I remember the first time I had a glass of Elmer T. Lee bourbon. It was at a local bar several years ago at a time when I was eagerly exploring a lot of different bourbon brands. The “Bourbon Boom” was underway, but it was at the beginning of the real craziness we see today, where mid-shelf bottles such as Elmer were only just beginning to fly off shelves and see massive price jumps on the secondary market. Back then, you could still find things like Weller, E.H. Taylor, and other currently hard to find bourbons on store shelves fairly easily.
At the time, I didn’t know all that much about Elmer. I knew that it was named after the legendary master distiller from Buffalo Trace, who was the first person to bring a single barrel bourbon to the market back in the 1980s (Blanton’s). I had seen Elmer on the shelf, and I had read some good reviews, so it was on my list of bourbons to try. I ordered a dram and was immediately impressed. I remember it having a particularly great, caramel-forward nose. I decided I would buy a bottle the next time I was at a liquor store.
I soon went looking for a bottle of Elmer only to discover that it was not in stock at any of my regular liquor stores. I started asking around and quickly found out that it was no longer readily available on any local store shelves—it was “allocated.” Somehow, like several other Buffalo Trace products, Elmer had developed a massive amount of hype from bourbon lovers and was flying off the shelves all over the country (if it even made in onto the shelf to begin with).
Eventually I did manage to get a bottle for myself. It’s actually not quite as hard to acquire as it may seem—you just have to pay attention to when it hits your local stores (i.e., follow them on Facebook, Instagram, and/or Twitter), and show up immediately to buy a bottle. It doesn’t hurt to develop a relationship with your local store employees/manager/owner, which really isn’t too hard to do—stop in the store on a regular basis and chat about bourbon, scotch, and beer with whoever’s willing to listen.
Elmer still gets a lot of hype in the bourbon world. But is it worth it? Let’s take a look.
Elmer T. Lee Review
This is a classic, straightforward bourbon nose. Caramel. Vanilla. Slightly floral. Fresh mint leaves. Spearmint. Bananas. Oak. Nothing really unexpected and nothing all that complex—just good old bourbon. Quite enjoyable.
Buttered toffee. Vanilla and caramel. Dark fruits and berries. Sweet oak. Honey. Confectioneries. The mouthfeel is medium in thickness—not as big and chewy as I prefer, but not thin either. Like the nose, this is simply straightforward bourbon. Again not all that complex, but nice.
Medium in length. Charred oak. Mint. Cinnamon tooth picks. Burnt caramel.
This is a solid, well-rounded, classic bourbon. There’s not much more to say about it than that. I wish it was bottled at a higher ABV… cask strength would be nice.
If this is readily available near you at a reasonable price, it’s worth picking up. Is it worth double the normal retail price on the secondary market or worth standing in line early in the morning hoping to get a bottle when it first comes out? Frankly, no. Not at all. This is good, but there are other bourbons that are just as good that you can easily find on the shelf of any store.
One thing to keep in mind is that this is a single barrel bourbon, which means it may differ from bottle to bottle. That said, the recent bottles I’ve had have been pretty consistent, although none of them have been as good as that first dram I had of Elmer at the bar.
I’ll always have a soft spot for Elmer, since it was the first bourbon I had to “hunt” for and successfully found. And it’s still good. But it’s not a bottle that I’m interested in putting any effort into hunting down anymore. Now if Buffalo Trace were to ever come out with a cask strength version of Elmer… well, the hunt would begin anew.
Buy again? Yes, but only if it can be found easily and at MSRP.
Questions about my scoring system? Refer to the Review Method & Scoring Scale page.
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