Blanton's Single Barrel
In 1949, a young war veteran named Elmer T. Lee, having just graduated from the University of Kentucky with a bachelor's degree in engineering, walked into the George T. Stagg Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky looking for a job. The distillery's president at the time, Colonel Albert Bacon Blanton, spoke briefly with Mr. Lee but turned him down ("Son, we're not hiring any hands today..."). ETL was determined, though, and he had a friend in plant superintendant Orville Schupp. He showed up for work on Monday anyway and was eventually hired on to the engineering department.
Col. Blanton, a leading pioneer in the development of the bourbon industry, began his own career working for George T. Stagg and stayed at his distillery for 55 years. He oversaw an expansion from 44 to 144 buildings in the early 20th century to include construction of a tin rickhouse known as "Warehouse H."
Col. Blanton was infamous for throwing parties and pulling samples from Warehouse H for special guests. Warehouse H, where Blanton's Single Barrel is aged today, was built shortly after the end of Prohibition. The Col.'s intent was to make a metal warehouse in order to age whiskey faster (which was suddenly in demand again following passage of the 21st Amendment). Warehouse H gets warmer during the summer days than traditional wooden warehouses and is also steam-heated during the winter, further aiding the bourbon's maturation in the wood.
Fast forward to 1983- the dark days of bourbon. Elmer T. Lee had advanced to become the master distiller at the George T. Stagg Distillery. ETL was in the 9th inning of his career when distillery owners Ferdie Falk and Bob Baranaskas asked him to develop the Blanton's brand as something special for the stronger Japanese whiskey market. ETL decided he would fill bottles with bourbon dumped from single barrels (no blending of barrels), and the single barrel genre was born. 35 years after being initially rejected by Col. Blanton, Elmer T. Lee created "Blanton's," the world's first commercially available single barrel bourbon. ETL retired in 1984.
As a side note: Elmer T. Lee was a bombardier on a B-29 Superfortress during WWII and flew missions over Japan. In his post-war life, he was instrumental in keeping the bourbon industry afloat by creating whiskey for the Japanese market.
To this day, despite the fact that the business was sold back to Sazerac, Japan's Takara Shuzo still owns the trademark...
Blanton's "The Original Single Barrel Whiskey"
Buffalo Trace Distillery
$59 at ABC in Salisbury, NC
Color: Beautiful, bright medium amber.
Nose: Chocolate, honey, burnt sugar, baking spices, toasted oak, ripe fruits.
Tasting Notes: Vanilla, smoky maple, brown sugar, oak, subtle floral notes, finishes a tad bitter. Drinks hotter [spicier] than a 93 proof.
Overall: B. With single barrel bourbons, some bottles will obviously be better than others. We've had bottles that don't live up to expectations (it's a $60 buy, after all) and other bottles that have been remarkably good.