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Single Barrel Bourbon Comparison: Blanton’s, Rock Hill Farm, and Kentucky Spirit

Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit Single Barrel Bourbon, 50.5% abv (101 Proof), $45-50
Background: Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit sits at the top of Wild Turkey Distillery’s (Lawrenceburg, KY) primary line of products. Not including some of their limited releases of course. The Wild Turkey hallmark is a spicy rye character that is quite prevalent (albeit in varying degrees) throughout the range. Jimmy Russell, a bourbon icon, and his son Eddie are the Master Distillers at Wild Turkey.
Color: Deep Amber
Nose: Crushed rock, leather, and dry oak at the front with dried banana, vanilla, herbs, and rye to follow. Maple syrup increasingly more prevalent with air time.
Flavor: This one is almost dry and crisp throughout the sip. It starts spicy with peppery heat and a rye-heavy punch. Hard caramel candy sweetness struggles through just gripping oak takes it to the finish.
Finish: Long and spicy with a bit of corn and toasted, dry oak.
Overall: The nose is fantastic, bringing some aromas that don’t present themselves very often in other bourbons. On the palate it leans heavily towards dry and spicy, so if you are a fan of this type of flavor profile, Kentucky Spirit will please you.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.6 (Very Good/Excellent)
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Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon, 46.5% abv (93 Proof), $45-50
Background: Produced by Buffalo Trace in Frankfort, KY, Blanton’s was the bourbon that started the single barrel craze in the early 1980’s. It’s disputed by some noted historians and industry figures as to whether it was the first Single Barrel, but nobody can dispute that it was the first to really achieve commercial success. Others took note and quickly followed. It’s named after Colonel Albert Bacon Blanton, a former George T. Stagg Distillery (now Buffalo Trace) president. His favorite bourbon came from Warehouse H, which is where Blanton’s barrels are selected today. We owe Elmer T. Lee for getting Blanton’s released. At his urging, the distillery agreed to release this bourbon to the public in 1984. It is made using Buffalo Trace’s mash bill #2.
Color: Medium Amber
Nose: Corn, apples and apricots, cinnamon, rye, and a little caramel sweetness adds weight.
Flavor: Corn, orchard fruits (apples, peaches), bracing rye spice, and the bitterness of charred wood.
Finish: Baking spices, fruit, maple syrup, and barrel yield a moderate length finish.
Overall: Blanton’s is a wonderful expression of a rye recipe bourbon full of grain and barrel aromas and flavors. It is also accessible and relatively easy drinking. My only complaint is Blanton’s flattens a bit on the palate. I would love to see this at barrel proof as Colonel Blanton used to sip it. Buffalo Trace, are you listening?
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.7 (Very Good/Excellent)
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Rock Hill Farm Single Barrel Bourbon, 50% abv (100 Proof), $45-50
Background: Rock Hill Farm is a Single Barrel bourbon made by Buffalo Trace in Frankfort, KY. Like Blanton’s, Rock Hill Farm is made using Buffalo Trace’s mash bill #2.
Color: Deep Golden/Amber
Nose: Corn, honey, apple cider, a sprinkle of rye, mint, and wet oak. What a fantastic nose this is, and with fruit and corn prevailing and enough oak and spice character to keep it lively.
Flavor: Again we have corn right from the fore, loads of honey, rye, peppery bite, burned sugar, maple, and again that apple note.
Finish: Moderate length -fruity with caramel and peppery spice.
Overall: Rock Hill Farm is a tremendous bourbon that really doesn’t get its due. It has depth and layers of flavor that Blanton’s didn’t quite measure up to. More than anything I enjoyed the balance of grain and fruit that shines through.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.0 (Outstanding/Superb)

18 Comments

  1. Joe Serapilio says:

    Jason,Great review.I agree totally with your rating on these three.There’s definetly more complexity&balance to the Rock Hill.I’d love to see Blanton’s at a higher proof also.Barrel proof being sent over sea’s is our loss indeed.Kentucky Spirit not far behind.All three are just excellant.Joe

  2. Brandon says:

    Interesting review. Blanton’s was the bourbon that started it all for me. I had obviously tried other bourbons, but Blanton’s was the first bourbon that clearly exhibited the complexity and sophistication of well-crafted bourbons for me. Looking back, I can now see that Blanton’s is one of the better offerings for introducing a newcomer to bourbon. It’s very accessible, as compared to Booker’s or Stagg or even Rock Hill.

    Obviously once one’s palate refines and becomes more experienced, you can begin to appreciate some of the more powerful and complex offerings. While Blanton’s is still an excellent whiskey, I tend to prefer whiskey’s that bring more to the table. A barrel proof bottling would certainly be intriguing.

    Looking forward to your comparison review of all 1,396 variants of the Buffalo Trace Single Oak Project before it’s released to all of us regular bourbon lovers!

  3. Joe, thanks for the comment. I’m just baffled that we can’t get this barrel proof Blanton’s. I think it would be a sure fire winner at barrel proof – it needs more punch on the palate and this could be just the ticket. And I think people would pay what they needed to make it worth it. Oh well. And yes, all 3 are very good.

