Buffalo Trace Distillery has a rich history and enviable product line. It currently produces many of the most sought after whiskies on the market, including the Van Winkle line and the bottles comprising the Antique Collection. But other bottles, such as Elmer T. Lee and Blanton’s Single Barrel, are nearly as elusive and revered for whiskey connoisseurs.
Several friends and I recently tasted an abbreviated lineup of the bottles comprising mash bill #2 – Hancock’s President’s Reserve, Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel, Blanton’s Single Barrel, Rock Hill Farms, and Blanton’s Straight from the Barrel. Each contain the same mash bill, are non-age stated, and single barrel releases.
[For our final conclusions and links to the other Buffalo Trace Mash Bill #2 reviews, click here.]
First, some context. Despite its release of close to 40 different bottles, under almost a dozen distinct brands, any whiskey Buffalo Trace distills generally falls into just one of four categories: 1) rye mash; 2) wheated mash; 3) mash bill #1; and 4) mash bill #2. The following graph (found here) depicts a visual breakdown of the various bottles/brands within these three categories:
Mash bill #2 is distinguishable from Buffalo Trace’s other products because of the higher rye content in the mash. Though Buffalo Trace does not disclose any of their mash bill percentages, it is estimated that mash bill #2 is between 10-15% rye, about 5% malted barley, and the remainder corn. This results in a spicier palate and finish as compared to mash bill #1, which is known for its sweet and vanilla profile.
Also unique to mash bill #2 is its proprietary information. The truth is, Buffalo Trace Distillery’s parent company, the Sazerac Company, does not own the brands produced by mash bill #2. Neither does the Sazerac Company own the marketing and distribution rights. As a result, some of the Blanton’s brands are distributed exclusively outside of the United States. No U.S. retailer can carry or sell Blanton’s Special Reserve, Blanton’s Gold, or Blanton’s Straight from the Barrel. The only Blanton’s brand distributed in the U.S. is the original single barrel offering.
Before discussing each of the bottles we tried, there are some absences from the mash bill #2 family. The first is Ancient Age, an 80-proof 36-month old bourbon that is good for cocktails, but does not offer much on its own. Also absent is the 2014 limited release Elmer T. Lee Commemorative. Finally, Blanton’s Special Reserve and Blanton’s Gold, only available outside the U.S., did not join the party.
We tasted the bottles on hand in ascending order of proof:
Hancock’s President’s Reserve (88.9 proof)
Nose: sweet, citrus, green apple, almond.
Palate: smooth and sweet, vanilla, citrus, little oak.
Finish: medium, lingering sweetness and vanilla.
For those initially venturing into bourbon, this is a great introductory bottle. There is nothing offensive or harsh about it, yet it brings enough pleasant flavors to maintain the drinker’s interest. This, unfortunately, is only regionally available and not available in Wichita. A friend of mine got his bottle from Florida. Its MSRP is around $33.
Elmer T. Lee (90 proof)
Nose: caramel, brown sugar, fruit, oak.
Palate: a fine balance of flavors mirroring the nose. It has a delicate richness and enhanced mouth feel as compared to the Hancock’s.
Finish: medium long, a bit dry, with more brown sugar, butter, and oak.
The flavors throughout are balanced and delicate, but when preceded by the Hancock’s, it does seem enhanced. Though available in Wichita, this bottle does not sit on the shelf very long – if it makes it there at all. MSRP is around $35, but is often priced much higher.
Blanton’s Single Barrel (93 proof)
Nose: More rye spice than the Hancock’s and Elmer, butterscotch, caramel, oak
Palate: peppery rye spice and oak, with light caramel and toffee
Finish: medium long, cinnamon, oak
The bottle alone, bearing the likeness of a holy hand grenade, is a great addition to any collection. As compared to the preceding two, the higher rye mash bill is more obvious here. Similar to the Elmer T. Lee, it achieves a nice balance of flavors. This is more available in Wichita than the Elmer T. Lee, but typically priced between $55 – $65.
Rock Hill Farms (100 proof)
Nose: cinnamon, burnt sugar, oak
Palate: rich and decadent, syrup and cinnamon with a little oak
Finish: long rye spice with honey, dark fruit, and oak.
It may just be the bump in proof, but this seemed like a more mature and enhanced version of Blanton’s. Though it cannot be verified, my guess would be that it is aged a bit longer, too. The oak is more present, but again, no particular flavor dominates the others. This is a fantastic pour. I was quite surprised when I saw this on the shelf in town for $60. If I see it again, I won’t hesitate to pick it up.
Blanton’s Straight from the Barrel (132.4 proof)
Nose: alcohol, raisins, burnt sugar
Palate: rich and oily mouthfeel that instantly coats your entire mouth, heat at the front but quickly subsides, raisins, caramel, oak, dark fruit
Finish: long, warm, raisins, some bitter oak, dark fruit
A good friend of mine picked this up in Japan for just $60. Not only that, but as the label shows, this was bottled in 2002. I don’t know how it managed to sit on a shelf for nearly 15 years, but I’d be surprised if I ever found another Blanton’s, of any variety, this old. I’d be interested to see whether there is any noticeable differences between this and more current bottles due to the age. This particular bottle is wonderful – rich, oily, and strong. So many more flavors present at this proof that are absent from the Blanton’s Single Barrel.
Stephen is a regular writer at FlightClubICT.com