Posts tagged ‘Elmer T. Lee’

Staying Power: A Few Bourbon Staples

One of the unique aspects of whiskey brands is that they do change over time. When you combine that change with the change in our palates, you can get some pretty intense discrepancies regarding the quality of different bourbons, especially over time. Personally, there are several different bourbons that I have found to vary a lot from batch to batch, barrel to barrel (Booker’s, Elmer T. Lee, Rock Hill Farms), but there are also some bourbons that I have found to stay rock solid over all my years drinking the blessed spirit. Recently, I picked up two bourbons I had not had in a while to see if I liked them as much as I used to…

Ever since Heaven Hill came out with their Elijah Craig Barrel Proof releases, bourbon lovers have been clamoring to get their greasy paws on some of this juice. The first release got rave reviews, as did most of their successive releases. I recently finished a bottle of their fourth release (134.8 proof, 67.4% abv), and it was absolutely fantastic stuff. It was every bit as dark, ominous, and beautiful as its predecessors. This is a complex, sweet, woody, and intense bourbon. Judging from what I have tasted to this point, I see no reason that this bourbon is going to slow down. All three bottles of this stuff that I have grabbed have been fantastic. If you see a bottle of this stuff chilling on a shelf at your local liquor store, grab it and thank me later.

The second bottle I picked up was a bottle of Four Roses Single Barrel (Barrel 87-4I), and it also did not disappoint. With some single barrel bourbons, there is definitely a lot of variance from barrel to barrel, with some barrels being great, and others being just average. Four Roses is not in that category. Every different barrel of their beloved OBSV juice is aged to damn near perfection. This particular barrel was a little bit spicier than some previous inculcations that I have had, but Four Roses’ bourbons always tend towards some spiciness anyway. Like Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, when you see a bottle of this juice on the shelf, you are never missing the mark if you decide to walk out with a bottle or two.

Really, this is less of a bourbon review, but just a reiteration to all of my readers that there are still a lot of good bourbons out there. So many of the blogs are heralding the end of the great bourbon era with all the new craft distillers sourcing young bourbon, and the no age statement bourbons being released. To be sure, there is plenty of gimmicky bourbon out there, and even some of my old standards have let me down a bit recently (Booker’s, cough-cough), but that does not mean that all hope is lost friends. In a bourbon universe that occasionally looks bleak, Elijah Craig Barrel Proof and Four Roses Single Barrel are still standing tall as testaments to making really good bourbon with time-tested precision and patience.

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Elmer T. Lee and His Legacy

Unfortunately, today the bourbon industry lost Elmer Tandy Lee, master distiller emeritus at Buffalo Trace distillery.  As you might guess, I never had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Lee, but his reputation has left an important legacy on the bourbon industry and the bourbon market. Elmer T Lee

In the early 1980’s, Mr. Lee made a massive move in bourbon when he decided to start bottling single barrels of bourbon based on a specific taste profile.  He named this bourbon Blanton’s, after Colonel Albert Blanton, Lee’s predecessor.  From what I have been able to find in researching the topic, a few distilleries had experimented with limited edition bottlings, but Blanton’s was the first regularly released single barrel bourbon.  In bottling bourbon from a single barrel, none of the flavor of the barrel was lost in batching the bourbon.  The popularity of single barrel bourbons quickly caught on for consumers that wanted a premium bourbon product with all the excitement and variance that comes with single barrel products.  The sheer number of single barrel bourbons on the shelves of liquor stores nowadays is a tribute to Mr. Lee’s genius (not to mention the fact that one of those single barrel bourbons is named Elmer T. Lee).

Most importantly, Mr. Lee came to bourbon later in his life (in his thirties) when he procured a job as a maintenance engineer at the George T. Stagg (later Buffalo Trace) distillery in 1949.  From that point on, he rose in the company until he was declared the Plant Manager and Master Distiller, a position he held until 1985.  Elmer T. Lee’s life is one that triumphed dedication and learning.  He worked hard, and learned everything about bourbon the old-fashioned way.  He was at the distillery everyday to learn and make the most of every conversation.  Harlen Wheatley (current Master Distiller at Buffalo Trace) said he still sought out Mr. Lee’s advice even though Mr. Lee was well into his 90’s.

Elmer T. Lee was somebody who learned about bourbon through intelligence and osmosis.  The best way to learn is to do with the right attitude, and that is Elmer T. Lee’s legacy.  He was always a proponent of drinking responsibly.  He understood that bourbon did not slumber in the barrel to be dumped in a cocktail and downed for its effects.  So, in that tradition, take some time today to have a meaningful conversation while enjoying a small glass of your favorite bourbon (and don’t forget the toast to Elmer Tandy Lee).

Giving the Gift of Bourbon

Well, a lot of folks are starting to do their holiday shopping, and there are a lot of people who love to give and receive the gift of bourbon.  Whiskey shopping around the holidays can offer some great deals on holiday gift packages.  A lot of distilleries will issue box sets where you might get a 750 ml bottle with some glassware or some 50 ml samples of other products.  Even if you are just looking to treat yourself, holiday box sets are always good fun.

Woodford Reserve's holiday gift set includes two Woodford glasses.

Woodford Reserve’s holiday gift set includes two Woodford glasses.

Before I get into my recommendations for the bourbon lovers on your list, I need to issue two disclaimers.  First, if you are a bourbon lover like myself, that does not give you the right to supply others with bourbon in hopes they will give you half the bottle because they don’t like bourbon all that much.  Secondly, taste is personal, and your favorite whiskey might not be tolerable to somebody else. That said, do some research on the person you are giving the gift to and the bottles you are thinking of buying to give the best gift possible.  Of course, that is where I want to offer some helpful suggestions that won’t break the bank.

