In 1984, the world’s first single barrel bourbon to be marketed commercially was released under the label, “Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon.” Named in honor of Col. Albert B. Blanton, it seemed a fitting tribute to a man who spent a lifetime preserving the tradition of handcrafted bourbon.
For more than 55 years, Col. Blanton devoted his career to producing fine whiskey and preserving and enhancing the heritage of what today is known as Buffalo Trace Distillery. Born and raised on a nearby farm, Col. Blanton began working at the distillery in 1897 as an office boy when he was only 16. Over the next few years he worked in every department, and before he was 20, Col. Blanton was appointed superintendent of the distillery, its warehouse, and bottling shop. By 1921, he was president of the whiskey plant.
Col. Blanton’s hands-on experience in all aspects of the distillery proved to be invaluable as he led the company through some of the most trying times of the 20th century. Under Col. Blanton’s guidance, the distillery was one of only four U.S. distilleries (and the only one in Kentucky) to continue making whiskey during Prohibition (1920-1933) with a special government permit. With his leadership, the distillery survived the lean times of the Depression. To compound those economic pressures, the rising waters of the Kentucky River engulfed the distillery during the Great Flood of 1937. Miraculously, after the floodwaters receded, Col. Blanton restored the distillery to normal operations within 24 hours. It was also Col. Blanton's leadership that kept the distillery operating during World War II when it was required to suspend whiskey making and exclusively produce straight alcohol for military purposes.
Undaunted, Col. Blanton emerged from these trials and challenges — distillery in tact and operating — and proceeded to develop world-class bourbons whose labels were called for around the world, including “Old Quaker,” “Cream of Kentucky,” and “Buffalo Springs.” Col. Blanton was a bourbon aristocrat in the mold of E.H. Taylor and the great whiskey men of the 1800s. Like Taylor, he was wedded to the production of straight Kentucky bourbon and believed blends to be inferior. A bourbon traditionalist at heart, he occasionally produced and bottled a single barrel bourbon, much the same way as Kentucky’s earliest bourbon pioneers. Col. Blanton held these special bottles in reserve for himself and for sharing with a few select friends.
In 1959, Col. Blanton passed away, having spent more than half a century and most of his life doing what he loved best, at a place he loved the most. From office boy to company president, from bourbon baron to proud preserver of heritage, Col. Blanton played an invaluable role in perpetuating and enhancing one of Kentucky’s finest traditions as well as one of its most historic landmarks.