Why Blanton's Bourbon Was A Hit In Japan Before The US

Today, Blanton's bourbon is one of the most sought-after bourbons in the US, and can be incredibly difficult to find. It's so in demand that a government raid recently discovered counterfeit bottles of Blanton's. First introduced by Buffalo Trace Distillery in 1984, Blanton's bourbon is credited as being the first single-barrel bourbon, which means (much as the name suggests) that the bourbon comes from one individual barrel, in contrast to the much more common standard barrel and small-batch bourbons, which are both blends of whiskies from a variety of different barrels.

For collectors and fans willing to pay around $160 a bottle retail (including one collector who has amassed a collection worth $100,000), it may be hard to believe that Blanton's was not an immediate hit in the US when it was first introduced — after all, the US is the home of bourbon (with bourbon being a distinctly American spirit that's protected by a Senate resolution no less). On the other side of the world in Japan, however, it was a totally different story, which actually makes a lot of sense when you consider that Blanton's bourbon was originally made for the Japanese market.

Blanton's was initially made for Japan

As Vine Pair recounts, Blanton's Single Barrel Bourbon was created by Ferdie Falk and Bob Baranaskas, two enterprising and marketing savvy liquor executives, who created the bourbon at the request of their Japanese clients. They tasked Elmer T. Lee with the creation of the unique bourbon, which was released in 1984 for a mere $24. At that time, the bourbon market in the US was in a decline, and had been since the 1970s, due to both overproduction and the decreasing quality of bourbon. In addition, alcohol tastes were changing and American youth were flocking to liquor like vodka and tequila, rather than the more traditional whiskies that their parents drank, notes Vine Pair.

At the same time in Japan, a similar changing taste of the younger generation was helping to save the bourbon industry. Much as American youth were rejecting the drinks of their parents, Japanese youth were also looking for something different — in their case, something that wasn't the Scotch that their parents preferred, as whiskey guru and author Chuck Cowdery explained to Vine Pair. American products in general were also popular in Japan at the time. Whatever the reason, the popularity of Blanton's in Japan eventually carried back over to the US, fueling the rise of premium bourbon.