Elmer T Lee Review

Elmer T Lee Single Barrel Bourbon

Elmer T Lee review

Elmer T Lee Bourbon Details

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 overview

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 (a Japanese company) not Buffalo Trace. My guess is that Ancient Age has a lot of say in the production of those bourbons, which could explain why all of them except Ancient Age are especially difficult to find in the US, but less so in Japan where Blanton’s is fairly common.
Elmer T Lee Bourbon 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 couldn’t tell you. 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.
*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.
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As an FYI, I bought and use these Glencairn glasses for my reviews and comparisons (because they’re the best): Glencairn Crystal Whiskey Glass, Set of 6, Clear, 6 Pack. Full transparency, this is an affiliate link, so I may earn a commission if you buy this or something else from Amazon.

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 bourbon becomes noticeably darker, as if it were caramelizing in the glass during the review. I smell thicker caramel and honey with gently roasted marshmallows, licorice, fennel, and anise. The herbal scents make this smell like a higher-rye bourbon.
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 licorice / anise creates fragrant scents, and the alcohol mostly disappears.

Elmer T Lee Taste and Aftertaste

Elmer T Lee Bourbon 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. I just wish the flavors were fuller and richer…the ABV robs a lot of what could be in there.
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 Single Barrel bourbon packs a good amount of flavor into its 45% alcohol, but lacks the extra richness I love from more mature and/or higher proof bourbons…or Blanton’s Red from 1993, which is just flat out rich, mature, and awesome. Elmer T Lee is still a very solid drink, but doesn’t come remotely close to the hype. It’s good, but terribly overrated…you have so many better options.

Elmer T Lee Rating

Mid shelf+
Elmer T Lee Single Barrel is a good bourbon that’s certainly fine for $40, but not really much more (price does not affect the rating). While its scents are fragrant and rich, and its flavors are balanced and sweet yet bitter and citrusy like an Old Fashioned, this just doesn’t blow my mind or leave me particularly impressed. The flavor’s thinness is the main culprit.
It just falls far short of the absurd hype that pushes its secondary value to over $200, but really most other hyped-up bourbons fall far short as well. Don’t get me wrong, I admittedly worked pretty hard to get this bottle, the first one I’ve ever had, so I’m also guilty of chasing the hype.
But now that I’ve had it, I don’t have any further desire to chase it. Still, do what you want and pay what you want. If you like it, keep liking it.
For me, this is not better than EH Taylor Small Batch, some Eagle Rare store picks, or other very good bourbons around $40-60 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 little bit of Sazerac 6 Year 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.
And even though I’ve listed some other alternatives, John J Bowman Single Barrel Bourbon is likely the closest (and better) alternative…and you might actually be able to find it (for now).
Price and hype aside, Elmer T Lee Single Barrel Bourbon is worthy of a “Mid Shelf+” rating, but it doesn’t have nearly enough to come close to “Top Shelf”. At the end of the day, pay what you’re comfortable paying, but $40-60 is likely my limit. At that point, there’s a whole world of more compelling options, and Elmer T Lee isn’t quite worth it.
Alex author
Meet the Author: Alex

I have far too much fun writing about whiskey and singlehandedly running The Whiskey Shelf to bring you independent, honest, and useful reviews, comparisons, and more. I’m proudly Asian American and can speak Cantonese, Mandarin, and some Japanese.

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Shattered glass really sucks, so if you’re on the move, this Glencairn-like stainless steel snifter glass should survive your travels. Full transparency, this is an Amazon affiliate link, so I may earn a commission if you buy this or something else from Amazon.

BrüMate NOS’R, Double-Wall Stainless Steel Whiskey Nosing Glass – 7oz (Matte Black)

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