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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Sipp’n Corn Bourbon Review – Elmer T. Lee Commemorative Edition

Over the past two years, Elmer T. Lee has become a rarity on retail shelves.  It had been somewhat of a hidden gem – far less glamorous than its mash bill brother Blanton’s – but quietly better balanced.  Of course, it is named after the legendary Elmer T. Lee (1919-2013), who was hired in 1949 by Col. Albert B. Blanton when Buffalo Trace was called the George T. Stagg Distillery.  He worked his way up through the ranks from a maintenance engineer all the way to Master Distiller.

By the time Elmer retired in 1985, he had sparked a revolution in Bourbon that is probably partially responsible for the wild success of Bourbon today:  he introduced the first single-barrel Bourbon since the time when Bourbon was sold to consumers by the barrel, honoring Col. Blanton by naming it Blanton’s Single Barrel.  After he retired, Elmer himself was honored with a single barrel Bourbon bearing his name, using the same mash bill as Blanton’s (the former Ancient Age mash bill, now known as Buffalo Trace’s mash bill #2) but aged around nine years instead of six years for Blanton’s.  Although he had officially retired, Elmer continued as Master Distiller Emeritus, and he helped select the barrels for his namesake brand.

Elmer died in 2013, at the age of 93.  Bourbon enthusiasts suggested that the proof of Elmer T. Lee should be raised from 90 to 93 in Elmer’s honor, and word spread about the great value of Elmer T. Lee.  Buffalo Trace announced that it would in fact honor Elmer, but instead of permanently raising the ABV, it produced this Commemorative Edition at 93 proof, with limited allocation.  Buffalo Trace also used profits from the sale of the Commemorative Edition to support the local VFW Post 4075, in which Elmer was active (Elmer had served as a radar bombardier in WWII).

As Elmer T. Lee has become scarce on store shelves, its price has gradually increased over the past year.  I recall Elmer T. Lee being priced at $28.99, then last fall it was $31.99, this summer I found it for $35.99, and $40.00 retail prices are being reported.  Fortunately, Buffalo Trace’s MSRP was $34.99 for the Commemorative Edition.

Bourbon:        Elmer T. Lee Commemorative Single Barrel

Distillery:        Buffalo Trace, Frankfort, Kentucky

Age:                NAS, but typically 9 years old

Proof:             93 proof

Cost:               $34.99

Tasting Notes

The Commemorative Edition has the same amber gold color as the standard Elmer T. Lee.

The nose has rich sweetness of caramel and vanilla, honey with light fruit, along with cinnamon, black pepper and oak.  Very well balanced.

Classic Elmer T. Lee.  The taste follows the lead of the nose with honey, caramel and toffee sweetness dominating, but it’s not too much, and instead is balanced with oak, cinnamon and pepper spice.  The lighter fruit (apples and pear) transition to more of a plum flavor.  It’s warm without being hot.  Whether at 90 or 93 proof, this is a Bourbon to sip neat.

The Commemorative Edition finishes by moving away from sweetness to more spices, for a great warming sensation that lingers.

Bottom Line

This was another Bourbon that I had hoped to review months ago (long before the flood of fall releases), but it was so much like the standard Elmer T. Lee that it fell behind.  It is so similar to the standard Elmer T. Lee – which is one of my favorites – that any extra value is really just in having the unique commemorative bottle, not necessarily what’s inside.  To the credit of Buffalo Trace, though, this Commemorative Edition was not priced to drive profits.  In this current environment of price gouging, Buffalo Trace did the right thing.

Comparing Elmer T. Lee Commemorative to other spring releases, it’s better that the Wild Turkey Diamond Anniversary (and costs a fraction of the price), but it’s nowhere near as good as the Four Roses 2014 Limited Edition Single Barrel (which retailed for $90).  Elmer T. Lee and the Commemorative Edition are still one of the reigning “price performers” and I highly recommend that you buy one or the other if you’re lucky enough to find them.

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.


  1. Such a big Elmer T. Lee fan here. Never saw a bottle of this commemorative version anywhere around here. Looked and looked. Also haven't even seen any regular Elmer T. Lee till just the other day, $54.99 Sad face. These are the times we live in.

    1. It may have been on even more of a limited allocation that I had understood. Sorry to hear that, and also sorry to hear about the $54.99 price tag. That kind of jump makes it look like retailer gouging. Thanks for reading!

    2. Definitely retail price gouging going on. In SC it's normal to see ETL at about $50, if at all. I snapped this back in May, at $129.99: Ridiculous.

    3. That's outrageous! The worst I've seen in Kentucky is $59.99 (next to Rock Hill Farms for $89.99).

    4. When I can find ETL here in Texas, it's always in the $28-$30 range. I just haven't actually seen any in about a year now....

    5. That's a great price, and the unavailability shows how messed up distribution can be. There's supposed to be a fall release, so definitely keep looking. Good luck!

  2. It hit here in Nashville this week with the Antique Collection. Retail is $45. Lucky to get 2 bottles.

    1. Great find! Is that a price increase for Nashville? I know it has varied widely in different parts of the country. Did you get any BTAC as well?

    2. Still can find some locally in RI at around 33.99...stocking up.

    3. It's amazing to still find the Commemorative Edition! Definitely stock up! This isn't the first time that Buffalo Trace allocations haven't been in tune with market demand.

  3. Picked up a standard 90 proof Elmer T. Lee yesterday for $50 here in central Texas. Two distributor reps were on site and pointed it out to me. The retailer is a mom and pop, two locations, and had several more bottles. I hadn't seen a bottle in many years so it was a no brainer. When I asked, the reps said it was bottled by Elmer himself, meaning he picked the barrels, but I'd be surprised about that because I remember hearing the brand would continue replicating his flavor profile using past bottling's as reference. However, the back label does read "this is his own private selection" so maybe he did? Lastly, this bourbon is super smooth for 90 proof, but not very robust or what I call full flavor. A little to thin or lite in flavor for a second purchase, but I'm happy to have found one nonetheless.

  4. Thanks for the comment! It's too bad to see ETL going for $50 instead of its $30 from recent years, more I'm more surprised that you were told that Elmer himself picked the barrels ... unless it was an old bottle back from when Elmer (1) was alive and (2) while he still helped select some of the barrels. If your bottle has a laser code, has published how to decipher it, and you will be able to tell when it was bottled. Cheers!

  5. I mention mom and pop owned store because they always charge more versus a chain owned store who can buy in bulk as you know. A chain may charge $40 when a mom and pop may charge $50. Support your local liquor store.

    And I visited as my bottle is laser coded, but I could not make sense of the clumsily designed website, or maybe I'm clumsy.

    I suspect all ETL bottled himself are long gone, given you can hardly find a bottle of ETL at all anymore. Any new bottling's are likely cloned ETL.

    1. I'm with you on independent stores, except the ones where I've seen 5x normal retail, but that's a whole different issue. As for the laser code, since 2012 this has been the format:


      Here, the B = Buffalo Trace, 13 = 2013, 120 = the 120th day of the year, 11:11 = the time bottled in military time, K = the bottling line.


  6. Long live the God damned bourbon Legend Elmer
    My man.

    1. A little late for that, but the legend will live on!!

  7. This is my favorite bourbon and I managed to find 3 bottles @ my local TEAM store last week priced @ $35.00 per after an absence of more than 2 years.


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