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Bourbon Lost a Legend: Elmer T. Lee (1919-2013)

It’s with a heavy heart I request you go to your liquor stores today and buy a bottle of Elmer T. Lee single barrel bourbon in honor of Master Distiller Emeritus Elmer T. Lee, who passed away at 93 July 16. Mr. Lee was a World War II veteran, a bourbon legend and lived a long fruitful life.

Buffalo Trace officials said he passed away after a short illness.

Master Distiller Elmer T. Lee, of Buffalo Trace  photographed on Tuesday  May 14, 2013  in Frankfort, Ky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff

Master Distiller Elmer T. Lee, of Buffalo Trace photographed on Tuesday May 14, 2013 in Frankfort, Ky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff

Long before bottles of Elmer T. Lee appeared on the FX series Justified and won over legions of fans with its tempting note of salted caramel, the man behind the bottle changed bourbon. In 1984, Mr. Lee introduced Blanton’s, the first single barrel bourbon to hit the market, and was selling it for $25 a bottle. Blanton’s also became the first premium bourbon to knock Maker’s Mark off of its elite pedestal, winning head-to-head consumer blind tastings throughout Kentucky.

“Elmer retired in 1985 but continued to serve as an ambassador for Buffalo Trace, and in 1986 he was honored with his very own single barrel bourbon, Elmer T. Lee,” wrote Mark Brown, president of Buffalo Trace, which owns Blanton’s and Elmer T. Lee bourbons. “Of course, for those of us who knew Elmer, he never really retired. Every Tuesday we could see Elmer making his rounds at the Distillery in his trademark cap, signing bottles, posters, and other memorabilia at the Gift Shop, visiting his friends in Blanton’s Bottling Hall, and tasting bourbons (for quality control purposes!) in the lab.”

Mr. Lee selected every barrel of bourbon that went into the Elmer T. Lee bottles you’ll find on the shelves.

He was inducted in the Bourbon Hall of Fame in 2001, earned the Lifetime Achievement Award from Whisky Advocate in 2002, and Whisky Magazine’s Lifetime Achievement Award and Hall of Fame induction in 2012.

Rest in peace, Elmer T. Lee. Your palate changed the whiskey world!

3 responses to “Bourbon Lost a Legend: Elmer T. Lee (1919-2013)”

  1. Amy

    Thanks Fred, well said!
    Amy
    Buffalo Trace Distillery

  2. sam k

    I felt the same way about what’s happened to the Buffalo Trace family this year, and my condolences go out to them.

    I bought a fresh bottle of Elmer this afternoon and look forward to sipping a bit this evening and thinking about how his legacy has affected the very way we think about bourbon.

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