elmer t lee bourbon review
Elmer T Lee Single Barrel Bourbon
Elmer T Lee Single Barrel 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
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.”
Elmer T Lee overview
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.
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.
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.
Buffalo Trace Lineup of Reviews
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, licorice, fennel, and anise.
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 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 with the flavors were fuller and richer…the ABV robs a lot of what could be in there.
All in all, Elmer T Lee 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. It’s 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
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, Elmer T Lee Single Barrel just doesn’t blow my mind or leave me particularly impressed.
A lot of it has to do with the flavor’s thinness, which may be due to the ABV, barrel selection, and/or something else. I hate to say it, but it’s incredibly overrated. While you’re at it, check out my writeup about overrated bourbons and whiskeys, and more accessible alternatives, which also covers Elmer T Lee.
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.
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 is worthy of a “Mid Shelf+” rating, but it doesn’t have 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.
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.