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July 16, 2013 – Elmer T. Lee was a legend in the world of Bourbon. From 1949 until his “retirement” in 1985, he rose through the ranks at what we know today as Buffalo Trace Distillery, from the engineering department all the way to distillery manager. As Buffalo Trace CEO Mark Brown put it today in a brief statement, though, Elmer “never really retired”, serving as an ambassador for the distillery and visiting every Tuesday as his health allowed to taste samples for his namesake Bourbon.
Elmer passed away today after a brief illness at the age of 93, leaving behind thousands of friends worldwide and a real impact on the world of Bourbon. It could be said that his legacy is Bourbon’s worldwide popularity today, since he was responsible for introducing the first widely available Single Barrel Bourbon when Blanton’s hit the market in 1984. While the concept was unusual at that time, it helped pave the way for almost every major Bourbon producer to release Single Barrel Bourbons in the years that followed.
In November, 2006, Elmer agreed to sit down for an interview and talk about his career at the George T. Stagg/Buffalo Trace Distillery:
Below is the statement from Buffalo Trace’s Mark Brown on Elmer’s passing:
July 16, 2013
It is with a very heavy heart that I share with you that our beloved Master Distiller Emeritus Elmer T. Lee, 93, passed away today, July 16, 2013 after a short illness.
In the world of making really fine whiskey the role of Master Distiller is pivotal, but Elmer’s meaning to those he met, came to know, and worked with closely extended far beyond that of a Master Distiller. Elmer defined, in the simplest terms, what it means to be a great American – hard working, self-made, courageous, honest, kind, humble, and humorous.
Elmer was born in 1919 on a tobacco farm near Peaks Mill in Franklin County, Ky. He graduated from Frankfort County High School in 1936 and worked for Jarman Shoe Company until December 1941. He then served with the U.S. Army Air Force in World War II as a radar bombardier on a B-29. After flying missions against Japan through 1945, Elmer was honorably discharged in January 1946. He returned home and studied engineering at the University of Kentucky, where he graduated with honors in 1949.
In September 1949 Elmer began working in the engineering department of the George T. Stagg Distillery in Frankfort. In 1966, Elmer was promoted to plant superintendent, responsible for all plant operations and reporting to the plant manager. 1n 1969, he became plant manager.
But it was in 1984 that Elmer’s contribution to the bourbon industry gained him the most notoriety, when he introduced Blanton’s, the world’s first Single Barrel Bourbon. Elmer retired in 1985 but continued to serve as an ambassador for Buffalo Trace, and in 1986 he was honored with his very own single barrel bourbon, Elmer T. Lee. Of course, for those of us who knew Elmer, he never really retired. Every Tuesday we could see Elmer making his rounds at the Distillery in his trademark cap, signing bottles, posters, and other memorabilia at the Gift Shop, visiting his friends in Blanton’s Bottling Hall, and tasting bourbons (for quality control purposes!) in the lab.
Elmer was always ready to offer advice, and was a wealth of information that many of us relied on, myself included. Harlen Wheatley would inquire with Elmer when stuck on a mechanical problem, and any historical questions about the Distillery always went to Elmer, who, with his razor sharp memory, could invariably answer. To all of us, Elmer was a friend, a mentor, and a trusted advisor.
Elmer was known through the bourbon industry for his expertise and knowledge about bourbon whiskey and he received numerous awards and recognition, including induction into the Bourbon Hall of Fame in 2001, the Lifetime Achievement Award from Whisky Advocate in 2002, and the Lifetime Achievement Award and Hall of Fame induction from Whisky Magazine in 2012.
We have lost a wonderful friend today, and he will be missed terribly.
Services for Elmer T. Lee are pending and will be announced shortly.
In 1986, shortly after he officially retired, the distillery named a Bourbon in his honor. At the time, Elmer was the only living distiller to have a whiskey bearing his name, and was later followed by his longtime friends Jimmy Russell (Russell’s Reserve) and Parker Beam (Parker’s Heritage Collection).
During our 2006 interview, Elmer said the only stipulation that he made was that he be allowed to select the barrels used for his whiskey. He continued that practice until recently, visiting Buffalo Trace on Tuesdays to taste samples selected for him and giving them his blessing for bottling. In 2009, Buffalo Trace released a special 90th Birthday bottling of Elmer T. Lee Bourbon to honor him on his 90th Birthday.
Our condolences go out to Elmer’s family, friends, and his colleagues at Buffalo Trace.
