weller antique 107 review

Elmer T Lee Single Barrel Bourbon Review

Elmer T Lee

Distillery: Buffalo Trace

Type & Region: Bourbon, Kentucky, USA

Alcohol: 45%

Composition: Mash #2 (higher rye mashbill rumored to be 12-15% rye)

Aged: NAS in virgin American white oak

Color: 1.1/2.0 on the color scale (russet muscat)

Price: $40 MSRP, $100+ secondary 

From the Buffalo Trace website:

“Named after Master Distiller Emeritus Elmer T. Lee, this whiskey is hand selected and bottled to the taste and standards of Elmer T. Lee himself.  Perfectly balanced and rich, as declared by the man who knows how great bourbon should taste.”

Company Website

Elmer T Lee review

*I’d like to thank Joe T. for his generosity in providing this sample (not pictured). The image of this bottle comes from a bottle I was surprisingly able to acquire not long afterwards. Amazing luck.

 

Elmer T Lee (often called ETL for short) is a Buffalo Trace Single Barrel bourbon made from the slightly higher-rye mash #2, also used for Rock Hill Farms, Blanton’s, Hancock’s Reserve, and Ancient Age. All of those except Ancient Age are single barrel. If you didn’t know before, Mash #2 is owned by Ancient Age International not Buffalo Trace. My guess is that Ancient Age has a lot of say in the production of those bourbons, which may explain why all of them except Ancient Age are especially difficult to find, although I can’t say for sure. 

 

Elmer T Lee Single Barrel commemorates one of the company’s master distillers, and is supposed to emulate what he would have picked himself. For better or worse, this bourbon is highly sought-after, so getting a bottle, let alone a pour of this can be very difficult. Now if you’re wondering how Buffalo Trace decides what barrels become Elmer T Lee, Blanton’s, Rock Hill Farms, or Hancock’s Reserve, I have no idea. I only know that they have different alcohol content. Uncertainty aside, let’s find out more about this bourbon in this Elmer T Lee review.

Elmer T Lee Smell

Elmer T Lee begins with citrusy honey followed by anise and an underlying darker caramel and vanilla extract. The rye is definitely there, but I recall Buffalo Trace, coming from the slightly lower rye Mash #1, providing a little more of that anise and mint. Charred oak adds a touch of darkness and cloves to the brighter sweetness. It smells very nice, but somewhat light at times. The alcohol is well moderated, but also expected from 45% alcohol.

 

Swirling the glass really transforms the scents as the liquid sticks to the glass walls and releases bourbon-y perfume as it dries. Elmer T Lee becomes noticeably darker, as if it were caramelizing in the glass during the review. I smell thicker caramel and honey with gently roasted marshmallows. A little musty charred oak also appears with a splash of cinnamon that waxes and wanes into freshly cut pine and mint. The combination of sweetness, darkness, wood, and anise creates such a lovely scent, and the alcohol mostly disappears.

Elmer T Lee Taste & Aftertaste

Elmer T Lee out of the gate is primarily sweet with honey, followed by anise, orange, corn mash, and vanilla. Slightly bitter oak slides-in towards the middle and the end, adding a contrasting darkness. The alcohol stays in-line and adds a moderate burn as a reminder that it’s there. “Chewing” provides the same, but slightly stronger, honey, anise, vanilla, bitter oak, and orange. It also releases a little more dark cinnamon, cocoa, and clove. The mixture of sweetness from the honey, bitterness from the wood, and orange reminds me of an Old Fashioned cocktail, very pleasant and delicious, but stronger.

 

The finish has a mixture of light corn chowder, orange peel, oak tannins, and anise. “Chewing” doesn’t change the finish much except for adding a gentle alcohol tingle, a little more oak, and some grain maltiness. All in all, Elmer T Lee packs a lot of flavor into its 45% alcohol, but lacks the extra richness I love from more mature and/or higher proof bourbons. Still a very solid drink.

Place on the Whiskey Shelf

Mid shelf+

Elmer T Lee Single Barrel is a very good bourbon that’s certainly worth $40 for me. While its scents are wonderfully fragrant and rich, and its flavors are balanced and sweet yet bitter and citrusy like an Old Fashioned, ETL doesn’t blow my mind. It falls far short of the absurd hype that pushes its secondary value to over $100, but most other hyped-up bourbons fall far short as well. Don’t get me wrong, I also worked pretty hard to get this bottle, the first one I’ve ever had, so I’m also guilty. 

 

ETL honestly is not a drastic improvement over EH Taylor Small Batch or other very good bourbons around $30-40 with virtually no markup (I’m not implying that EH Taylor isn’t frequently marked-up, because it is). In fact, Elmer T Lee reminds me a lot of Sazerac 6 because of the rye-influenced anise that finds its way through all the honey and citrus. It’s also not so drastically different from Blanton’s Single Barrel. Price and hype aside, Elmer T Lee is worthy of a “Mid Shelf+” rating, but it doesn’t have enough fullness or depth to reach the “Top Shelf”. Pay whatever you’re comfortable paying, but $40-60 is likely my limit.

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