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Best Blanton’s Bourbon Bottles Ranked: Tasting Notes & Review

Best Blanton’s Bourbon Bottles Ranked: Tasting Notes & Review

I know I make fun of Blanton’s a lot. The truth is that while this bottle is indisputably cool to look at, the bourbon inside has declined over the years. It has a lower age statement right now than at any point in its history. There are also rumors that barrels sold domestically don’t even spend their whole lives in Warehouse H. As such, it’s lost a lot of its appeal.

Thankfully, the retail price has remained fairly steady. I bought my first bottle of Blanton’s in 2018 for $54.99 and purchased a store pick of Blantons in December 2023 for $60. The secondary market prices for these bottles also hasn’t budged; staying steady at $100/bottle. Those kinds of numbers make it one of the most steady allocated bottles in terms of value.

At either price, Blanton’s is one of the more obtainable bottles for many new enthusiasts to buy. In fact, aside from Elijah Craig Barrel Proof or Weller 12, I’d argue that Blanton’s is one of the first bottles that new enthusiasts actively hunt for. But after they buy their first one, what comes next?

Collecting all the Blanton’s

It’s become a new normal for enthusiasts to try and collect every label of a particular series of bottle. It’s tough to put into words why there is a fascination with doing it, but I’ve been guilty myself.

Some enthusiasts never grow out of that trend. Others quickly realize that money spent on the lower-tier bottles only saps money away from buying the really good bottles. Buy the bottles you actually like, not the ones that you own just to say you own. Remember that as I expand on a couple bottles on this list.

What are the “Common Types” of Blanton’s?

Blanton’s has released dozens of unique versions over the years. The only problem is that for a majority of those years, American enthusiasts were only limited to one type of Blanton’s – the 93 proof single barrel version. Why is it that other countries got special versions?

It’s because Blanton’s is technically owned by an international company called Age International. They have an agreement with Sazerac/Buffalo Trace to produce their bourbon. In return, Age International allows Sazerac to distribute Blanton’s inside the US at their discretion.

Since Age International controls the distribution everywhere else, this results in a lot of specific European and Asian limited releases. There are even specific stores – like La Maison Du Whisky in France – who get their own annual release complete with a special label.

I’m not going to include any of those on this list. Instead, this list will include the four main versions of Blanton’s (which are based more-or-less on the proof they’re bottled at) as well as three ongoing Japanese-market editions that have been available since the 90’s.

These seven bottles are the most frequently released, easiest to obtain and most commonly listed ones on the secondary market. So even though you could argue that Takara releases are harder to come by, they have been consistently sold since the 1990’s in Japan and travelers fly back with several bottles every single day. This has created a small but steady stream of bottles that are always available.

How did I rank these bottles?

One quick thing worth mentioning is how I ended up ranking these bottles. First, I went by overall enjoyment from drinking them. Then I took away or added points based on the bottle’s secondary price and how obtainable it was.

If I were to make this list prior to 2020 – when Blanton’s Straight From The Barrel or Blanton’s Gold was not sold domestically – the list may have looked a little bit different. But I have to take into consideration that standard Blanton’s Gold and Straight From the Barrel are much easier to find in 2024 than ever before; so take that for what it’s worth.

Here are your top 7 ranked from best to worst.

#7 Blanton’s Special Reserve

Of course you’re going to see Blanton’s Special Reserve at the bottom of the list. But not just because it’s a thin, watery shell of it’s normal self, but also because if you’re living in the US, the extra steps and money that it takes to snag your own bottle adds even more expense to the bottom line.

I believe the biggest attraction people have to this label comes from enthusiasts who want to “complete their vertical” (a collection of every bottle in a series of a particular brand). I understand what they’re trying to do, but rarely have I ever seen a vertical of Blanton’s or Weller or EH Taylor where the lowest, least desirable bottle is admired.

There are far better ways to spend your money and far better bottles to buy than this. If you’re trying to complete your own vertical, just put a framed picture of a bottle next to it and use the money on something better.

I must admit that before I tried Blanton’s Takara Black that I was hearing an equal mix of good and bad things about the bottle. Some of my friends who I had known to be proof-hounds had told me that they found their bottles of Takara Black to be much more enjoyable than they expected. I was skeptical, but curious. So I got my own bottle and I instantly regretted it.

If Blanton’s Special Reserve showed the thin, watery side of Blanton’s, then Takara Black shows me a thin, watery slide with more hints of ash and smoke. If you absolutely must buy a bottle of this, serve it to your friends who wouldn’t know good bourbon if it bit them on the ass. And if you ever find yourself being served Takara Black by a friend, then I have some bad news to tell you – they’re not really your friend.

#5 Blanton’s Takara Red

I was initially suckered into buying my own bottle of Takara Red because the allure of extra age made it seem like it could show me glimpses of the past – back when the barrels they used for Blanton’s tasted fuller, richer and with more intense flavors.