The label features one of the most unique elements of the Strathisla Distillery in Keith, its twin pagodas from the distillery’s old malt kilns. The new packaging is now available in more than 25 markets where Strathisla is sold, including Europe and the travel retail market.
In a news release, Chivas Brothers International Brand Director Nikki Burgess said the goal was to keep Strathisla relevant in today’s whisky market:
“Strathisla 12 Year Old has long been considered the connoisseurs’ best kept secret as a rare malt whisky produced in limited quantities from a world famous distillery. We are confident that the fresh approach for Strathisla, an example of Chivas Brothers’ continued commitment to innovation, will attract both adventurous and established whisky drinkers to the brand and the wider Chivas Brothers portfolio.”
The new bottle will be available in 70cl and 1 litre sizes. It will not be available in the United States, where 750cl bottles are required by law.
Links: Chivas Brothers
Whyte & Mackay’s flagship single malt Scotch is releasing The Dalmore Paterson Collection – 12 bottles of The Dalmore selected by Master Blender Richard Paterson and Harrods wine and spirits buyer Nick Fleming. The collection includes some of the rarest Dalmore malts available, with one bottle of whisky distilled in 1926. The collection also includes Richard Paterson’s personal journal outlining each bottle, which was named after a person who influenced Richard’s life and career.
In a news release, Paterson described his extensive work to create the collection that bears his name:
“Working alongside Harrods, we have created a collection of whiskies of the very highest quality that can truly lay claim to be the only one of its kind in the world. I personally have invested a huge amount of time ensuring that each of these twelve expressions represent the very best of the incredibly rare and valuable stocks that we nurture up at the distillery in Alness. I’m delighted that we have been able to give this collection the showcase that it deserves, with centre stage in the spirit room of the world’s number one luxury retailer.”
The Paterson Collection will be on display in the Harrods Fine Spirits Room at its flagship store in London.
July 15, 2013 – Two of Scotland’s independent bottlers have released new ranges of single cask bottlings.
Wemyss Malts is shipping 6 new whiskies this week to distributors in the UK, Europe, and Asia:
“Apple Pastry” – a 1991 single cask from Linkwood (Speyside),
“Salted Caramels” – a 1991 single cask from Glen Scotia (Campbeltown),
“The Smokery” – a 1980 single cask from Caol Ila (Islay),
“Maritime Embrace” – a 1989 single cask from Bunnahabhain (Islay),
“Melon Cocktail” – a 1994 single cask from Aberfeldy (Highlands),
“Spiced Chocolate Cup” – a 1997 single cask from Clynelish (Highlands).
All six were selected by the Wemyss tasting panel led by Charles Maclean, and were named for their unique aromas and flavors.
Meadowside Blending Co., owned by Donald and Andrew Hart, is releasing five new single casks in its flagship “The Maltman” range:
Glenturret 30 Years Old – a single Bourbon cask bottled at 46% ABV (Highlands),
Glenrothes 18 Years Old – a single Bourbon cask bottled at 50.8% ABV (Speyside),
Isle of Arran 16 Years Old – a single Oloroso Sherry cask bottled at 46% ABV (Highlands),
Caol Ila 10 Years Old – a single Bourbon cask bottled at 46% ABV (Islay),
Ledaig 7 Years Old, a single Bourbon cask bottled at 46% ABV (Highlands).
The Maltman bottlings are available at whisky specialist retailers in North America and Europe.
July 15, 2013 – Kentucky’s Bourbon distillers may compete with each other to see who can sell the most whiskey, but when a member of the family needs help, they all come together in a spirit of brotherhood. Now, seven of the Commonwealth’s largest distilleries have agreed to blend their whiskies together to create 12 special bottles of Bourbon to raise money for Parker Beam’s Promise of Hope Fund.
Earlier this year, the longtime master distiller for Heaven Hill was diagnosed with ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease), and Heaven Hill created the Promise of Hope Fund to benefit the ALS Association. The company plans to donate $20 from each bottle of the upcoming Parker’s Heritage Collection annual release, and several of Heaven Hill’s regional distributors have pledged to match the donations in hopes of raising more than $250,000.
