Elmer T. Lee Bourbon

Elmer T. Lee was one of the most well-known Master Distillers of Buffalo Trace, retiring in 1985 after 36 years. One of his main claims-to-fame was the introduction of mass-produced single barrel bourbons, most especially the Blanton’s brand in 1984. Eventually, Buffalo Trace decide to honour his legacy by producing a single barrel bourbon in his name (just as he had chosen to name the distillery’s first single barrel product after one of their early leaders, Albert B. Blanton).

Just like Blanton’s, Buffalo Trace uses their mashbill #2 for this single barrel bourbon, which is a high rye bourbon (~12-15% rye, at least 51% corn, and some malted barley). This sour mash bourbon is aged in charred virgin American oak barrels. No age statement on the bottle any more, but this used to have 12-year statement in older days. Bottled at 45% ABV. In comparison, regular Blanton’s single barrel is 46.5% ABV, Blanton’s Special Reserve (green label) is 40% ABV, Blanton’s Gold is 51.5% ABV, and Blanton’s Straight from the Barrel is true cask-strength.

While this was always a popular bourbon for Buffalo Trace, it has become relatively unobtainable (at least at MSRP prices). The LCBO here in Ontario, Canada puts it into its allocation process any time it is available (typically once a year). A relative of mine was lucky enough to pick one up in their lottery last year, for $60 CAD (which is equivalent to the $40 USD list price). On secondary markets, this goes for >$100 USD (sometimes considerably more). The issue seems to be mainly relative scarcity of release, as it isn’t that different from regular Blanton’s single barrel (although presumably, they try to keep a certain consistency in the barrels they pull for the Elmer T Lee brand).

Here is how it compares to other Buffalo Trace bourbon products in my Meta-Critic Database:

Blanton’s Gold Kentucky Straight Bourbon: 8.72 ± 0.37 on 21 reviews ($$$$)
Blanton’s Original Bourbon Single Barrel: 8.65 ± 0.29 on 27 reviews ($$$)
Blanton’s Special Reserve Single Barrel (Green label): 8.31 ± 0.35 on 8 reviews ($$)
Blanton’s Straight from the Barrel Bourbon: 8.97 ± 0.22 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Buffalo Trace Bourbon: 8.55 ± 0.38 on 28 reviews ($$)
Eagle Rare 10yo: 8.64 ± 0.28 on 29 reviews ($$)
Eagle Rare 17yo: 8.86 ± 0.29 on 17 reviews ($$$$$+)
Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel Bourbon: 8.75 ± 0.35 on 20 reviews ($$$)
George T Stagg: 9.20 ± 0.25 on 30 reviews ($$$$$+)
Stagg Jr (all batches): 8.69 ± 0.41 on 25 reviews ($$$$)
Stagg Jr (batches 1-2): 8.38 ± 0.42 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Stagg Jr (batches 3+): 8.99 ± 0.22 on 17 reviews ($$$$)

And now what I find in the glass:

Nose: Honey and light caramel. Simple sweetness. Vanilla. Graham crackers (definitely somewhat “biscuity”). Dry spice. Dark fruits, plums. Light pepper. A nice nose, not overly oaky. No off notes. Smells like a dessert bourbon.

Palate: Very sweet initially, with all that honey. Corn syrup. Plums and peaches. Nutmeg, but not cinnamon or cloves. A bit of pepper. Paper, pencil shavings. No burn, very light and syrupy mouthfeel. Surprisingly light tasting – again, consistent with the nose. Seems like something you would pour over ice cream.

Finish: Some oaky bitterness shows up now, with dry paper notes. Touch of tobacco. Dry, and earthy.

Lighter than I expected, very easy to drink. Sweet overall, with wood influence only showing up at the end. This is not an in-your-face bourbon – it is a very balanced product, certainly an easy sipper. A pity it is so unobtainable now.

Among reviewers, the highest score I’ve seen comes from Ralfy. Jordan of Breaking Bourbon, MajorHop of Reddit (indeed, most reviewers there), and Jason of In Search of Elegance and are all very positive. Moderately positive are Jim Murray and John of Whisky Advocate (on average, across various bottlings). More middle-of-the-road reviews comes from Matt of Diving for Pearls, Kurt of Whiskey Reviewer, washeewashee of reddit and Josh the Whiskey Jug. Lower scores (but still positive comments) come My Annoying Opinions and TOModera of reddit.

 

3 comments

  • I’ve only found one bottle in the past 5 years, and that was $99. I remember when it was readily available for $40, and it was so good.

    How do you enter the lottery?

    • In Ontario, it is run by the LCBO Vintages site. Lotteries happen irregularly, you get notified if you are on their mailing list. Has to be picked up in store by the actual person who won (legal age, with credit card and govt ID).

  • Peter Aldhelm-White

    Was amazed that this bottle was allocated for LCBO lottery as there were over 700 bottles over 2 lotteries. Needless to say I was able to get 4 through myself, family and friends. These make excellent trade bottles to my friends across the border in Western NY. The last one netted me a Russell’s Reserve SiB store pick and a Rendezvous Rye Barrel select finished in Hungarian cask. Both of these were much better than the mediocre Blanton’s. Now if the LCBO would get Rock Hill Farm back then we are talking.

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