Editor’s Note: This whiskey was provided to us as a review sample by Michter’s. 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.
From the standard offerings to the almost cryptid-level rarity of their 20-year-old bourbon, Michter’s Distillery out of Louisville, Kentucky, has developed an imposing crag in the whiskey landscape. Every year they offer a limited release as part of their US*1 lineage. This year, as with last year, they are bringing a limited Barrel Strength Kentucky Straight Rye to market.
Master Distiller, Dan McKee, said in a prepared statement, “we’ve put out some terrific Barrel Strength Rye over the years. Personally, I love this 2022 release for its richness, complexity and depth. It’s a perfect representation of our Michter’s house style.”
Michter’s is one of my favorite brands, and in fact was named the “#1 Top Trending American Whiskey brand” by Drinks International. Which makes this next component all the more interesting. There exists some mystery around who, exactly, distills Michter’s current whiskey releases. Recently Micther’s has taken residence in their Fort Nelson Distillery, and Shively Distillery, in Louisville, Kentucky, where even the most un-astute observer will see mash tuns, and stills. The rub is as a brand they’ve only occupied these locations for a few years, and many bourbon hardliners are quick to point out the older whiskey is sourced from an unspecified Kentucky distillery.
For some, this mystery distillate is enough to delegitimize a whiskey. Looking to Michter’s website, we obtain no clarity, “Distilled to Master Distiller Dan McKee’s exacting specifications.” Seemingly implying he distilled the whiskey, but it does not say distilled by Dan McKee. The back of the bottle does provide clarity, “bottled by Michter’s Distillery” (emphasis added) which I believe answers the question; Michter’s is not the brand who distilled this whiskey. For reference, I checked a bottle of Maker’s Mark, and sure enough the back label proudly declares, “distilled, aged, and bottled by Maker’s Mark Distilling.” It stands to reason Michter’s is distilling whiskey and will be bringing that distillate to market in the near term, however, for now this bottle of Michter’s is not entirely its own distillate. Which makes learning about it difficult.
What do we know about this whiskey? Honestly, we do know a few details. We know it is part of the US*1 series, which has a storied legacy of creating many well balanced and tasty whiskies. We know it is a rye whiskey, which means the mash bill is at least 51% rye, and likely contains corn, and malted barley. The whiskey is barrel strength, or put it another way, the whiskey is not cut or diluted from barrel to bottle. The barrels are new oak and fire charred. The whiskey in this release ranges from 107 to 112 proof but varies by barrel. Last, the only impact to the whiskey that doesn’t occur in the barrel is from Michter’s “signature cold filtration,” otherwise what you taste in the glass is how it tasted in the barrel.
Here’s what we don’t know. The percentage of rye relative to other grains or the yeast strain. We don’t know how old this whiskey is, although last year’s was around 10 years old and I would speculate this is in that ballpark. We don’t know the level of char, although a level three is most common in the industry, and we can’t be positive about who the distiller and distillery were.
Therefore, we turn to the glass.
Tasting Notes: Michter’s Limited Release Barrel Strength Rye Whiskey
Vital Stats: No age statement. At least 51% rye with a likely mix of corn and malted barley. Barrel number 22B319, bottled at 111.6 proof or 55.8 alcohol by volume. MSRP is $100 for a 750 ML. Michter’s Distillery Louisville, Kentucky.
Appearance: Deep copper color, with tears that grip the glass and fall slowly.
Nose: Starting off with banana and vanilla bean, maturing into oak, leather, orange peel and dark cherries, with soft hints of rye. Notes are difficult to parse out over the alcohol, as to be expected.
Palate: We start off with a dry, oily, and unavoidable presence of alcohol. However, it doesn’t overwhelm–it simply takes a moment for your mouth to adjust. Despite the high ABV, it is extremely smooth over the tongue. Flavors of rye spice develop slowly throughout, awash in notes of apricot cherry, demerara sugar, orange, and caramel toffee to round out the profile. The finish is clean and crisp, accentuated by a ‘pop’ of baking spice, with lingering sweet bread and fresh leather.
“Always stunning” is the phrase used by Master of Maturation Andrea Wilson of Michter’s. I don’t think I’ll disagree with her. Just because they may not have distilled this whiskey, does not mean Michter’s isn’t responsible for it. They aged and selected these barrels with extreme prejudice, bringing forth an excellent offering. It has the bite of something a tad on the younger side, maybe 8-10 years if I had to guess. Unfortunately, the bourbon world is what it is right now, and therefore I would say MSRP is fair but anything over 2X MSRP would be a stretch for this bottle.
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Charles Steele is a Portland area attorney, born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. His legal education affords him an analytical approach to understanding whiskey and other aged spirits. Traditionally a legal writer, freelancing for The Whiskey Wash will prove a unique opportunity to flex his writing skills. Although he...