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Blanton’s Single Barrel Takara Black Bourbon Review

Blanton’s Single Barrel Takara Black Bourbon Review

This is a three part series which explores the strange world of Blanton’s “Takara” edition single barrel bourbon. Many enthusiasts don’t know of the history behind what makes a Blanton’s Takara Red, Black or Gold different from the standard releases. Is it just a name or something much more? Read on to find out and make sure to read more about Takara Red and Gold editions by clicking on the links!

What does “Takara” mean?

Buffalo Trace Distillery – as we know it today – has gone by many different names during its long history. In 1969, the distillery was renamed the Ancient Age Distilling Company from its previous title of the George T. Stagg Distillery. The distillery was sold by Schenley in 1982 to a group of New York businessmen who ran a skeleton crew on the campus for the next 10 years.

But in 1992, a Japanese company named Takara Shuzo Ltd purchased the distillery. During my research, I found conflicting stories on if they actually purchased the distillery, if they purchased a large share of it or if Takara Shuzo LTD was part of the New York-based group who already owned the distillery (upon which Takara somehow secured a majority stake).

Regardless, whatever Takara Shuzo Ltd purchased, they didn’t hold onto it for long. In that same year, the distillery was sold to the Sazerac Company. But Takara kept the naming rights to all Age International brands (which included Blanton’s). The deal specified that Buffalo Trace would continue to distill Age International products and could even distribute them domestically while Takara would control overseas distribution.

A big divide among enthusiasts over Takara’s age

Let’s get this out of the way right now: there is a rift among enthusiasts about what makes Takara versions of Blanton’s different from US versions. That difference comes down to a statement that’s usually passed around that Takara versions are always 2 years older than non-Takara versions. And since Blanton’s has been generally assumed to be 6-years-old for over a decade now, most people love to quote that Takara versions are 8-years-old. I’ve even heard stories that some Takara versions are as old as 10.

The counter-argument basically boils down to “Oh yeah? Then prove it.” Enthusiasts who don’t believe that Blanton’s Takara editions are older point out that it’s never been put into writing on websites, press releases or through other official channels. They claim that it’s industry writers who keep this rumor alive. All of those points are fair. I searched Buffalo Trace, Sazerac and Takara’s websites using The Wayback Machine and can confirm that nothing exists that talks about additional maturation for Takara bottles.

What’s my stance? I believe in the beginning that Takara barrels were generally selected from slightly older stock. But as enthusiasts already know, the age of barrels across the board began to fall due to higher demand. I was already hearing from people who had done single barrel store picks of Blanton’s around the 2019/2020 timeframe that the barrels they could pick from were 5 1/2 years old.

Even if Takara Shuzo Ltd wanted to select more mature barrels, they were probably finding it increasingly hard to do. Warehouse H isn’t huge and I assume that over the last 10 years that they were met with the same realization that Buffalo Trace was facing – They had to reduce maturation time or reduce output. I think it’s easy to see they chose the former.

If you find this disappointing to hear, just know it’s the reality of all modern, allocated labels. Warehouse H is only so big and there are only so many barrels of Blanton’s it can hold. To think it’s full of excess older barrels for the Japanese market seems unrealistic.

Takara Black

Blanton’s Takara Black was first introduced in 1994. That’s two years after Takara Gold and four years after Takara Red. There are some people who would argue that Takara Black was designed to be a more premium version of Blanton’s Special Reserve (the green label one). But the timeline of the two different labels does not match up like that. Blanton’s Special Reserve was released in 2000, which would make it a budget version of Takara Black rather than Takara Black being a premium version of Special Reserve.

There was no official reason why the owners of Blanton’s decided to create an 80 proof version. The thought process behind why Blanton’s Special Reserve was created is probably due to import and tax considerations for countries that charge fees according to alcohol content. But to my knowledge, Takara Black is strictly a Japanese release where tax based on alcohol volume is less of a consideration.

Perhaps it was created to satisfy drinkers who wanted a mild version of a bourbon. Bottling it at 80 proof was a way to achieve that profile and was more in line with the Japanese Whiskies and Scotch that was popular at the time.

But rather than debate the reasons behind why Takara Black was created, I’m here mainly to see if this is a bottle that you should chase to fill a missing hole in your collection. So let’s get started! I sampled this neat in a glencairn.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Very soft scents make nosing this bourbon a little bit harder than usual. I’m used to the aromas in my glass that feel like they’ve singed my nose hairs. What I can find is a very light amount of oak that leads into a bit of caramel. Some of the sweet notes are more like a baked good than anything else. Fruit scents revolved around a touch of cherry and citrus zest. Mostly, I find light perfume-y notes of honey, vanilla and a floral bouquet that remind me more of a Scotch.

Palate: The caramel on the nose gives way to sugary dessert flavors. I think the proof has a lot to do with the fact I’m not drinking something with high proof. Instead of caramel apples, I’m getting sugary biscuits or perhaps just sugar cookies. Vanilla is still present as are very light fruit notes like cherry, citrus and a touch of tart berries. Spice notes are docile and rarely put up a fight. The mouthfeel is thin and the tannins suffer because of it. Instead of getting heavy oak overtones, I’m finding something closer to ash or barrel char. It’s not satisfying to me, but I can see a new drinker not being chased away with too much oak.

Finish: As I expected, the finish is relatively short. The more delicate fruit and vanilla flavors fade away quickly. They leave behind more ashy/slightly smokey flavors, some cinnamon and a little bit of sugary sweetness on the tongue. It’s interesting to find the similarities between this bottle and a bottle of low-proof Scotch. Both have a malty taste at the end that is pleasantly sweet, but very light.

Score: 5.2/10

Are there any 80 proof bourbons out there that don’t taste watered down from the start? Because Blanton’s Takara Black proves this is still true. Additionally, I don’t believe anything I tasted had any extra age associated with it – which is a bummer because it still carries quite the premium over Blanton’s Special Reserve on the secondary.

Final Thoughts

I had a feeling that this bottle would flop on taste. It’s only use may be to lure novice whiskey drinkers into believing that bourbon isn’t scary to drink. If so, mission accomplished. But to anyone who has at least advanced to the level of Eagle Rare, there’s no need to revert back to 80 proof.

I understand the desire to complete a collection of bottles, but I would suggest that it would be more prudent to buy another bottle of Blanton’s Gold and at least drink frequently with that over spending the money to obtain a dust-collector like this bottle. There’s more to bourbon than collecting the rainbow of colors and Blanton’s Takara Black proves that it’s not worth the effort or money to track down.

Editor’s Note: Did you know there have been two barrels of Takara Black that have been picked by a store and sold as a store pick? It’s true. Check out these two barrels by a store in Japan called “Turtle Choice” which named them Sweet & Spicy and Floral & Fruity. The barrel number is even written in silver marker instead of black and the store name gets a special sticker on the box!

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