Whiskey Review: Don Michael Black Whiskey

, | January 25, 2023

Editor’s Note: This whiskey was provided to us as a review sample by the party behind it. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking the buy link towards the bottom of this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.

At over 10,000 feet above sea level, in Peru’s northern highlands, there is a type of corn that grows at this elevation. The black kernels are vibrant and even the husk is a dark purple. This Andean corn is one of many varietals and is sourced mostly from the city of Cajamarca. Alicia Medina Hoyos, a local native and scientist, brought this varietal to light and paved the way to use it for whiskey.

This Andean Black Corn, or its official name INIA 601, is the basis for Don Michael Black Whiskey. INIA 601 has had a long journey to its current and growing point of popularity within Peru and worldwide.  Hoyos and her team took a population of purple maize from Huaraz, Peru and crossed it with another from Cajamarca. Ten years of breeding gave rise to the INIA 601 maize that they continue to grow today. Her role continues with Don Michael Distillery as she is selective with sourcing this corn from dependable farmers that share the same values as the distillery.

Starting in the construction industry, it was Michael Kuryla (CEO) and his wife Daiana Milon Mayer (Master Sommelier) that decided to close down their construction company to pursue the distilling world with Andean Black Corn and base their distillery in Peru. Having helped build a distillery in the Peru jungle for a client and also fabricating stills is what sparked the interest in the first place.

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In a widely shared interview with Kuryla, his enthusiasm shines through as he proudly shares about the growth of the company, but also challenges that they experience. When asked how often they fire up the stills, Kuryla states, “Don Michael Distilling has 5 stills. Our main 6,000 liters still is working full-time day and night. Depending on the availability of corn, we usually cook six 10,000-litre batches a month. Our other stills are now being used for gin, brandy, and some new products.”

Going into their sixth year of production, this is still considered a young distillery, but they are coming out swinging and being recognized worldwide in the process.

You may still be blown away that Peruvian whiskey is real – I still do – even after digging the internet for info and testing my senses with it. Its origin story is fascinating and it’s exciting to see modern day technology and exuberant passionate people hone in and elevate the art with flair.

There is an ancient Andean technique of making beer called chicha jora, similar to making a European style beer, but all in all this is a fermented corn beer. A drink that is mostly homemade, it is also mass produced on the commercial scale and even used for yearly traditional celebrations throughout Peru. Directly from Don Michael Distilling’s website, they refined this chicha jora process, by adding malted grains to smooth out the flavor, and implemented a state-of-the-art distillation facility to provide the world with a unique Andean Whiskey in the form of Black Whiskey.

Don Michael Black Whiskey review

Don Michael Black Whiskey (image via Moriah Hilden/The Whiskey Wash)

Tasting Notes: Don Michael Black Whiskey

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Vital Stats: 90 Proof. No age statement. Mash Bill: 60% corn, 30% malted wheat, and 10% malted barley price. Price ranges from $50-55 for a 750 ml bottle. 

Appearance: A playful auburn color with distinct legs that show off and stay for the spectacle.  

Nose: For a moment, the initial aromatics instantly remind me of a wheated rye whiskey. Wheat forward aromas of a warm bowl of Malt O Meal hot cereal, then transitions to dried figs and a freshly lit matchstick that pokes and tickles the nose. Even after sitting with it for some time, the aromas hold strong and doesn’t soften.

Palate: Bourbon characteristics shine through on the palate with an Andean flare in the finish. It’s a warm hug of baking spices in a green apple tart, with elevated floral notes that glide your senses into euphoria for the long silky finish.  Mouthfeel is similar to eating cotton candy, as the juice coats the mouth then immediately entwines and absorbs itself the rest of the way down. Aged in American white oak barrels, you can also pick up on the vanilla woody barrels from start to finish with the tasting.

Whiskey Review: Don Michael Black Whiskey
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Summary

Peru has always been on my list of places I want to visit and now that I know they make enticing whiskey, let’s just say that Peru has bumped up. From ancient beer making traditions to elevating it to whiskey, the tale behind Andean Corn whiskey is captivating and shines through with this whiskey.

I’m still surprised that even sitting with this whiskey for some time, it refused to soften on the nose and palate. Don Michael molded this whiskey to have ultimate consistency and stability. It leaves room to be an all-in-one whiskey. For those times when I need a full-bodied spicy dram, I will pour this neat. And when I need a softer, more kind dram, I will add drops of water or throw an ice cube in.

Overall, I’m sure of one thing – I know this would taste best right in Peru itself. So who wants to come with me? And with that, during my research I stumbled upon this Mexican indigenous poem. This is where I leave you for now, “We are grains of maize from the same cob; we are one root of the same path.”

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