    Brandon, as you are the man that introduced me to Blanton’s many many years ago, I too agree that it’s a fine intro to single barrel bourbons. Accessible as you mention, and a very pure bourbon drinking experience to boot. As for the Single Oak Project, I am anxious to try them. Being a regular bourbon lover like you, I think I’ll be waiting in line like everyone else. Sku over at recenteats.blogspot.com had a very nice summation on this project. The marketing was a bit weird to me (that whole Perfect bourbon stuff), but now that we can see the full magnitude of this thing – it’s absolutley not a money making venture for Buffalo Trace. They seem to genuinely want to explore all the variables they can to make perhaps the closest thing to perfection that they can make. Now for me there’s a fatal flaw here that the name gives away. If they go through all of this and find maybe 2-3 clear winners of the bunch, then perhaps they can duplicate it. HOWEVER, they used single trees to make the barrels. So how do they plan on executing that going forward? It seems to me like this whole char level, mash bill, entry proof, etc is brilliant. But the whole tree thing, while I’m sure it makes a difference, doesn’t seem to be something that is realistic to take to production. In batching trees, like batching barrels of bourbon, you are helping with barrel consistency. So anyways, I think this will be just a really cool project in the end. Not sure it will yield what they are going after. Which as I mentioned before – that’s just fine with me. The quest for perfection is far to fun to be ruined by actually finding it.

  4. Lazer says:

    Great review, keep up the good work! How much do you think the barrel proof Blanton’s will cost, $100 or $200?

    Anyway, when are you getting around to reviewing my personal favorite Parker’s HC?

    Thanks again for all the bourbon TV!

  5. Steve says:

    Jason another nice series of reviews thanks. How would you compare rock hill farms with Elmer t Lee? I love ETL and hear RHF is close in profile to it just alot more expensive your thoughts?

  6. Steve, thanks for the comment and question. RHF is very good stuff, but since you asked, I prefer Elmer T. Lee. Both come from the same mash bill #2 at Buffalo Trace. Elmer’s a bit more spiced and richer to me so I give it a slight edge.

  7. Steve I should also add, and I’m sure you know, these are all Single Barrel products so there are definitely differences barrel to barrel. For the most part the Master Distillers and folks that select barrels are looking for the right flavor profile, but there will be differences for sure.

  8. Vince Carida says:

    Jason, Well done! I think all are excellent, I would probably rank them as 1) RHF, 2) WTKS 3) Blantons. I totally agree about Blantons at barrel strength, that would move it to number 1 I am sure

  9. Texas says:

    Jason I expected you to like WTKS a bit better, but I guess in reality it is just hard to improve on good ‘ol WT 101.

    To me, Blantons at $45+ is overpriced for it’s age and proof…I agree let’s see it at 100 proof.

  10. Texas, Kentucky Spirit wowed me on the nose, and let me down just a little on the sip or I think it would have been a good couple of notches higher.

    Vince and Texas, maybe with a little urging of Buffalo Trace we can get a barrel proof (or close) Blanton’s. It’s kind of crazy to me they haven’t done that yet.

  11. sku says:

    If Blanton’s wasn’t the first single barrel, then what was?

  12. Sku: Chris Morris of Brown-Forman says that BF records show they sold a single barrel bourbon of Old Forester called President’s Choice from the 1930-lat 60′s. The Bourbon Review magazine also talks about this in article about Single Barrels, and Blanton’s in particular, citing that single barrel bourbons were quite common in the 19th century. Thus, there wasn’t a reason to market them as such. But certainly, Blanton’s was the first commercially successful bourbon of the last 30-40 years.

  13. Some of my favorite bourbons on review in this excellent post, Jason. Rock Hill Farms is a complex and delicious treat. Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit is one of my all time favorites. I may prefer more rye in the mashbill. I find Kentucky Spirit to have a sweet and luscious aroma and flavor profile up front and a huge finish that goes on and on with drying wood tannins and layers of unfolding flavor. Thanks for putting this winners head to head!

  14. lastcoyote says:

    wow. just got myself some blanton’s gold (103 proof) here in the UK and it’s just gorgeous. think buttery fudge, sticky pecan pie on the nose and on the taste/finish. this one really develops too after leaving for 15-20 mins after pouring. opens up lovely. couldn’t stop nosing it! i’d imagine that extra proof really lifts it above the ‘original’ version. i’ve not tried that version though so can’t compare.

    anyone else tried the gold edition of blanton’s?

  15. James says:

    There’s a clear relationship between RHF and ETL. Which I prefer may depend on which I’m drinking or how much I feel like paying; I love them both. I think the RHF is a little thinner, a little more spicy, and has a stronger vanilla note than the ETL. ETL is a touch more lush, and the predominant flavor I get is maple syrup/sweet cinnamon. Both are great.

  16. Chris Falk says:

    My Father Ferdie A. Falk actually purchased the Ancient Age Distillery from Schenley in 1982. He created Age International and was very hands on with the distillery employees especially with Elmer T. Lee who was our master distiller until the company was sold in 1992. At the time of introducing Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon in 1984, Rock Hill Farms and Elmer T. Lee bourbon was also introduced to the US and Asian markets. My father was an icon in the liquor industry as he was instrumental in the development of Chivas Regal, Mateus Rose, Moosehead Beer and many more products. His true passion was the bourbon category and during his years as owner of the Ancient Age Distillery he was loved and well respected by the staff at the Frankfort distillery and always had an open door policy to all worked for him.

  17. Garret says:

    I found the Kentucky Spirit to be my favorite so far, the bottle i got has a buttery feel to it with nice dryness to it. The blantons was not very impressive to me, but here is to hoping rockhill farms will be once i try it.

  18. Robert t bonafide says:

    I have been drinking Blanton for many years, and have enjoyed it every time, ( smooth and warm),to the exclusion of any other hard liquor. Recently I purchased a bottle, and it is harsh. Do palates change, or is it that until now, all bottles were gifts?
    Would appreciate your comments.

    Thanks.

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