Now, the Lexington Herald-Leader reports that Parker’s colleagues have agreed to create Master Distillers’ Unity, which will blend whiskies from Four Roses, Woodford Reserve, Buffalo Trace, Maker’s Mark, Wild Turkey, and Jim Beam together with whiskey selected by Parker from Heaven Hill’s stocks. Two bottles will be sold at the Bonhams auction in New York City on Sunday, October 13, with all proceeds to go to the Promise of Hope Fund. The bottles will be sold together, so that the winning bidder can keep one and drink one. The remaining ten bottles of Master Distillers’ Unity will be opened earlier that weekend during a special tribute and toast to Parker Beam On October 12 during WhiskyFest New York.
In addition to the distillers, Saxco Industries, Walsen International, and Promotional Wood Products have donated the custom packages and bottles for Master Distillers’ Unity, and Bonhams will waive all commissions on the two bottles to be auctioned. This ensures that all proceeds from Master Distillers’ Unity will go to the Promise of Hope Fund.
Heaven Hill has not officially released details on this year’s Parker’s Heritage Collection whiskey yet, but the Herald-Leader reports it will be a 10-year-old whiskey to be named Promise of Hope and bottled at 48% ABV. More details on the Heritage Collection release will be posted as they become available.
July 13, 2013 – More than a week after initial news reports that Google’s online mapping feature had consigned Scotland’s Isle of Jura to the same fate as Atlantis, the wreckage of the Titanic, and perhaps even the body of Jimmy Hoffa, Google Maps continues to show the island as underwater.
It’s hard to make an island nearly 31 miles long with the Paps of Jura standing nearly 800 meters above sea level disappear beneath the waves, but a check of the Google map for Jura shows the island’s main road from the Islay ferry dock to just north of Craighouse…and nothing else.
Obviously, the Isle of Jura is not really underwater. A newsletter from the Jura Distillery this week proves that, and according to news reports, Google Maps engineers are trying to solve the problem. Clicking on the “Satellite” option in the map display shows the island in all of its glory.
However, with only a few hundred year-round residents, clicking on the “Traffic” option doesn’t yield much…except for the occasional herd of deer.
July 12, 2013 – More than a year after his supply of whiskey for Slane Castle Whiskey was cut off, Lord Henry Mount Charles has received approval for his plans to build a distillery at the castle in County Meath. Slane Castle Whiskey was introduced in 2010 using whiskey sourced from Cooley, but the supplies were cut off in early 2012 after Beam acquired Cooley and started terminating bulk sales of whiskey to independent bottlers without long-term contracts. The family was forced to withdraw its whiskey from the market at that point, and started looking at the possibility of building its own distillery.
Now, the Mount Charles family has received approval from county officials for a €12 million ($15.7 million USD) distillery that will be built on the stable grounds at Slane Castle in partnership with the family-owned Camus Cognac of France. The two families have pledged just under 50% of the total projected cost, and according to the Irish Times, will be seeking additional investors to join the project. A visitors center is projected to draw 50,000 tourists annually, and the facility is expected to create 25 full-time jobs.
The distillery is scheduled to be completed in 2015, and the first whiskey from Slane Castle is likely to be a blended whiskey that will hit the market in 2018, according to Lord Alex Mount Charles, Lord Henry’s son and the managing director for Slane Castle Whiskey. The distillery will use barley grown on the castle’s grounds and get its water supply from a river that runs through the estate.
Links: Slane Castle Whiskey
July 9 , 2013 – Lincoln Henderson will finally have another distillery of his own to work with. The longtime Brown-Forman master distiller and original master distiller at Woodford Reserve helped break ground today for the new Angel’s Envy Distillery in downtown Louisville. Henderson created the Angel’s Envy brand with his family and a team of investors using whisky sourced from other distilleries. In a news release, Henderson expressed relief after spending the last two years looking for a site to build the distillery.
“I feel blessed to do what I truly love to do. It is a dream come true to have my own distillery on Main Street in downtown Louisville.”
The site is on the eastern end of Main Street near Louisville Slugger Field, and was formerly the site of Vermont American and Baer Fabrics. Angel’s Share Brands, LLC, the Chicago-based parent company of Angel’s Envy, purchased the site from the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and the project will also receive economic development incentives from the Commonwealth. The $12 million dollar renovation project will include not only the distillery, but a visitors center that will become part of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.
Angel’s Share Brands, LLC also announced a significant investment in the company from Blue Equity, LLC, a Louisville-based private equity firm. The amount of the investment was not disclosed.
Links: Angel’s Envy
July 9, 2013 – Diageo executives spent the better part of a year negotiating and then trying to close the deal for a majority stake in India’s United Spirits, only to wind up with management control and a 25% stake in the company. Now, they face another round of negotiations over the fate of Whyte & Mackay, the United Spirits-owned Scotch whisky producer.
