distiller Elmer T. Lee. It was created to appeal to the Japanese high-end market. Blanton's has not undergone many changes despite being around for four decades. It seems that the branding was perfect from the start.


The only significant changes to the labelling were made in 1992 when Sazerac took over the George T. Stagg distillery. Previously, the label read 'Blanton's Distilling Company' on the neck, but it was changed to 'Blanton's Single Barrel Bourbon.' Around 1999, when the distillery was renamed Buffalo Trace, the name 'The Original' was added to the expression.


 

Blanton's Gold Edition


The Gold Edition of Blanton's whiskey was introduced in 1992 exclusively for the Japanese market. The bottle featured gold writing without any label, red wax and a golden stopper. This whiskey was bottled at a higher ABV than the original single barrel. It is uncertain when Blanton's released the edition to the international market, but it was considered a UK-exclusive bottling for many years. This resulted in many of Blanton's fans buying a bottle or two on their visits to the UK. However, in 2020, it finally also became available in the US.


Blanton's bourbon gold

Images by Must Have Malts /The Whisky Exchange - Takara Gold vs International Gold Edition



 

Blanton's Straight From The Barrel


Blanton's Straight From The Barrel was another expression that debuted in the US market in 2020. However, the expression had already been introduced to other markets some 20 years earlier. The expression is bottled at natural cask strength, 'unfiltered and uncut', providing bourbon enthusiasts with a more intense version of the unprocessed bourbon.


Blanton's bourbon Straight from the barrel

Image by Whisky Auctioneer - Blanton's Straight From The Barrel 2002

 

Blanton's Special Reserve


Blanton's Special Reserve is a bourbon whiskey bottled at 40% ABV (80 proof) and presented with a green label. It was initially included in the core range of the Buffalo Trace distillery in the year 2000.


In addition to the original release, a limited edition red-labelled Special Reserve was introduced exclusively to the South Korean market around 2005. Like the original release, it was also bottled at 80-proof. However, it was only available for a short period.

Blanton's bourbon special reserve

Image by Whiskybase / Warehouse H



 

Blanton's Japanese Exclusives


Multiple limited edition releases have been created for the Japanese market. One such release is The Takara Black Edition, which was aged for eight years and was first introduced in 1994. Although it has been available on and off in the market for years, it became more widely available in Japan in 2019.


Another 8-year-old expression exclusive to Japan is the Takara Red Edition, which is quite similar to The Original in appearance and bottling strength but has been aged for two years longer. This expression is sometimes called 'the most elusive bourbon whiskies in the world' and was first introduced in 1994.


In addition to the Takara Gold Edition, a Silver Edition was introduced in 1999, bottled at 49% and packaged initially in a Kentucky Derby-themed box. The stopper for this release was silver, in keeping with the theme. The expression made it to the duty-free market in 2009 but was eventually discontinued the same year.


Blanton's bourbon Japanese exclusives

Image by The Whisky Ardvark - Blanton's Black Edition, Takara Red & Silver Edition


Other Japanese exclusive releases include:


Sterling Silver Edition

This expression was not made for retail but was gifted to Japanese retailers as a thank-you in 1991. Only 115 of the Kirk Stieff Silver decanters were ever produced.


30th Anniversary Edition

To celebrate the brand's 30th anniversary, a special bottling presented with an eight-stopper display was released in 2014. Another special bottling will likely be released for the 40th anniversary in 2024.


Tezuka 100th Anniversary

This particular bottling was given as a gift to Tezuka Corporation employees to celebrate the company's 100th anniversary in 2009.


'Pocket Watch' Edition

This release was nicknamed 'Pocket Watch' due to the hologram image of a digital watch on the keychain hangtag. The bottle contains regular Blanton's bourbon.


Memory of Yujiro

'Memory of Yujiro' was released in 1991 to honour the life of Yujiro Ishihara, a singer and actor known as 'the Japanese Elvis', who passed away in 1987.


My Only Blanton's

Between 2006 and 2007, Takara Shuzo, the owner of the Blanton's brand, offered single casks as part of an exclusive barrel select program, My Only Blanton's. Buyers could become individual or co-owners of a barrel, with specific amounts allocated per cask per buyer. Buyers who purchased the entire barrel received a more elaborate bottle design.


Blanton's bourbon Japanese Exclusives

Images & Information Combined by The Whisky Ardvark from Warehouse H, La Maison du Whisky and multiple auction sites



 

Blanton's La Maison du Whisky


France has been a lesser-known haven for bourbon lovers seeking Blanton's since 2006. La Maison du Whisky, a speciality spirits shop in France, has had a long-standing partnership with the brand, creating exclusive expressions for the retailer over the years. Instead of listing all of the expressions in the text, we have decided to present them visually.


Since 2019, Singapore-exclusive bottlings have been made available at La Maison du Whisky shop in Singapore, established in 2006.


Images & Information Combined by The Whisky Ardvark from Warehouse H, La Maison du Whisky and multiple auction sites

Blanton's bourbon La Maison du Whisky

Blanton's bourbon La Maison du Whisky

Blanton's bourbon La Maison du Whisky

 

Blanton's Special Releases


Blanton's introduced a range of 'Special Edition' bottlings in 2019, exclusively for the European markets. Among them is the 'Char No.4' edition, initially released in 2022 for the Greek market. Only 832 bottles of the No.4 limited edition were produced, making it a highly sought-after collectable for whiskey enthusiasts.

Blanton's bourbon special releases

Blanton's bourbon special releases

Image by Studio One Eleven



 

Blanton's Custom Releases


Below are some other releases bottled by Blanton's for specific companies and regions.


Images & Information Combined by The Whisky Ardvark from Warehouse H, La Maison du Whisky and multiple auction sites

Blanton's bourbon custom releases

 

For more information about Blanton's bourbon releases, we recommend visiting a collector's website, www.warehouseh.com.


Thank you for reading The Whisky Ardvark!



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