Book Review: Warehouse H: The Story of Blanton’s Bourbon

Book Review: Warehouse H: The Story of Blanton’s Bourbon

Blanton’s has reached such a point of saturation in the collective consciousness of bourbon folk that it’s lost all meaning. Both the name and the object. Is it a meme, is it collectible, is it overhyped… is it even any good? The answers are: Yes!

Luckily, Dominic Guglielmi’s Warehouse H, based on his website of the same name, goes a long way toward imbuing the brand with a sense of identity. While it does touch upon the polarization of Blanton’s, it doesn’t mire itself in the superficial cruft incessantly debated over social media. The book is a concise and celebratory account of the brand’s past and present without feeling hagiographic.

As Guglielmi notes, he has been called “the ultimate tater.” He states in his introduction, he “wear[s] that badge with honor.” And so he approaches the topic as a collector first and foremost. There are no tasting notes to be found and, in fact, his introduction includes a healthy dose of skepticism toward flowery reviews, a skepticism I won’t take personally, Dom. Rather, the book is almost completely focused on two areas: the history of Blanton’s and the wide and weird world of higher-end Blanton’s collecting.

No doubt the stories of Colonels Albert B. Blanton and Elmer T. Lee are familiar to those that live and breathe bourbon and its history. Guglielmi’s writing of each man and their involvement in what eventually became known as the Buffalo Trace Distillery is far from exhaustive, but it’s breezy and legible. So much of their personal histories as they relate to the creation of Blanton’s or even the distillery itself are hazy at best, and Guglielmi does well to steer clear of mythos. Rather, where things get interesting and where I’d argue the heart of the book resides is in two men that were previously unknown to me: Ferdie Falk and Robert Baranaskas.

The duo, both alcohol industry executives, purchased what was then the Ancient Age Distillery in 1982 and with it, plant manager Elmer T. Lee. As the story goes, they tasked Lee with developing what was effectively a Maker’s Mark competitor – “a unique bourbon of exceptional quality that would command a… high price,” as Guglielmi tells it. While the story of Lee choosing “center cut honey barrels” to create the first “mass market” single barrel bourbon is well-trodden, the details of bringing the product to bear are less so: the choice of the bottle, the wax, the iconic stopper, the aggro marketing and subsequently the rivalry with Maker’s Mark’s Samuels family. It’s genuinely fascinating, personal, and surprisingly funny stuff.

On the flipside, Guglielmi focuses on the world of Blanton’s collecting, and this is where the book gets definitive. Having accumulated one of the world’s more-complete collections of Blanton’s varieties during the COVID-19 pandemic, he’s perhaps the authority on Blanton’s special releases, so much so that it’s said Buffalo Trace will refer inquiries about the product they can’t answer to Guglielmi. The latter half of the book is divided into sections based on “type” of release and features photos complete with charts listing information such as the dump date, a bottle’s intended market, abv, etc. Never would I have expected there to exist a 141.9 proof Japan-only barrel pick – and so my “unicorn” list is irreparably altered.

Nick Fancher, a photographer based in Columbus, Ohio, and L.A., provides the glamor shots of bottles ranging from the exquisitely adorned releases from Paris-based whiskey chain La Maison du Whisky to the absurd 1991 Sterling Silver bottling which Ferdie Falk gave to Bill Samuels, Jr. of Maker’s Mark following a 1992 tasting competition. Fancher’s eye for product shots helps elevate the book from enthusiast-lite to coffee table essential, lending tangibility to the geeky marginalia.

So much like Blanton’s itself, Warehouse H is an amalgam of distinctly American preoccupations – it’s consumeristic, nostalgic, aspirational but, above all, the product of a lot of earnest and hard work. Deliberate or not it succeeds in not only imbuing the brand with a sense of purpose but a picture of a forward-thinking identity that neither Falk or Baranaskas got to see the culmination of. One can only hope they’d be proud of the dignity with which their most ambitious project was portrayed here.

A / $30 [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Warehouse H: The Story of Blanton's Bourbon

$30
9.5

Rating

9.5/10

Jonathan is a freelance spirits writer whose current and forever preoccupations include good pizza, hazmat bourbon, and the stone cold TurboGrafx-16 classic, Devil's Crush.

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