The flavor profile is fun and polished, and lacks any detracting "off" notes.
The mouthfeel is very thin, the finish is short, and the flavors as a whole lack boldness and depth.
Elmer T. Lee is one of the great, industry-changing figures of bourbon history. Elmer got his foot into the bourbon door post-World War II, when he was hired as a maintenance technician at the George T. Stagg Distillery (known today as Buffalo Trace). Elmer quickly rose in rank at the distillery, and before long he had attained the title of Master Distiller. One of his greatest legacies in bourbon is his creation of the first commercially sold single barrel bourbon, which he named after the distillery president who had hired him, Col. Albert Blanton. Lee retired in 1985, and the distillery decided to honor him shortly after with another single barrel bourbon release carrying his name and image. Lee continued to serve as an ambassador for Buffalo Trace and Master Distiller Emeritus until his death in 2013 at 93 years of age.
The bourbon named after Mr. Lee is distilled from Buffalo Trace’s “high rye mash bill #2”, which is the same mash used for Blanton’s, Hancock’s Reserve, and Rock Hill Farms. While it does not have an age statement, Elmer T. Lee is believed to be the oldest of the four bourbons, with barrels picked for the brand usually hovering around the 10-12 year range (of course, without a proper age statement, there is no way to verify this). Up until his death, Mr. Lee himself was said to have picked each barrel that was bottled under his name.
Like many bourbons made by Buffalo Trace, Elmer T. Lee used to collect dust on shelves for $30-35, but is now highly allocated and often very difficult to find for under $50. As a consumer, it is important to beware of the fallacy that extreme allocation creates: Elmer T. Lee was not created nor intended to be a top shelf $100 unicorn bourbon. It was created to be a quality, sub-premium, mid-shelf, $30-35 offering. Keep this in mind before you drop $100 plus shipping for a bottle on the secondary market, just because you assume ultra rare equals ultra good. With any single barrel whiskey, it must always be mentioned that any two barrels will taste different from each other, which means your bottle of Elmer T. Lee may taste much different than mine.
- Distilled, aged, and bottled at the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfurt, KY
- Undisclosed “high rye” mash bill (likely between 12-15% rye)
- No age statement
- Bottled at 45% ABV (90 proof)
Nose: Cherries and cola in equal parts lead the way with fresh oak and a spicy black pepper note. Hints of barrel char poke through the more prominent notes, and there is a nearly artificial grape note that comes through when I really search.
Palate: Nice sweet cherry and more black pepper spice comprise the arrival. The oak is noticeable but not very forward, as the notes are a bit muddled. After the initial rush of sweetness, a slightly sour or tannic note develops, alongside nice floral honey and a small amount of crisp green apple. The mouthfeel is fairly thin, and the ethanol warmth is more pronounced than 90 proof would have lead me to expect.
Finish: Fun, fresh, light and fruity. There is some fresh cut wood verging on cedar, and very faint vanilla. A warm black pepper note, a bit of soft leather and tart green apple peel are the final pops of flavor before it fades away.
Buying Recommendation: Must Try! Current market conditions make this a tricky bourbon to fit into any kind of bracket. I would tell anyone who sees this for $30-40 to buy a bottle, as it’s a great sipper in that price range. It’s more of a hesitant recommendation between $40-50, and I wouldn’t touch a bottle for over $50.
This is a solid, borderline-excellent bourbon, but it’s not without its short comings. The liquid is thin and the entire flavor profile is a bit too soft and sleepy. The “wow” factor and depth of flavor just aren’t there to really push the score up into the “excellent” range. Don’t let me steer you away from purchasing this, but take it as a warning that this doesn’t live up to the modern bourbon-craze hype that inflates its price and erases it from store shelves. It’s a good $35 bourbon, and lets leave it at that.
At WBSE we use a true 100 point scale for scoring to allow whiskeys to further differentiate themselves (as opposed to a letter grade scale where 90% of whiskeys fall between 78-92). This allows you to more easily compare scores between different whiskeys. Here is how the scale breaks down:
1-49: Varying degrees of bad
60-69: Better than average
90+: Truly Exceptional
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