By nearly every measure, Buffalo Trace Distillery's Blanton's Bourbon is one of the most sought-after American whiskeys in the world. There are hundreds of Facebook groups dedicated to finding bottles at retail, showing off completed sets of horse stoppers or hunting down bottles with specific dates scrawled on the label to commemorate life events. By the numbers, it's among the most-searched whiskeys on Google, and the most-searched whiskey on spirit pricing site Wine-Searcher multiple years running. It's also the poster child of whiskey price rising across the U.S. Nobody can find it, except Dominic Guglielmi.
"I don't even drink it or like it for the flavor. It's all about the collectability. I see people post all over the place about waiting in line all day and missing out on a bottle. If you want it, you just gotta know where to look," Guglielmi tells me over the phone.
Based in Ohio, Guglielmi collects ultra-rare, one-off Blanton's expressions, many of which were never sold to the public in the first place: Bottles commemorating a small town's bicentennial, bottles celebrating the life of Japanese Elvis, bottles given as gifts to Japanese liquor retailers and more. He's been called the "Ultimate Blanton's Tater" — watch the video for tasting notes on some extremely rare Blanton's — and has built a catalog of rare Blanton's on his website, Warehouse H. He estimates his collection of Blanton's is worth somewhere between $75,000 and $100,000. Here's how one of the world's most successful Blanton's collectors pulls the bottles you didn't even know existed.
Q: Why Blanton's? What did you start with?
I'm all in on Blanton's. I may have two other bourbons in my house at most; I'm not a well-rounded bourbon collector. My boss suggested it to me, gave it to me as a gift and I liked the horse toppers and collecting the letters like most people.
That brought me to the internet and Googling it. When I stumbled into photos of the other varieties, and some of the Japanese releases, it was over. I travel to Japan for work so I thought I'd bring some home. I found the standard lineup — the Red, Gold and Black at the time — and I was bringing them back in huge quantities. I think one time I brought back 28 bottles in one go.
At that point, I didn't think I could own them all so I thought I could document them. Eventually I started hunting them down like Pokémon.
Q: How long have you been collecting Blanton's?
It's been about two years with the past year-and-a-half going full steam ahead, all-in. The pandemic definitely accelerated it. I've gone in pretty quick, driven mostly by my OCD and desire to get as many as I can. I see something go for auction in Europe and I think "I have to get it before it goes away."
I don't think of it as an investment, but these bottles do hold their value. I'm not seeing it as a growth opportunity, but it could be worse. Two years ago I was asking anyone would listen about this stuff; now they're asking me questions about valuation and rarity and what company makes the stoppers.
If you looked at my site and said I want all these bottles. I would think it would be $75,000 to $100,000. I've sunk something like $50,000 into it so far.
Q: How many bottles of Blanton's do you own, roughly?
I keep pretty detailed records so I can understand my investment and what I have and need. I probably have, out of collectable-only bottles, about 42. Those aren't for drinking. At any given time I've got some dusties and others open as well.
Q: What's the most valuable or rarest bottle you own?
The first thing you should know is it's not like Pappy, where bottles comes out once every year. Most of these bottles came out of one or two barrels in one place 10 or 20 years ago; it's a different kind of thing.
Most Blanton's collectors would call my Sterling Silver the unicorn. A lot of people call it the 'Starling' because the name tag was printed with a misspelling of 'sterling' on it, but the documentation that comes with the bottle calls it the 'Sterling.' The story is that there's fewer than 100 bottles ever in existence, but there's not much in the way of verifiable proof of that.
But the true unicorn is the 2012 Le Maison Du Whisky release. They only made one barrel's worth of bottles in those days, so they're far more rare. The bar didn't even hang onto one. They've got most of the old ones in there, but not the old one.
The third bottle is the Tazuka 100 year anniversary. There are only seven bottles we know of in the collecting community, and I've got two of them.
The 2007 LMDW with the handwritten label was called the Private Stock, that one is very rare as well.
Q: What's the most valuable or rarest bottles you don't own but are hunting down?
There's five LMDWs I need. The '98 and '99 — Paris By Day & Paris By Night — as well as some others. There's something called the Frankfurt 200th Anniversary bottle, and it's supposed to be the first special bottling of Blanton's ever, done in celebration of Frankfurt, Kentucky's bicentennial. It has a unique topper and doesn't even say Blanton's on the label.
There's one that was sold or given — I don't know the true story — to readers of a German magazine I can't pronounce well (Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin). It's hard to find, for sure. We just call it the German Bottle.
There's also the My Only Blanton's bottle. In 2006, Takara released a private barrel program. You could buy a barrel yourself or you could buy an allotment of a barrel with a group of 20 people. Both of those labels are extremely unique. The shared offering is actually more rare now. I only know of one bottle.
Q: What's the best Blanton's you've ever drank?
The 2019 Polish M&P Festival release was exceptional. It was amazing. Everyone I've talked to that's tried it agreed it's one of the best Blanton's ever.
The 1992 Takara Red is highly coveted as well. It's the choice vintage I think. It's great.
Q: Are you the most prolific Blanton's collector out there?
Not necessarily, but I am probably the merch guy. There are "box guys" who obsess and collect the packaging exclusively. There are of course bottle guys who have basically every bottle. I'm a merch guy. Again, with the Japanese tie-in, a significant amount of the marketing they've done for Blanton's has been in the Japanese market. I've got all sorts of chotzkies; watches, signs, mirrors, keychains, Zippo lighters and all sorts of other stuff. In these groups I'm in if someone is going to sell something they immediately tag me because they know they can empty my pockets for it. I paid $1,000 for a Blanton's watch. It's not Cracker-Jack cereal box quality, but it's definitely not a Rolex. It's ridiculous but I had to have it; I'd never seen it before.
All in all, though, there are probably four or five 'uber' collectors that I’m aware of. My collection has holes and several others have more depth, but they are missing the super-rare ones that I have, which is what elevates me into one of the top five or so collectors. I’m aware of one person who has 99 percent of the bottles I track on my website. She is the ultimate collector!