Sipp’n Corn Bourbon Review – Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel
Posted on December 12, 2013
by Brian Haara
*Updated July 11, 2014 after a private barrel selection at Buffalo Trace where we selected barrels of Elmer T. Lee and Blanton’s, among many other Buffalo Trace Brands, and where I learned the typical ages of Elmer T. Lee and Blanton’s.
Bourbon: Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel
Distillery: Buffalo Trace Distillery, Frankfort, Kentucky
Age: NAS, but typically nine years
Light spice, mostly sweet cinnamon apples, vanilla and caramel.
More spice comes through than indicated from the nose, but sweetness still predominates, although not overpowering. Mostly honey, caramel and toffee flavors, but with an interesting balance of oak, cinnamon and spice. Not overly spicy or hot, but comforting warmth. A splash of water opened up some more fruit and sweetness, but it lost complexity, so I prefer this one neat. This was really a wonderful balance.
Extremely pleasant and smooth finish, finally transitioning to more spices than sweetness; water really shortened it, so again, drink it neat.
For starters, I can’t believe this is a low-$30’s bourbon. Also, while I’m a huge fan of Blanton’s, I’m not sure why I’d spend the extra money on it. ETL uses the same mash bill as Blanton’s Single Barrel (the Buffalo Trace mash bill #2, maybe about 15% rye, used for all Ancient Age bourbon), and ETL is aged for about nine years compared to around six years for Blanton’s, although Blanton’s is aged in Warehouse H, said to have been Col. Blanton’s favorite. Regardless, ETL is deep and rich, but at the same time so drinkable without a drop of pretentiousness. This can really be your go-to bourbon.
On top of its outstanding balance, ETL has the legitimate history of the legendary Elmer T. Lee (1919-2013) himself, who has an incredible story starting with being hired (but initially rejected) by Col. Blanton when Buffalo Trace was called the George T. Stagg Distillery, and working his way up through the ranks . (Please check out the University of Kentucky Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History interview of Elmer T. Lee posted here: http://www.nunncenter.org/buffalotrace/category/people/elmer-t-lee-interviews/
along with the short bio posted here: http://www.buffalotracedistillery.com/craftsmen/lee
). With so many bourbons having fake histories and “master distillers” who are blenders at best, it’s comforting to know that Elmer T. Lee is about real history.
Between Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel, the Weller line (also Buffalo Trace) and Four Roses, I really don’t think that there’s a reason to pay top-shelf prices. I definitely need to do a blind tasting between Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel and Blanton’s Single Barrel to see if I’m right, but however that might end, I highly recommend Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel.
Score on The Sipp’n Corn Scale: 4.0
The Sipp’n Corn Scale:
1 – Wouldn’t even accept a free drink of it.
2 – Would gladly drink it if someone else was buying.
3 – Glad to include this in my bar.
4 – Excellent bourbon. Worth the price and I’m sure to always have it in my bar.
5 – Wow. I’ll search high and low to get another bottle of this.
I wish I could find a bottle of ETL, hopefully I'll be able to track a bottle or two down on the next release.
Yes, it's been hard to find since last fall, and the recent release of the commemorative 93 proof edition created a buzz that made even the regular 90 proof harder to find. Good luck hunting!
I tasted ETL for the first time in 2011, and since then it has become so scarce that I now hoard it when I can find it, which is a shame. I have a couple bottles of it sitting in a shelf next to a bottle of Weller 12, which has gone through the same thing. I now buy Eagle Rare, Elijah Craig and a rotating cast of try-it-once bourbons in search of something comparable under $35/bottle.
Yes, it's a shame. So many fantastic bourbons used to be avaialble for $25-$35. I haven't bought ETL since 2014. Elijah Craig Small Batch and Four Roses Small Batch are the accessible price performers today.