Buffalo Trace’s horse clad Blanton’s is a one trick pony in the domestic market, but overseas there are a few variations of the popular brand. Each of the current variations are bottled at different proofs. There is the 80 proof “Special Reserve,” the 103 proof “Blanton’s Gold,” the standard 93 proof Blanton’s Single Barrel, and the barrel proof “Straight From the Barrel” (sometimes referred to as “Straight From the Cask, or “SFTC”). Numerous bottles of these expressions have made it back to the states in the checked bags of sage globetrotting whiskey lovers, but it has always been elusive to my collection. Luckily for me, my friend Brian over at Barrel Proof Monk was generous enough to share a few ounces of his, making it the first time I have tried my favorite #2 mash bill from Buffalo Trace (or rather, Age International) at cask strength.
If you are eager enough, these bottles can be purchased online from sites like Master of Malt, and The Whisky Exchange. Of course, you will have to pay international shipping, the unfavorable exchange rate, and go through the process of getting your VAT refunded for a 700 ml bottle. Not to mention you will have to risk shipping a corked glass bottle across the Atlantic, but when all is said and done you can get a bottle for about $150. As a special occasion, one time bottle of bourbon, that price is high, but not unfathomable.
The way I look at it, the Blanton’s Straight From the Barrel (STFB) is a first cousin to the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. William Larue Weller is the same age as Weller 12, but cask strength. Thomas H. Handy is the same age as the standard Sazerac, but cask strength. Blanton’s STFB is the same age as Blanton’s, but cask strength.
That modus operandi has done wonders for Buffalo Trace’s #1 mash bill bourbon (GT Stagg), wheated bourbon (WL Weller) and rye (TH Handy). If Age International ever gave a thumbs up to use the #2 mash bill in the BTAC, the bourbon would probably look a lot like the SFTB depending on which warehouse they pulled form. This thinking has led me to those international liquor websites more than a few times, but the price has caused me to close the browser with a SFTB still in the cart.
Thanks to Brian, I finally get to see what a cask strength Blanton’s tastes like without having to explain my next credit card statement to my wife! I have chatted with Brian on multiple occasions, and aside from being two Asian whiskey bloggers, we found that our preferences and tasting notes on most bourbons match up almost exactly. On top of the “Peer Review” notes for the STFB, I am going to post Brian’s tasting notes with mine so you can see his take on it a well. Or, you can click HERE to pop over and check out his review for yourself.
If you are a New Yorker, definitely keep an eye on his blog, or follow him through email. He has already done a review of the famous Char #4 eatery in Brooklyn, and he also has a great palate for Scotch (something I am just plain terrible at), which makes his blog far less narrow than mine. Plus, not every one can pull off a Chow Yun-Fat pun!
Blanton’s SFTB #268 Review with BarrelProofMonk.com
Brian’s bottle is from Barrel #268 which was bottled on 3/8/2012, and weighs in at a potent 132.5 proof. Of course, it wouldn’t be Blanton’s if it wasn’t aged in Warehouse H, and they even specify that the barrel aged on rick #11. All of this information is written on the bottle just as with a normal Blanton’s, but with a less ceremonial looking label.
Color: Dark, heavily steeped tea.
Nose: Just plain awesome. Huge sugary notes of caramel, maple, and rich dark berries and slight, but bitter orange rind. A deep, somewhat sharp spice box, hearty char, and a smoldering campfire balance a detailed nose.
BPM’s Nose: Caramel popcorn, almost like a toasted nuts aroma – probably the campfire you were picking up. Cloves and sharp rye spices. Freaking amazing nose overall.
Sip: Great texture, viscous and oily. The sugars are dark, passing over the lighter vanilla and honey notes in favor of sticky caramel, toffee and fudge. Baked apples, cherry syrup, pie crust, and a faint citrus lead to a powerful rye back highlighted by clove, tobacco and a smokey char.
BPM’s Sip: First thing that strikes me is the bold, dry rye spice up front. I definitely get the baked apple pie flavors as well as various other baking spices, and a nice dose of vanilla and honey. Really great balance.
Finish: Lengthy and balanced, identical to the sip without the fruit. A few sips in, I had almost forgotten that I was sipping something over 130 proof. Extremely smooth and rich. A perfect easy sipping, high proof finish.
BPM’s Finish: Long, nice dry finish
Overall Grade: B+
It turns out that Brian enjoys his bottle of Blanton’s SFTB as much as I do. We both found the nose to be the highlight of the pour, and caught the campfire note. I found the sugars to be darker than Brian, but we both hit a great apple pie note and found a powerful rye presence. We found most of the same characteristics and came to the same conclusion while tasting the SFTB almost 1,800 miles apart, so I am comfortable giving the Blanton’s “Straight From the Barrel” a very high recommendation to anyone that has an opportunity to get a bottle.
The reason I have never purchased a bottle for myself is the same reason why the SFTB doesn’t land an A grade. All of the financial extras and added worry that comes with shipping from overseas makes this one a bit more trouble than if it were sold here domestically. Actually tasting it has made me more incined to buy a bottle the next time I have a chance, because if this were an $80 BTAC bottle from 2013, I would rate it right there with the Stagg. Even with quite a bit less age, the sugars are comparable, and as expected, the profile is more rye forward, which I love.
Drink this, not that: The two most similar, high proof, dark sugared bourbons out there would be the 2013 Stagg and a bottle of the Elijah Craig Barrel Proof. Of course, that doesn’t help much considering neither is on the shelf, but if given the chance to buy only one, I would have a real hard time picking between these three.