So I bought a bottle of modern-day Takara Red for $300 (admittedly, $100 above the going rate) to see for myself. The reason why I bought a newer one instead of an older one is because I’d have more of a chance to experience the truth behind the claim of it being 2 years older.

Throughout my time with the bottle, my expectations were never met. The bourbon in the bottle had little-to-no difference between standard bottles of Blanton’s sold in the US. And even though the retail prices of both Takara Red and standard Blanton’s is close ($60 vs $80), the secondary value of each doesn’t come close ($100 vs $200).

Even if Takara Red was noticeably better than a standard bottle, I’m still not sure that a 200% difference in price would make it worth it.

#4 Blanton’s Single Barrel (Standard)

Let’s get one thing straight – the quality of Blanton’s has declined steadily over the last 40 years. I’ve had the opportunity to drink examples from the 80’s and 90’s and it’s like I’m drinking a completely different bourbon. The richness and unique flavors (like blackberry, antique oak and custard) had to be experienced to be believed.

Modern Blanton’s is nowhere near as good, but don’t mistake me for saying it’s bad. It’s still a fine bourbon to sip on and despite it’s youthful age (modern bottles are less than 6 years old), it doesn’t necessarily taste that young. It’s generally a sweet, mellow, fruity affair with a touch of spice.

For an even better experience, try to get your hands on a store pick/private barrel of Blanton’s. As an added tip, try to get one from a store who has a pick crew that has done previous barrel picks together. You’ll get a feel for what they’re looking for in a barrel.

Some teams pick more off-profile barrels. Some pick barrels that are very sweet. And some pick barrels with certain fruit notes. Look to pay a little bit more if you’re buying on secondary (sometimes up to $130), but at least you’ll be buying a barrel that’s not a total shot in the dark. And at least you’re not paying $300 like I did for a Takara Red.

#3 Blanton’s Takara Gold

Blanton’s Takara Gold is the version that sees widespread distribution in the land of the rising sun. Starting all the way back in 1992 (when it was first released), it was the top dog for the brand. The extra proof and extra age was truly special. Then when Straight From The Barrel was released, many enthusiasts who wanted higher proofs stopped caring as much about Takara Gold.

Over the years, the age that it used to be bottled at (8 years old) was slowly lowered to meet demand. On top of that, non-Takara versions of Blanton’s Gold began to pop up in other countries (including China).

The secondary prices for those kinds generally fell while the Takara version remained high. To this day, you can buy a bottle of regular Blanton’s Gold for almost half of what you can buy a Takara Gold for (on the secondary market that is). Do the shiny gold box, reddish wax and red felt bag make up for it? Not at all. While it might be something to brag about for some people, others will see right through it and know you paid too much.

Still, for how good Blanton’s Gold drinks (it’s the ideal proof for Blanton’s in my opinion), it sets high up on this list. It’s just a shame that it couldn’t be a little cheaper.

#2 Blanton’s Gold

Blanton’s Gold narrowly misses out on the top spot – but not by much. You might be wondering why I’m speaking so highly of something that’s only 10 proof points higher than the standard release. Well, those 10 proof points do a lot, apparently. 103 proof seems to be almost the perfect amount to achieve such a well-rounded flavor profile. Suddenly, the caramel turns into toffee, the mild oak seems to be much richer and the fruit flavors double.

The one thing Blanton’s Gold does that is better than Blanton’s Straight From The Barrel (SFTB) is balance. Some drinkers may not like the heat or the prickly spices that SFTB puts off. I know the first couple bottles of SFTB I owned required a certain amount to be poured off followed by re-sealing the bottle and coming back to it 3 weeks later.

Blanton’s Gold doesn’t have that problem. It’s ready to enjoy from the first dram to the last. The only negative I could think of when it comes to Blanton’s Gold is that its secondary price is only $20-30 away from the secondary price of SFTB. And speaking of Straight From The Barrel…

#1 Blanton’s Straight From the Barrel

Here it is, the granddaddy of them all. Blanton’s Straight From The Barrel is the only Blanton’s that is both non-chill filtered and uncut in any way. It’s the most complete, full-bodied experience there is in a bottle with a horsey-topper.

Back when Stagg Jr. prices were soaring (they were going for $400 at the height of the Pandemic), I stopped buying it in favor of Blanton’s Straight From The Barrel. At that time, it was the cheapest option for getting a barrel proof product made at the Buffalo Trace Distillery. Blanton’s SFTB prices never went through the fluctuation in secondary prices that other Buffalo Trace bottles did over the years. It’s mostly stayed the same – right around $250.

There is a steady supply constantly being made and distributed around the world which is why it has remained this way. Only SFTB bottles over 130 proof or domestic bottles that are 750ml (the overseas ones are 700ml) will command a price any higher than that.

But pricing aside, this is one of the most complete Blanton’s there is. If you don’t have one in your collection, buy it to drink. Really seasoned enthusiasts won’t hem and haw over it that much if you offer it to them, but it’s a great drink to enjoy when the occasion calls for something special.

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