Welcome to the latest edition of The Well—a 4-minute breakdown of the stories behind your favorite alcohol brands.
Now pouring: Blanton’s, the original single-barrel bourbon. It’s classic. It’s quality. And it’s well worth the hype.
For more information, check out our guide to Blanton’s.
The Story Behind Blanton’s Bourbon
Bourbon snobs definitely existed before 1984. But you know what didn’t? Single-barrel bourbon snobs. That’s a relatively new phenomenon, and it’s all thanks to Blanton’s Bourbon.
The story originates in Kentucky, naturally—the bourbon capital of the world. A man named Albert B. Blanton began working at what is now known as the Buffalo Trace facility in 1897, and became president of the whiskey plant in 1921, not long after Prohibition was implemented. (He continued making whiskey through Prohibition, because bourbon guys are gonna bourbon.)
After the ban was lifted, Blanton stumbled into an innovation born of desperation: With demand for alcohol booming, the distillery was running out of space to store barrels. So Blanton erected a metal warehouse—referred to then and now as Warehouse H—because it was quick to build. But he soon discovered that the temperature shifts due to the metal walls caused the bourbon to age differently. And to good effect.
After WWII ended, Blanton hired an air force veteran named Elmer T. Lee, who initially started out as a maintenance guy. But as it turned out, this Elmer fellow had a real knack for making bourbon. He was soon promoted to Plant Manager and Master Distiller and would oversee operations for about four decades.
But the year before he retired in 1985, Lee had a major breakthrough: He recalled how Blanton would hand pick certain barrels from the center of Warehouse H for special guests and bottle them one at a time. The quality was superior. And so, single-barrel bourbon entered the market, and along with it, the creation of what we now recognize today as a super-premium category of bourbon. Whereas bourbon blended from different barrels are intended to achieve a particular flavor profile, single-barrel bourbon is a specific and pure expression of the one barrel and the one-of-a-kind aging journey of the bourbon inside.
Today, Blanton’s fanatics might pay upwards of $100 for a standard bottle, up from a retail price of $65. That’s because it’s very good bourbon. But it might also have to do with the fact that the packaging is also sort of adorable. The label is decked out in nearly illegible cursive that provides details down to when the barrel was hand dumped, and each bottle comes with a cute little stopper with a horse on top that features the letters B-L-A-N-T-O-N-S. So they’re collectibles. Which kind of makes you want to collect them, huh? And maybe drink some really good bourbon while you’re at it.
Why I love Blanton’s Bourbon
- Even though it’s hard to find at times, Blanton’s is a fantastic single-barrel bourbon.
- Collecting the toppers has become an obsession with me and my friends.
Growth & Marketing, Saucey