Meet Albert B. Blanton, The Name Behind Blanton’s Bourbon

American whiskey is filled with legendary names like Pappy Van Winkle, Jack Daniel, and Elijah Craig, to name a few. Behind each name is a person or family who made a mark on the spirits industry. Since its debut in 1984, Blanton’s has been one of the most sought after bourbons on the market and helped ignite the single barrel craze. It’s named after Albert B. Blanton, whose career path seemed pre-ordained given the circumstances of his birth.

Albert Blanton

Who Was Albert B. Blanton?

Albert Bacon Blanton was born in Frankfort, Kentucky, on February 28, 1881. He grew up on a farm in Frankfort adjacent to the Buffalo Trace Distillery, the oldest continually operating distillery in the United States. Distilling on the site dates back to the 1700s. At the time of Blanton's birth, it was known as the O.F.C. Distillery, named by Colonel Edmund Haynes Taylor, Jr., who in 1978, sold it to George T. Stagg. As a boy, Albert could have smelled the yeast and barley in the wind.

Buffalo Trace Distillery

Albert began working at the distillery at the age of 16. He started out as an office boy and worked his way up the ranks, logging time in nearly every department. In 1904, the same year the distillery was renamed the George T. Stagg Distillery, Blanton was named superintendent. Eight years later, he became the plant manager. By the age of 40, he was president of the company.

Blanton’s Innovations and Contributions

Now known by the honorific title “Colonel,” bestowed on him by the Commonwealth of Kentucky, Blanton took over the distillery at the start of Prohibition. With the production, sales and use of alcohol banned in the United States, most distilleries went out of business. Under Blanton’s stewardship, the distillery was able to stay afloat, thanks in part to a rare federal license to produce whiskey for medicinal purposes.

Prohibition was repealed in 1933 but celebrations were short-lived because the country was grappling with the Great Depression. Fortunately, Col. Blanton’s business acumen helped steer the distillery through these uncertain economic times. In 1937, massive storms inundated Kentucky’s waterways. The distillery was flooded and machinery submerged under water. Blanton is credited with working tirelessly to make sure that within a couple days production was once again in full swing.

Albert Blanton inspecting bourbon barrels

During World War II, Colonel Albert B. Blanton managed to expand and diversify his distillery despite federal requests to halt whiskey production for the war effort. His keen foresight contributed significantly to the development of the distillery's infrastructure with various new building projects. Retiring in 1943 and serving as an advisor until his death in 1959, Blanton left an enduring legacy in the bourbon industry.

The Birth of Blanton's Bourbon

In 1984, under the guidance of Master Distiller Elmer T. Lee, Blanton's Single Barrel Bourbon was introduced to the world. This was a groundbreaking concept at the time, with most bourbons being blended from multiple barrels to achieve uniformity. Blanton's, on the other hand, showcased the unique flavors and characteristics that could only be found in a one-of-a-kind carefully selected barrel.

According to the Blanton's website, Lee got the idea for the new single barrel whiskey from its namesake. Even in his retirement, Blanton was a fixture on the distillery grounds. Lee began working there in 1949 and remembered the Colonel selecting specific barrels from a particular part of Warehouse H. Blanton’s barrel picks would then be bottled and gifted to friends, family and special guests, including politicians and celebrities.

What Sets Blanton's Bourbon Apart?

Blanton's bourbon is distinguished by more than its association with Albert B. Blanton and its reputation as an easy drinker. It's packaging is also iconic. The globe-shaped bottle is unique, and each one is adorned with a stopper depicting a racehorse and jockey; a nod to Kentucky’s horse racing traditions. There are eight different stoppers in the collection. The position of the horse and jockey is different from one to the next, and each has a tiny letter on it. As a collection, the stoppers spell “Blanton’s” (B-L-A-N-T-O-N-S).

Blanton's bourbon

The bourbon itself uses Buffalo Trace’s Mash Bill #2. The exact recipe isn't disclosed, but it's often referred to as a high-rye mash bill, with at least 10% to 15% containing rye. It's believed to be the same mash bill used in Elmer T. Lee and Ancient Age bourbons.

Col. Blanton's Legacy

Lee’s original intention was to create a bourbon that would be taken seriously, in league with single malt Scotches and cognacs. He succeeded on all counts. Blanton’s soon earned a reputation as a luxury item, the kind of whiskey you bought a business associate as a special thank-you gift, or drank to show you had an appreciation for the finer things in life.

Today, Blanton's remains highly sought after by whiskey enthusiasts worldwide. Its limited availability and cult-like following are a testament to the enduring legacy of Albert B. Blanton and the uncompromising standards set forth by Buffalo Trace Distillery.

Statue of Albert Blanton

Photographs courtesy of Blanton's Bourbon and Buffalo Trace.

There's more...

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published