The Problem With Blanton’s Is Its Greatest Asset


July 3, 2020

In this blind tasting, I put Blanton’s to the test. It finished strong, for sure. But did it win?

Never in my career have I considered Blanton’s an elite bourbon.

When I was at Whisky Advocate, I rated Maker’s Mark, a craft bottled in bond (Tom’s Foolery) and Eagle Rare higher than Blanton’s. Yet, nobody loses their shit over these brands, and I don’t recommend them as gifts as frequently as I do Blanton’s.

Blanton’s package is hands down the very best in all of bourbon. The circular, easy-gripped curvy shape with the jockey and horse closure: Nothing sings Kentucky like this bottle and every inch of the label and bottle feel special.

If you collect every jockey, it spells out “Blanton’s.” And the fact that the Elmer T. Lee’s connected to this bottle, named after the great Albert Blanton, who actually pioneered single barrels before we called them such, makes this all the more special.

This 1952 barrel pick from the Albert Blanton sold for $10,000 at auction in 2018. This bottle is evidence of Blanton selecting and selling single barrels long before they became popularized. For this, Blanton had the brand “Blanton’s” named after him. Elmer T. Lee was the distiller who selected the barrels.

When I look at the package, I have an expectation of greatness. The bottle is perfect. The whiskey…. is not.

I would buy the majority of Buffalo Trace’s products over Blanton’s, and I do. Maybe once I found the whiskey matched the bottle, but I’d never go out of my way to buy Blanton’s over Eagle Rare, Buffalo Trace or even Ancient Age.

Yet that bottle, in all of its shimmering glory, attracts new bourbon eyes, gift buyers and makes the palate salivate for an exceptional taste. When I put Blanton’s in my YouTube blind tasting, I wanted to be fair and give it the best shot I could. It did well, but not allocation well.

In the tasting lineup were Horse Soldier Signature, Corner Creek 10-year-old, Wild Turkey 101 and Elijah Craig Small Batch.

Blanton’s came in second; Elijah Craig Small Batch prevailed in a tasting that offered a bunch of mediocre tastes and one that as borderline 89 / 90 point quality for me. And that was Elijah Craig. Truthfully, if I put Blanton’s in a blind with my whiskey-of-the-year contenders, it would fail miserably.

Yet, you can find Elijah Craig in most bourbon-centric stores, and there won’t be a Blanton’s bottle in sight.

While I am buying Blanton’s store picks every chance I can, regular, once everyday Blanton’s remains the greatest “availability” conundrum to so many. Yet the reason it’s so popular is plain as day: The bottle tells the story of Kentucky bourbon.

When did the hype start? It’s hard to say.

But even though we bitch about Blanton’s over-hyped status, most of us buy a bottle when we see it. The lure of the bottle gets me every time!