The Man Who Brought Bourbon Back

Buffalo Trace Patriarch Elmer T. Lee - Posted by Hammerstone's WhiskeyDisks­™ the world's best whiskey stones.

If you’re a bourbon lover who’s reveling in the currently thriving whiskey market, we’d like to suggest that you pour a tipple out for Elmer T. Lee next time you imbibe.

It’s a fact that not too long ago the bourbon industry was in deep trouble. Lee is the man who turned it all around. Looking around at today’s booming bourbon market, it seems improbable that it ever needed a recovery. Whiskey revenue was up 10% last year, to about $2.7 billion dollars. In a relatively short period of time Kentucky has doubled the number of bourbon-related jobs and tripled its number of distilleries. The bourbon revival has gained so much momentum, that consumers are actually stockpiling whiskey in case supply can’t keep up with demand. Hardly seems like an industry that was ever in decline. Sure, the world loves bourbon, but that wasn’t always the case. In the 70’s, bourbon was experiencing a sharp decline in popularity. Gone were the Old Fashioned and the Manhattan, people were into vodka and gin.

Then along comes Elmer T. Lee, he had started his career in 1949 with Buffalo Trace – formally known as George T. Stagg. He worked his way up the ladder to Master Distiller. It wasn’t until 1984 though, that Lee began his crusade to bring bourbon back into the limelight. And he did it with just one barrel. During the 80’s the drinking public still wasn’t very interested in bourbon with flavor, but Lee gave it to them regardless. The story goes that Col. Albert B. Blanton, the distillery boss, had the been selecting bourbon from barrels in the center of Warehouse H for his private use, believing it was of the highest quality. So when Lee decided to rock the boat, he turned his back on blending and bottled his bourbon from a single barrel. He focused on character rather than consistency. And he started with Blanton’s secret stash in Warehouse H, creating Blanton’s Single Barrel – the first of its kind on the market.

Blanton’s was uncommonly good for bourbon at that time, and customers quickly became obsessed. Many distilleries have followed suit, and now single barrel bourbon is a mainstay in a flourishing bourbon market. Heaven Hill, Jack Daniel’s, Knob Creek and Four Roses all offer at least one, if not several, single barrel choices. Blanton’s is aged for eight years in newly charred white oak barrels, bottled at 93 Proof – a potent 46.5% ABV. While flavors will vary due to being a single barrel bourbon, you can count on sweet caramel and spice, clove, citrus, burnt sugar, vanilla, and honey. Lee was a man who knew what he was doing. Lee was eventually honored with his own bourbon by the Buffalo Trace distillery – Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel. We like our Blanton’s and Elmer T. Lee poured over a frozen whiskey stone, it chills without diluting. And we always pour a tipple out for Lee. He died almost thirty years after bringing whiskey back to life, at the age 93 – the same proof as his bourbon. 


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