Way back in time, well before wifi and full body airport scans, I bought my first bottle of “premium” bourbon. It was Blanton’s, touted by the company as the world’s first single barrel bourbon, and it was daaaaaaamn good. In those heady crazy days, bourbon was undergoing something of a renaissance, it was available, affordable (screw you scotch!), and several distillers offered fancy versions of their products. These days are long gone. Today, in Québec at least, you will no longer be able to enjoy the enticing promises of Rare Breed, or Booker’s, and I won’t even mention Pappy, because, well, if you know bourbon you know what I mean. It’s not about cost (though they are now on par with scotch), they are simply not to be found. Even “regular” offerings like Elijah Craig and Knob Creek have deserted the shelves years ago. On a bad day Makers Mark can be hard to find. So imagine how excited I was when I heard rumors (read in a newsletter to be exact and less mysterious) that Blanton’s was making a comeback (of sorts). School girls at a Corey Hart concert had nothing on me.
There were hoops to jump through however. You had to enter a draw and be chosen for the privilege of buying a bottle. Just one. OK, no worries, bourbon beggars can’t be choosers, and I got lucky. In short the Blanton’s was sold out and it never had to be distributed and shelved (good business that). The fateful day came, I could go to my branch of our state run liquor store (where they know me way too well) for a pick-up. Now I was excited and a little scared, like a schoolgirl at a Whitesnake concert, things were about to get real.
The rider and its mount corked off with a satisfying sound, and the very first whiff triggered something of a memory and was completely promising. Unfortunately it was quickly downhill after that.
Vanilla on the nose? Barely, or rather hidden behind a burn of alcohol that should not be there at 93 proof. The first times I tasted it, when I tried adding water, it very quickly washed the aromas away leaving only the burn. I’m nosing it again as I write this, neat, and after a while the alcohol nip dissipates (or my nose grows less sensitive), but now the vanilla is gone too and I’m getting something chemical, like strong glue. 10 minutes later it’s vague pastry notes (vanilla and something I don’t have the skill to name I guess) and alcohol. Not great.
The company advertises citrus and oak on the palate. Let’s see. The burn is again surprising, and there is a lot of bitterness on the finish. Lingering bitterness, like so many broken things. Maybe there is a hint of oak. Neither in smell nor in taste did I get what I think of as the “bourbon character”, that red hard candy sweetness that comes from the charred casks. Maybe there’s a touch of floral honey somewhere, but mostly I’m getting the burn and the bitterness.
Let’s add literally two drops of water. Anything more will drown it.
The nose is much improved, less aggressive and chemical. More sweetness on the palate as well, though the bitterness and burn are still there. It’s better, but there isn’t anything complex going on. I have a friend coming over in 30 minutes, and I will offer him a martini instead, this is just not that great.
I’m not a distiller, so very big caveat, but if I were to hazard a guess, I would think the still ran too hot on the run that went into this barrel, and it wasn’t a great barrel either. I have no way of knowing, it’s conjecture born from some experience, just an opinion as Ralfy would say.
Are there good or even great bottles of Blanton’s out there? Yes, no doubt, it’s just too bad mine wasn’t one of them. I don’t think it’s a case of “things were better in the olden days” either. Some other internet peeps have commented that they have experienced significant bottle to bottle batch variation. I think this is the case here. Will I buy another bottle? I don’t know. At 70$, to be honest, probably (if I can find it), but the shine is off the brand a little.