Buffalo Trace Toasts Elmer T. Lee’s 100th Birthday With 100 Year Tribute Bourbon

Elmer T. Lee 100 Year Tribute Single Barrel Bourbon. Photo Courtesy Buffalo Trace.

Buffalo Trace Distillery is honoring late Master Distiller Elmer T. Lee with a 100th Birthday edition of his namesake bottle, 100 Year Tribute Single Barrel Bourbon.

Lee, who passed away in 2013, was a force behind the revitalization of Buffalo Trace. He began his work at the distillery in 1949 following his graduation, working his way up to Master Distiller and creating beloved brands like Blanton’s. He continued to work as an ambassador for the brands long after his official retirement in 1985.

“What Elmer did for American whiskey is hard to grasp in today’s terms, but in 1984, bourbon was in the doldrums and sales were low,” stated Harlen Wheatley, Buffalo Trace’s current master distiller. “Elmer took a big risk creating a single barrel bourbon, but he hoped it would generate new interest in bourbon and revive the industry. At first Blanton’s wasn’t popular, and Elmer feared it may not take off. But today, I think it’s safe to say Elmer made a wise move.”

Elmer, a World War II Veteran, flew missions over Japan as a radar bombardier on B-29 flights with the US Army Air Force. Proceeds from the sale of the Elmer T. Lee 100 Year Tribute bottle will go towards Frankfort VFW Post 4075, where Elmer was a member until his passing.

“After a century has passed since he was born, we want to honor Elmer and share our admiration with his family and others, while also giving back to Elmer’s local VFW,” said Kris Comstock, senior marketing director in a press release this morning. “We were lucky to have Elmer with us for 93 years. As he grew older he continued to visit the Distillery weekly. The wisdom, expertise and friendship he shared during his weekly visits will never be forgotten. We think of him often and cherish the time he spent with us.”

Vintage and modern Elmer T. Lee bottlings at Justins’ House of Bourbon.

Previous limited edition Elmer T. Lee expressions have included a 90th Birthday bottling and a Commemorative black label release to honor him after his passing in 2013. The Commemorative Elmer T. Lee was bottled at 93 proof as a nod to Lee’s age at the time of his death.

The one-time-only 100 Year Tribute release will have the same mash bill and age as the standard 90 proof Elmer T. Lee bourbon, but will be fittingly bottled at 100 proof. The distillery tells us to expect “the classic taste that Elmer would have loved, with a nose of maple syrup up front, a taste of creamy vanilla with berries, and a long finish of coffee, toasted oak, and vanilla.”

Elmer T. Lee 100 Year Tribute Single Barrel Bourbon is hitting shelves later this month in very limited quantities at a suggested retail price of around $100.

Link here to read more about how Elmer T. Lee helped Buffalo Trace survive and thrive in the years leading up to today’s bourbon boom. 

Caroline Paulus
Caroline Paulus is the Senior Editor for The Bourbon Review. She lives and writes in Lexington, Kentucky. Follow her on Instagram @misswhiskeyhistorian to keep up with her latest in bourbon news - and a few old finds, too.