For the bourbon newcomer on your list:  This is the person on your list who has never had bourbon (or any other whiskey) before, but they have put bourbon on their holiday wish list.  Don’t get them anything over 90 proof, and don’t get them anything will do dense a flavor profile.  My main recommendation is Four Roses Yellow Label.  It is light, and it gives a good introduction to whiskey without it being too complex.  It is also a great value buy.  If you are looking for something a little fancier, try Basil Hayden’s.  It is also a light, well-balanced whiskey.  Both of these presents will leave the recipient craving another bottle of bourbon.

For the bourbon novice on your list:  This is the person on your list that has been getting into some starter bourbons of late, but he/she looking is looking to enjoy some craft bourbon.  My recommendation (if you can find it) is Elmer T. Lee.  It is a single barrel bourbon that is indicative of what bourbon should be.  It won’t break the bank, but it is a monstrous step up from Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark.  However, Elmer T. Lee is hard to find.  If you can’t lay your hands on that one, Buffalo Trace is a great alternative.

For the bourbon admirer on your list:  This is the person who has been casually drinking bourbon for a few years, and it is one of their favorite drinks.  This person is one of the easiest people on your list because they will probably like your gift.  That said, here are a couple of the quintessential craft bourbons that make great gifts.  Eagle Rare 10 yr. and Woodford Reserve are two readily available bourbons that always make great gifts.  If you can find it, Four Roses Single Barrel is a great offering if you are willing to spend a few extra dollars.

For the bourbon connoisseur on your list:  This is the person who loves bourbon, and gives a lot of thought and attention to their bourbon.  Among bourbon connoisseurs, there are a few whiskeys that you can rarely go wrong with.  If you find anything from Buffalo Trace’s Antique Collection, Stitzel-Weller/Buffalo Trace’s Van Winkle Collection, Heaven Hill’s Parker’s Heritage Collection, or Four Roses Limited Edition Collection (and you can swing the bill), pick it up.  It is a rare occasion that I read a bad word about any of these bourbons, but they are all pretty hard to find.  That said, barrel strength bourbons are always a great gift for the bourbon connoisseur on your list.  Noah’s Mill, Booker’s, and Willett Single Barrel (barrel strength) are all great gifts to open and great bourbons to drink.

In case this guy is on your list...

In case this guy is on your list…

For the vain bourbon drinker on your list:  This is for that bourbon drinker that likes to sit in a smoking jacket with a $100 cigar while they enjoy their bourbon.  Hardly a value bourbon drinker, but for somebody like this, appearance is everything.  So, I would recommend a bourbon with a cool bottle and a long, uppity-sounding name.  My first recommendation is Willett Pot Still Single Barrel Reserve.  The bottle looks like you paid $100 dollars for it, but you didn’t even spend half that.  What is in the bottle is pretty good, too.  My other recommendation is the fancy horse-stopper of Blanton’s.  It is a solid, all-around bourbon that has a very distinguished bottle.

For the rye whiskey drinker (looking to get into bourbon) on your list:  This is for the rye drinker on your list that has mentioned wanting to get into bourbon.  I would definitely recommend a rye-heavy bourbon.  If you are thinking of a light, drinkable, full-flavored rye-forward bourbon, look no further than Russell’s Reserve 10 yr.  If you are thinking monstrous, full-bodied, intense rye-forward bourbon, look no further than Wild Turkey 101.  Both these bourbons are great choices for rye lovers.

For the Scotch whisky drinker (looking to get into bourbon) on your list:  This is for the Scotch (I’m thinking Speyside) drinker on your list who normally finds bourbon too heavy and sweet for their palate.  The bourbon to give to them is Four Roses Small Batch.  It is light, floral, and fruity, but it still possesses a lot of bourbon qualities.  Basil Hayden’s is usually a good gift here, too. Wild Turkey American Honey

For the liqueur drinker on your list:  The best bourbon-based liqueur on the market is Wild Turkey American Honey.  Hell, even I drink it every once in a while on a hot summer’s day.

Those are my thoughts on buying bourbon for the holidays.  If the person on your list falls outside any of these categories, leave a comment or shoot me an email at thedagupeir@gmail.com.  Let it Ride!

Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel Review

Elmer T. Lee is a single barrel bourbon from Buffalo Trace Distillery.  It takes it’s namesake from Elmer T. Lee, a former Master Distiller at Buffalo Trace.  Despite the fact that Elmer Lee no longer oversees all of Buffalo Trace’s operations, it is said that he still personally selects the barrels that are used to age Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel Bourbon.  Like Eagle Rare 10 year Single Barrel, Elmer T. Lee is bottled at 90 proof and is reasonably priced (usually under $30 a bottle).

On the nose, Elmer T. Lee is sweet with maple and vanilla, all held together well with a backbone of rye spices.  There are some light citrus notes that come up as the whiskey sits in the open air for a few minutes.  The palate begins as zesty, with some citrus and floral tones, but it quickly fills out with caramel, maple sugar, and vanilla.  The back of the palate picks up some rye spice as the whiskey finishes its journey.  The finish is deliciously sweet, mostly from rich notes of caramel and maple sugars.  There is also some peppery, drying oak that comes up now and again.

Overall, Elmer T. Lee continues the fine tradition of great value whiskeys from Buffalo Trace.  This is a delicious single barrel bourbon.  The flavor profile reminds me a lot of Blanton’s Original, although Elmer T. Lee is nearly half the price of Blanton’s, making it the much better buy.  My grade: B-/B.  Price: $25-30/750ml.  This is a good sippin’ whiskey, worth keeping on your shelf as often as you can.