Comparison: Blanton’s Single Barrel / Blanton’s Straight From The Barrel

BLANTON’S SINGLE BARREL
Barrel #1587 bottled 9/12/18

MASH BILL – Buffalo Trace Mash Bill #2 (high-rye)

PROOF – 93

AGE – NAS

DISTILLERY – Blanton Distilling Company (Buffalo Trace)

PRICE – $63

BLANTON’S STRAIGHT FROM THE BARREL
Barrel #1820 bottled 10/3/17
Sold only in Europe and Japan

MASH BILL – Buffalo Trace Mash Bill #2 (high-rye)

PROOF – 128.4

AGE – NAS

DISTILLERY – Blanton Distilling Company (Buffalo Trace)

PRICE – $150

Blanton’s holds the claim of being the first ever single barrel bourbon to be marketed as a regular product. The standard 93-proof version is the one clamored after in the USA. Overseas one can find other editions at various other proofs. The European and Japanese markets are granted a barrel proof edition, coveted by whiskey fans who like to taste their favorites as close to fresh from the barrel as possible. I sat down with a glass of each, and here are some notes out of the gate:

COLOR

SINGLE – syrupy yellow-orange

STRAIGHT – syrupy orange


NOSE

SINGLE – caramel, rich cinnamons and baking spices, drying tall fragrant grasses, juicy dried apricot, tart fresh apple cider, bit of oak tannins

STRAIGHT – rich dark caramels, some dark chocolate, rich and refined baking spices, chunky organic almond butter, dark roasted peanut shell


TASTE

SINGLE – easy dark caramel sauces, some chocolate, a nice soft peppery tingle, the fruits from the nose now very faint

STRAIGHT – solid dark caramel and chocolate, the rich and nutty almond butter, the peppery tingle a bit more biting but not in a hurry, more like a slow clench


FINISH

SINGLE – warm and lingering, with faint round caramel and milk chocolate 

STRAIGHT – dark, warm, with the pepperiness lingering most prominently and the dark caramel lurking behind it


OVERALL

SINGLE – After the fragrant nose, the taste and finish were surprisingly mild

STRAIGHT – Surprisingly approachable for 128.4 proof


BUY AGAIN? 

SINGLE – On sale, yes, unless my budget had me favoring other purchases

STRAIGHT – Buy? No. But trade for something? Maybe.

I’ve never been the biggest fan of Blanton’s. Don’t get me wrong, it’s quite good. Just not as impressive as I would hope given the hype and price. It has one of the more recognizable bottles. And the horse on the cork—which comes in eight variations, one for each letter in the name “Blanton’s”—adds to the collectible nature of it. But overall I found it unremarkable when I first tried it some years ago. Then more recently I had a shot in a bar. Though still not blown away, I was surprised how much I did enjoy it. It was bright, caramelly and autumnal. All nice qualities.

I came into this Straight From The Barrel bottle (SFTB) via a trade. So I didn’t actually pay for it directly. In bottle trade, I effectively paid its typical price of $150 or so. An acquaintance who travels internationally for business had picked up a few bottles and was willing to let one go.

Trying them now side by side, I’m struck by how subdued they are. The SFTB definitely leans more forwardly into its flavors than the Single Barrel. However, the fruit aspects are notably subdued in the SFTB bottle, to the point of effective absence. Instead, a rich almond butter flavor takes up the space the fruit occupies in the Single Barrel.

Curious, I tried the half-shot of SFTB remaining in my glass with 5 drops of water in it, which I let rest for ten minutes before tasting:

BLANTON’S STRAIGHT FROM THE BARREL
w/ 5 drops of H20

COLOR – autumn orange

NOSE – caramel, dusty autumnal baking spices, almond shell, a bit of baked apple

TASTE – a notch brighter than before, with caramel, almond butter, and still some chewy peppery spiciness

FINISH – peppery for sure, but with more caramel to soften it now

I enjoy how the water brightens the mood, adding a bit of the flavors that the fruit aspects bring to the Single Barrel while maintaining the SFTB’s triumvirate of caramel, chocolate, and almond butter.

Hmm. Well, I wouldn’t not buy either of these again. But neither are top of my list. For the price, I’d like for them to be less subdued. At half the price, Booker’s, for example, is an unfiltered barrel strength bourbon offering a much stronger flavor punch than the Blanton’s SFTB. And the Blanton’s Single Barrel is perfectly enjoyable, just a bit forgettable as compared to, say, a Buffalo Trace single barrel store pick I recently had for half the price. Though it’s true price does not literally impact the taste of a whiskey, it does, for me, impact my experience of tasting it. Blanton’s is good. I like it. Other comparable experiences are more affordable.

Buffalo Trace Distillery is so prolific, offering a sizable range based on its three key mash bills. The brands featuring each include:

MASH BILL #1 (less rye / fruitier)
Benchmark
Buffalo Trace
E.H. Taylor
Eagle Rare
George T. Stagg
Old Charter
Stagg Jr.

MASH BILL #2 (more rye / spicier)
Ancient Age
Blanton’s
Elmer T. Lee
Hancock’s Presidential Reserve
Rock Hill Farms

WHEATED MASH BILL (no rye / softer)
E.H. Taylor Seasoned Wood
Weller Special Reserve
Weller Antique 107
Weller 12 Year
William Larue Weller
Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Year
Van Winkle Special Reserve Lot B 12 Year
Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year
Pappy Van Winkle 20 Year
Pappy Van Winkle 23 Year

Recently at a friend’s house, we sampled this same bottle of Blanton’s SFTB alongside his bottles of Ancient Age, Elmer T. Lee, Hancock’s Presidential Reserve, and another Blanton’s Single Barrel. (We also tried a number of the wheated mash bill bourbons.) For me, of the Mash Bill #2 bottles, only the two Blanton’s bottles and the Elmer T. Lee were worth further consideration. And the Elmer T. Lee—also a single barrel, and likewise a hunted unicorn subject to even deeper price gauging than the more readily found Blanton’s Single Barrel—was not remarkably superior. So why ever pay more for Elmer T. Lee, which should be $40 yet regularly goes for $100+ at any number of stores?

Not that Buffalo Trace Distillery is likely complaining, but the success of their products arguably most embodies the bourbon boom frenzy. The Weller and Van Winkle lines are easily the most famous of the bourbon unicorns. They’re practically a joke—impervious to commentary, and with people regularly paying $100+ for the $40 Weller 12 Year, or $800+ for the $120 Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year.

Nearing the end of this write-up, I tried another half-shot of the Blanton’s SFTB, this time with fifteen drops of water in it. It was lovely. Still the almond butter and caramel taking the lead, but now with much more texture and playfulness. So if I had to decide between the standard Blanton’s Single Barrel and the Blanton’s SFTB, considering its malleability I’d go with the SFTB. To get it, of course, I have to either go to Japan or know someone who does. Lucky for me I did know such a person, and so here I am glass in hand. I’ll enjoy it while it lasts.

Cheers!

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