Blanton’s Blind Tasting

I tried four different bottles of Blanton’s bourbon–so you don’t have to (…so to leave more for me!)

This is a stupid metaphor, sorry.

One of the few advantages of being a bourbon drinker outside of the U.S. is the non-U.S. allocations–meaning bourbon that is exported only. Japan would be the most prominent example, being the only country (to my knowledge) that gets bourbon bottles no other country does. More ordinary though is bourbon exported for segmented markets like Asia or Europe. For example, the Jim Beam Small Batch bourbons bottled specifically for the non-U.S. market, which I predict will be highly valued collectibles in the near future.

Blanton’s Single Barrel bourbon is made by Buffalo Trace in Frankfort, Kentucky, was the first single barrel bourbon and today it consists of four regular expressions (they’ve released a super small batch duty-free market bourbon called Silver Edition as well): Original Single Barrel, Special Reserve, Gold Edition and Straight From The Barrel. The last two are non-U.S. gems, available in Sweden. The Gold is bottled at 103 proof (51,5%), higher in proof than the Original. The Straight From The Barrel is unfiltered and uncut at a proof around 130 (65%).

I currently own various amounts of bottles of three of the four expressions, and as I’ve enjoyed them I’ve expressed opinions about them on Instagram, here, and with friends. “One is this, the other one is that. That one is more like this and less like that.” An opinion formed by many things, and as opinions tend to be: quite easily corrupted. Price, design, public opinion and the opinion of the community–all these play into the image of a product.

To find out if my opinions could hold some weight, I decided to do a blind tasting. I would taste all of my currently open bottles of Blanton’s bourbon: one bottle of the Original, one of the Straight From The Barrel, and two of the Gold–one that’s almost finished and has been open for a couple of months, and the other just opened.

Bottles L-R: Gold, Gold, Original and Straight From The Barrel

What I had in front of me in the beginning of the blind tasting was four Porto glasses containing equal amounts of the four bottles (about 3cl). I knew what bottles were in the mix, but not which one was in which glass.

Starting with nosing the glasses I was immediately humbled by the difficulty of a blind tasting. Everything you think you know is at the mercy of your senses. To me, all four glasses were very had a very similar nose. I started to write down my first guesses before tasing, and I found out later that by nose only I couldn’t even pick out the Straight From The Barrel, the most rugged and unique one of the four. This was going to be harder than I’d thought.

After nosing I began the tasting. This time I picked the Straight From The Barrel right away: the complexity and proof (35,8 proof/17,9% higher than the Original) was a dead giveaway, making itself very clear in the taste and especially the mouthfeel.

But after eliminating the odd one out, things became harder. All the opinions I had before of what told the expressions apart was almost indistinguishable. I made use of almost all the full 3cl pours before making my final decisions. I was certain I’d identified the Straight From The Barrel. I then had to tell the Original from the two Golds, and as a bonus: tell the two Golds from each other.

I made up my mind and then checked the key my partner made for me–very curious to see how I’d fare: I’d gotten all three expressions right. The only thing I got wrong was which Gold was which. The common opinion is that bourbon mellows once it is opened for a while and is exposed to air. That was not the case with this one. I found the longer-opened, almost finished bottle to be a tad hotter than the newly opened. All single barrel bourbons can be different, ranging from very little to a lot, because no commingling is done.

One other thing not making it easier for me was the proximity in production: all four of my bottles are from the same warehouse (as all Blanton’s are), but also have barrel numbers very close to each other, were aged just one rick apart, and dumped within six months from each other. The two Golds were from the exact same batch and just five barrels apart!

What gave the Original away were a slightly more subdued taste and nose than the Golds. Not so much in the proof as in the notes: Both the Golds had more vibrancy and notes of dried fruits, and the original instead maybe a bit more mellow and with oak notes. All in all, the difference to me it shows–is much smaller than I thought before, almost nonexistent. When everything is said and done all three are amazing bourbons, and absolutely three of the best to be gotten in Sweden.

Nothing like a blind tasting to humble your palate.

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