Whiskey Review: Michter’s 20-Year-Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon (2021)

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.

I’ve reviewed more than 50 whiskies for this website over the past three years. Some were mediocre or downright bad, others were good, and a few were truly great. But only once in that time I have given a whiskey (or whisky) a 5-star rating: In December 2020, I pronounced that year’s batch of 25-year-old Michter’s bourbon about as close to perfection as I was ever likely to taste.

That bottle is long gone. I shared some at the time with my brother and a few friends who are whiskey regulars, then finished the bottle off on a fishing weekend with buddies. Only now, for the first time, do I regret not keeping a little of it around – if only so I could compare it with the new bottle of Michter’s 20-year-old Kentucky Straight Bourbon.

It’s not news to anyone who reads this website that it’s difficult to age bourbon 20 years or more. The corn base and fact that bourbon is required to be aged in new oak barrels means that after a certain amount of time most of it will taste like you’re chewing on a piece of wood. It’s the rare barrel that can keep improving for so long, and the rare distiller who wants to spend the time and money necessary to attempt it.

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Dan McKee, the master distiller at Michter’s, says he considers 17 to 20 years to be the fork-in-the-road moment – when only a few barrels are worth continuing to age, and he has to carefully groom the whiskey inside those select few.

The Michter’s 20 is only released when McKee has enough to justify it. This latest batch is the first since 2019, and comes out at a healthy 114.2 proof.

If you’re lucky enough to find a bottle at MSRP, buy it on the spot. It takes one Google search of secondary-market prices to know that it’ll be a $750 investment you’re not likely to regret. It’s a far more difficult question about whether you want to – or can afford to – buy a bottle at the secondary prices. No website can answer that for you, but read on for one reviewer’s opinion on what you’d get for your money if you did.

Michter's 20-Year-Old bourbon 2021 review

Michter’s 20-Year-Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon (image via Debbie Nelson)

Tasting Notes: Michter’s 20-Year-Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon (2021)

Vital stats: Mash bill undisclosed, but straight bourbon aged at least 20 years in new American oak; 114.2 proof/57.1% alcohol by volume; bottle #592 of 678 tasted for this review; MSRP of $750 per 750 ml bottle, but you probably won’t find it for that price unless you win a control-state lottery. Some secondary markets were selling this for $10,000 a bottle by early 2022.

Appearance: Dark amber. Thick legs on the side of the glass.

Nose: Orange and apricot initially, followed by cloves, vanilla, chocolate, hazelnuts, and Graham crackers. This is deep and rich on the nose, with hints of tobacco and black pepper.

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Palate: When I go back and read my tasting notes on the 25-year-old Michter’s, I described it as almost chewing on something solid. The 20-year doesn’t have quite that same level of mouthfeel, but it is creamy and sumptuous. Pecan pie, butterscotch chips, and buttery toast come to mind first. It then settles onto the back part of the tongue tasting like leather and pipe smoke, before a long, honeyed finish. If “warm” could be a flavor, this whiskey has it in spades.

4.5

Summary

In his own tasting notes, McKee found “intense notes of black cherry” in this whiskey. He’s certainly tasted a lot more of it than I have, and knows his business far better than I do. But I just didn’t find flavors reminiscent of dark cherries or prunes in here. What I did find was an excellent whiskey, very nearly the equal of its 25-year-old sibling. It’s complex, offering smells and tastes that continue to roll out at you in waves. If you have a chance to try it without taking out a second mortgage on your house, jump at it. My fishing buddies are in for a treat.

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Scott Bernard Nelson

Scott Bernard Nelson is a writer, actor and whiskey reviewer in Portland, Ore. When he's not working, you can often find him fly fishing or rock climbing in the Pacific Northwest.