Interview Date: October 30, 2008
Interview with Elmer T. Lee, Master Distiller Emeritus of the Buffalo Trace Distillery. Lee describes his childhood in Kentucky and the path that led him to become a master distiller. He describes how he began working at Buffalo Trace as an engineer, rose to the position of plant manager and later became the distillery’s first master distiller.
He tells us about how Buffalo Trace has changed over time and how it has survived many changes in ownership. Other changes he describes include the modernization of the plant and the addition of new brands to the distillery’s product portfolio. He explains how the distillery began making premium bourbons like Blanton’s Single Barrel his own brand, Elmer T. Lee. He talks about the nuances of the aging process and the art of tasting, explaining the work that goes into selecting the barrels for his Elmer T. Lee brand.
Lee talks about the obstacles he was up against as Master Distiller, describing the hard times Buffalo Trace faced in the 1970s and 1980s, years when the bourbon industry could not compete with other spirits. Finally, Lee gives his opinion about the direction the bourbon industry will take in the future.
About Elmer T. Lee
Elmer T. Lee was born in Frankfort, Kentucky in 1919. He served in the Army Air Corps during World War II and upon returning, earned a degree in Engineering from the University of Kentucky. He came to work at the distillery in 1949, became the plant manager in 1968 and retired in 1985, but has remained active in the distillery until the present.
Favorite bourbon: Elmer T. Lee
Link to full interview video and transcript on the Kentuckiana Digital Library