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Elmer T. Lee of Buffalo Trace dies at 93

Elmer T. Lee, former master distiller of Buffalo Trace, has passed away at the age of 93 following a short illness.

Elmer-T-Lee Buffalo Trace
Elmer T. Lee, former master distiller of Buffalo Trace, remained an ambassador for the distillery right up until his death yesterday

Born in 1919, Lee grew up on a tobacco farm near Peaks Mill in Franklin County, Kentucky. He joined the US Army Air Force during World War II and served as a radar bombardier on a B-29, flying against Japan through 1945.

After being honourably discharged from the army in 1946, Lee returned home and studied engineering at the University of Kentucky, before graduating with honours and taking a position in the engineering department of the George T. Stagg Distiller in Frankfort in 1949.

Working his way up through the ranks to plant superintendent and then plant manager and eventually master distiller, Lee oversaw much of the distillery’s modernisation and growth.

In 1984 he created one of the distillery’s most popular Bourbons to date – Blanton’s – named after the distillery president at the time Lee joined in 1949. Blanton’s was the world’s first single barrel Bourbon, a concept that Blanton himself originally kept for his own private stock and entertaining.

Although Lee retired just a year later, he continued to serve as an ambassador for Buffalo Trace right the way through.

“For those of us who knew Elmer, he never really retired,” recalled Mark Brown, president and CEO of Buffalo Trace. “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.”

Like Albert B. Blanton, Lee himself was also recognised for his achievements at the distillery with an eponymous single cask Bourbon in Buffalo Trace’s Antique Collection.

“Elmer was always ready to offer advice, and was a wealth of information that many of us relied on, myself included. Harlen Wheatley (Buffalo Trace’s current master distiller) 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. We have lost a wonderful friend today, and he will be missed terribly.”

Services for Elmer T. Lee will be announced soon.

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