Toasting the Founder of the Single Barrel Bourbon Boom
Source: Bloomberg by Justin Bachman
The oldest name in American single barrel bourbon, Blanton's, turned 30 this summer. The bourbon, which is sold in a round bottle with a metallic horse atop the stopper, was first bottled on Aug. 30, 1984. It was the first bourbon on the market to come entirely from a single barrel.
Blanton's, named after a former master distiller at the company, Colonel Albert Blanton, hit the market at a time when the liquor was down on its luck, suffering a retail crisis as Americans were discovering a taste for higher quality wines and vodkas. "It's what old people drank," John Shutt, Blanton's international sales and marketing executive, says of the stereotypes that dogged bourbon in the 1980s. "It's what poor people drank. It's what we in Kentucky - us rednecks - drank."
Bottling a bourbon from a single cask was an audacious, expensive step in an industry where blending whiskey from multiple barrels, years, and warehouses was the standard. "Every time they went to another distillery they heard the same thing," Shutt said. "You guys are crazy."
Initially, they were right. Blanton's was a commercial flop. But as other distillers gradually began seeing the financial potential in moving upmarket, better bourbons began making their way to whiskey drinkers in Japan, England, and France and finding an audience. Americans lagged for years, until the TV show Mad Men and the craft food movement sparked bourbon's current boom. Today, the biggest problem for the major players in bourbon - Buffalo Trace, Heaven Hill, Jim Beam, and Willett - tends to arise from irritation over short supply for many brands.
Blanton's is still largely a handmade item: The paper labels are written and affixed by hand, as is the elaborate horse cork. It has always been 93 proof, aged at least six years, sometimes more, and is always from the central part of Buffalo Trace's Warehouse H, the only barrel warehouse on the company's Frankfort campus that's clad in metal. That makes the building warmer during the day and cooler at night, increasing expansion of the barrels.
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