Elmer T. Lee 100 Year Tribute Single Barrel Kentucky Bourbon
Elmer T. Lee is a bourbon brand from the portfolio of Age International, the company formed by former Fleischmann’s Distilling director’s, Bob Baranaskas and Ferdie Falke. They had approached Schenley in the early 1980s with a view to purchasing its Old Charter brand, but were instead offered Ancient Age and the George T. Stagg distillery where it was produced. The deal was completed in 1983, two years before the retirement of George T. Stagg master distiller, Elmer T. Lee, who had served there for 36 years, working his way from the bottom up. One of his final pioneering triumphs before doing so was the introduction of mass produced single barrel bourbon through the creation of the Blanton’s brand in 1984. In a fitting tribute, the following year saw the distillery launch the Elmer T. Lee single barrel in his honour. At the time of his death in 2013, Elmer was one of only two living master distillers with a bourbon named after them.
The popularity of these products was particularly high in Japan, coinciding with a market boom for American whiskey there in the 1980s. In 1991, with Age International in some financial trouble, a Japanese company called Takaro Shuzo stepped in and acquired a 22.5% stake in the company. In an unusual series of events, they then scuppered a deal the following year that was to see the remaining shares sold to Heublein (a subsidiary of Grand Metropolitan). Their deal the year before had included a 30 day right of refusal to purchase the shares for themselves should they be put up for sale. With the deal all but done, the Japanese company stepped in on the final day of the window to acquire full control of the company. As it turned out, their only interest was in the brands, and they had used the 30 days to negotiate a deal with the Sazerac Company of New Orleans. This saw the American company take ownership of the distillery (which they renamed Buffalo Trace in 1999), as well as the exclusive production and US distribution rights for the Age International labels. This is an arrangement that is still in place today.
Interestingly, the Buffalo Trace name is borrowed from the DBA (“doing business as”) name that Age International used to bottle Elmer T. Lee in the 1980s and 1990s.
This edition is the 100 Year Tribute, bottled for what would have been Elmer’s 10th birthday.