Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Elmer T. Lee Regular and Commemorative

If you were going to pick the one person most responsible for the bourbon boom, Elmer T. Lee would be a good candidate.  Lee started working for Buffalo Trace (then the George T. Stagg distillery) in 1949 as a maintenance man.  He moved his way up to distillery manager and in 1984, he was responsible for releasing Blanton's, the first widely released single barrel bourbon.  Lee retired as Master Distiller soon after but stayed active with the distillery for decades.  He died in 2013 at the age of 93.

Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel bourbon has been around for years. It's one of the higher rye bourbons from Buffalo Trace.  To commemorate the life of Mr. Lee, Buffalo Trace released a commemorative version of the bourbon at a slightly higher proof.  Since I haven't tasted the regular Elmer in a while, I thought I'd compare it with the Commemorative bottling.  The Commemorative came out last year and has been pretty hard to find, though these days, even the regular Elmer seems pretty scarce.

Elmer T. Lee, 45% ($30)

This has a nice, typical BT style nose with caramel, some spice and a touch of oak. The palate has a balance of sweet, rum like notes and more acidic notes. It's more acidic than I remember from previous bottles (of course, single barrels can always vary).  The finish is acidic, with lemon rind and a bit spicy.  It's a decent and well composed bourbon, though not one that I find particularly exciting. 

Elmer T. Lee Commemorative, 46.5% ($35)

The nose on this one is much more subtle with vanilla notes. The palate begins sweet with some grainy notes and moves into a finish that is pure vanilla.  This one lacks any of the acid of the other bottle and has big vanilla notes throughout so much so that it's a bit of a one noter, though it's certainly not unpleasant.

While these two have a different flavor profile, all in all, I'd say these are of similar quality.  Both are fine but not exceptional.

Thanks to Dan Zimmerman for the samples.


Anonymous said...

I have yet to try ETL. It's on my list but impossible to find.
This is the very first negative review of ETL I have ever seen, and I follow lots of bourbon blogs.

sku said...

"Negative" seems strong given that I said both were fine, though I guess in these days of gushing reviews for all whiskeys, anything not entirely positive is seen as an exception to the rule.

Florin said...

For all it's worth, I share Sku's opinion of ETL. I was not impressed with my first bottle from 3 years ago, and did not buy again. The only ones I like from the BT regular lineup are Blanton's, followed by Rockhill Farms.

Reid said...

Agree 100% with Sku that ETL is a decent pour but holds little attraction for those seeking the unique and interesting whiskey that many of us enjoy.

Funky Tape said...

To be fair, there will be some batch variation as it is a 'single barrel.'

But I agree, not exciting. Better value than Blanton's though now that AAA 10 yr is gone.

I've found a vat of 70% Four Roses single barrel to 30% ETL to yield a more exciting high rye bourbon.

Anonymous said...

After years and years and years of no sighting, I found the standard ETL for $50 at a mom and pop (who usually charge more than the big gorillas). It was super smooth, but ho hum and lite in flavor overall. Would not buy again.

Anonymous said...

Not a fan either, and I've always been somewhat puzzled by all the fawning over this one. I don't particularly care for Blanton's either, though. RHF is the only one of the "high rye" BT products that I enjoy, and even then it's a tough sell for the price.

Chuck Logsdon said...

I find ETL too one-dimensional. It's a good enough pour, but, in general, I am not a big fan of the BT profile. Mind you, I am saying more about me than the bourbon as ETL and BT have a big following.

As my bourbon budget increased and my wife started watching it more closely, ETL was dropped off my home bar list a couple years ago.