Elmer T. Lee created Blanton’s in honor of Albert Blanton under the direction of then-distillery owners Ferdie Falk and Robert Baranaskas. Blanton’s bourbon has become an iconic brand with an almost mythical following.

Elmer Tandy Lee

Typically, you will see Elmer’s middle name abbreviated. Tandy Lee was the name of his paternal grandfather. When Elmer was twelve years old, his father passed away from typhoid, leading the family to relocate to Frankfort, Kentucky.

Colonel Albert Blanton turned down Elmer for a job at the distillery. It was not until Orville Schupp intervened that Elmer came to work the following week. Elmer started as an engineer in 1949 for the company. Elmer joined the United States Army Air Corps and served on a Boeing B-29 Superfortress. After serving as a bombardier in World War II, Elmer earned his engineering degree at the University of Kentucky. He rose through the ranks, obtaining the dual title of plant manager and master distiller.

The Right Man at the Right Time

Schenley Industries, which owned the then-named Ancient Age Distillery, decided to sell the business to industry executives, including Ferdie Falk and Robert Baranaskas. These gentlemen persuaded Elmer to stay on a while longer while they rebuilt the workforce of the struggling distillery. The company and arguably the industry needed a new product to sell. Seeing the success of Maker’s Mark being advertised as “expensive”, the idea of a premium single barrel took hold. Elmer did bring the concept of using “honey” barrels from Warehouse H for their new premium offering.

Elmer T. Lee Bourbon

Interestingly, the man tasked with creating a single barrel bourbon to honor Colonel Blanton was himself honored with a single barrel honoring him. After retiring in 1985, he was named Master Distiller Emeritus and continued working as a brand ambassador. Distillery peers created Elmer T. Lee Bourbon in his honor several years after his retirement.

Inaugural Hall of Fame Class

Elmer T. Lee was a member of the first-ever Bourbon Hall of Fame Class. He was the third person enshrined in 2001, joined by Parker Beam, Lincoln Henderson, Fred McMillen, Booker Noe, Jimmy Russell, Jim Rutledge, and Bill Samuels Jr. Obviously, he is part of a group that screams bourbon history.

Elmer T. Lee enjoyed his whiskey aged between eight and ten years. He typically pulled favorite barrels from the upper floors of his favorite rickhouses. Elmer probably did not invent the first single-barrel bourbon. However, he did create the first actively mass-marketed single-barrel bourbon in the world. Blanton’s and Elmer T. Lee’s bourbons are produced from Buffalo Traces Mash Bill #2. Also, Elmer liked his bourbon on ice with a little Sprite.


A bottle of Elmer T. Lee Bourbon