During the United Spirits share tender process, several news organizations reported that the U.K.’s Office of Fair Trading (OFT) had privately expressed reservations over the merger. Diageo already controls about 38% of Scotch whisky production, and while outgoing CEO Paul Walsh has said that Whyte & Mackay would be surplus to the company’s needs, that’s believed to apply to the four Whyte & Mackay malt whisky distilleries (Dalmore, Jura, Tamnavulin, and Fettercairn). The OFT is said to be concerned about Whyte & Mackay’s Invergordon grain whisky distillery near Inverness and the impact on competition. There are seven grain whisky distilleries in Scotland producing whisky to be used in Blended Scotches, and Diageo already owns 100% of Cameronbridge and 50% of the North British Distillery in a joint venture with The Edrington Group.
In May, the Times of India reported that Whyte & Mackay was considering the sale of Invergordon as a way to satisfy the regulatory concerns. While the Office of Fair Trading has not responded to requests for comment, a Diageo spokesperson issued this response in an email to WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie:
“Now that we have closed the deal, we will be engaging appropriately with the OFT and anticipate filing in due course. It would be inappropriate to comment further at the moment.”
The email did not respond to questions about whether the entire unit would be put up for sale or whether management changes are planned.
Whyte & Mackay has referred all questions about the merger to United Spirits executives in India, and a United Spirits executive has told WhiskyCast that the company does not respond to “market speculation”.
This story will be updated as new information becomes available.
July 9, 2013 – Bourbon distillers have their own unique ways of making America’s native spirit, and each one will tell you a different tale — if you can get them to tell you at all. Some distillers swear that putting spirit into a barrel at a high entry proof (the percentage of alcohol) makes the end result better, while others claim using a lower entry proof leads to a smoother whiskey.
Why not put spirit straight off the still into the barrel, undiluted? First off, it’s not legal. U.S. law requires that Bourbon be matured in new oak barrels with an entry proof of no more than 125 proof (62.5% ABV), and at most distilleries, the spirit comes off at a much higher proof level. Second, there’s the issue of consistency. Stills can generate spirit at slightly different strengths depending on the time of year, and when one’s looking to create a whiskey with a consistent taste, it helps to start creating that consistency early in the process and use a consistent entry point. There are other reasons, but they would require a degree in chemistry to explain.
Buffalo Trace’s latest Experimental Collection release tests the various hypotheses on entry proof, especially when it comes to wheated Bourbons such as the W.L. Weller and Pappy Van Winkle whiskies. Back in late 2001, the distillery took a wheated Bourbon mashbill coming off the still at 130 proof (65% ABV), and split the spirit four ways when it was filled into casks:
125 Proof (62.5% ABV), the maximum allowed under U.S. law;
115 Proof (57.5% ABV), very close to what Buffalo Trace uses for wheated Bourbons;
105 Proof (52.5% ABV),
90 Proof (45% ABV).
The casks were matured under identical conditions for 11 years and 7 months, then bottled at 90 proof (45% ABV) for the latest Experimental Collection release.
The key finding: the higher the entry point, the more lost to evaporation over time during maturation. The casks filled at 62.5% ABV lost 71% of their contents to evaporation, while the casks at 57.5% ABV lost 73%. By comparison, the casks filled at 52.5% ABV lost 62% of their contents and the 45% ABV casks lost 64%. However, Buffalo Trace’s internal quality analysis panel rated the 115 Proof (57.5% ABV) casks as the best-tasting spirit. In a news release, Buffalo Trace master distiller Harlen Wheatley said the study helped confirm his team’s suspicions:
“This was an interesting experiment for us to conduct, and by keeping all of the variables consistent such as the proof off the still, aging time and placement next to each other in the warehouse, we were able to focus just on the entry proof into the barrel and see how it affected taste and evaporation rate. We were pleased that what we consider the ideal entry proof for a wheated bourbon, at 114 proof, was pretty close in proof to what we evaluated to also taste the best in this experiment – which was the 115 proof experiment. It was gratifying to see that we have been on the right track this whole time with our entry proof for our wheated recipe bourbons. Another point of interest is the higher entry proofs, the higher the evaporation rates, which is something we’ve always suspected but now know for a fact.”
All four recipes will be available in limited quantities at whisky specialist retailers in the U.S. in 375 ml bottles, with a suggested retail price of $46.35 each.
Links: Buffalo Trace