With strong ties to a distilling legacy that spans over 250 years, the Michter’s Distillery in Louisville, KY, has been producing a comprehensive range of award-winning American whiskies since the brand was resurrected by Company President Joseph Magliocco in the 1990’s. Now distilling in their own facility since August of 2015, the Michter’s brand has seen a quick return to prosperity and global recognition for the quality of both their own and their sourced whiskies, first under Master Distiller Emeritus Willie Pratt, and now under current Master Distiller Pam Heilmann – the first woman to serve as a Master Distiller at a Kentucky Distiller’s Association distillery since prohibition. The Michter’s core range of whiskies, which are bottled under their popular US☆1 line, consists of their small batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon, their single-barrel Kentucky Straight Rye, their small batch Unblended American Whiskey, their small batch Original Sour Mash American Whiskey, and several limited edition variations of these. Their age –stated whiskies, which are bottled under their 10 year old, 20 year old, and 25 year old labels consist of straight Kentucky bourbon and rye whiskey which come from sourced stocks in which Michter’s and are released on a ‘when-ready’ basis to eager fans.
Since the resurrection of the Michter’s brand from abandonment, Company President Joseph Magliocco has put an equal emphasis on the importance of both rye whiskey and bourbon. When Magliocco and his mentor, industry veteran Dick Newman, were first sourcing stocks under phase 1 of rebuilding the brand, they not only sourced aged stocks of bourbon but also of rye whiskey. This was at a time in the 90’s where the rye whiskey market was virtually non-existent, however, Michter’s insisted that they wanted to produce both continuing forward. The first release under the re-established brand was their now-iconic Single-Barrel 10 year old bourbon and rye. With these mature whiskies Michter’s wanted to make the statement that were trying to make excellent whiskey that was both mature and flavourful.
As the brand moved into phase 2 in the early 2000’s and began contract distilling their whiskies under NDA with another KY distiller, rye whiskey was still one of the core expressions that Michter’s focused on. Through a combination of low-barrel entry proof, toasting their barrels to concentrate the wood sugars before charring, and bottling their whiskey only when it’s ready, Michter’s have sought to create a unique Kentucky-style rye whiskey that’s rich and sweet, with more flavour and less burn than what is available from other distilleries. Also, to date all of Michter’s rye whiskey releases have been single barrel offerings which also highlight their particular dedication to quality rye whiskey.
Today I’ll be looking at four of Michter’s rye expressions: the standard US☆1 single-barrel rye whiskey, the barrel proof US☆1 Kentucky Straight Rye whiskey, the US☆1 Barrel Strength Rye, The 10 Year Kentucky Straight Rye, and the US☆1 Toasted Barrel Finish Barrel Proof Kentucky Straight Rye. The only whiskey that will not be included in this review is the Michter’s 25 year old rye because I’ve never actually seen a bottle in person, and I believe that it may be a conspiracy that it even exists.
US☆1 Kentucky Straight Rye
84.8 proof (42.4% ABV)
Nose: The nose gives caramel, white pepper, green apples, toasted oak, and slight citrus.
Palate: The palate has caramelized green apples, citrus, dry oak, and balanced peppery rye spice from the back.
Finish: The finish is dry with white pepper again and a touch of green apples and oak tannins.
Overall: The standard rye whiskey release from Michter’s, this a great example of a well-made Kentucky rye. Albeit a touch dry it never overwhelms the palate with its spice-as many other rye whiskies tend to do. Instead there’s a near-perfect balance of rye’s green apple character, white pepper, a touch of tannins from the toasted barrel, and a modest proof. As a core expression this rye whiskey really sets the bar high and is one of the reasons the brand are doing so well. Not only great to sip neat, this whiskey goes very well into any rye-based whiskey cocktails, especially a Mint Julep.
US☆1 Barrel Strength Rye
108.4 proof ( 54.2% ABV)
Nose: The nose opens with rich caramel, red fruit, faintly toasted and spicy oak, earthy rye grain, baking spice, and a faint touch of smoke.
Palate: The palate opens thick with syrupy sweet caramel and red fruit/berry compote, before a wave of earthy rye spice, cherries, dry oak, baking spices, and faint dark chocolate flood the palate.
Finish: The finish is very long opening with a wave of spice, followed by red fruit, dry toasted oak, earthy rye, deep caramel, and hot cinnamon that leaves a pleasant aftertaste of toasted oak, faint char, and baking spices.
Overall: The same whiskey as the standard rye release but at barrel proof, this is an incredibly rich rye whiskey and every time I drink it I fall in love with it all over again. The flavours are well balanced and complex, the mouth-feel is silky and thick, and there is the perfect amount of both spice and oak. In fact, despite being barrel proof the spice and the other flavours seem to coexist in perfect harmony. I put this down to the low barrel entry proof that Michter’s use. Whereas a barrel proof rye whiskey that was originally barreled at 125 proof would have a lot more fiery spice on the palate, as the spice from the rye and the heat from the high proof compete, this offering is much richer and has just enough spice to carry the flavours without ripping out your tongue. This is one of my favourite barrel proof rye whiskies of all time and is perfect for anyone that appreciates a flavourful but traditional rye whiskey.
10 Year Kentucky Straight Rye
92.8 proof (46.4% ABV)
Nose: The nose opens with creamy hard boiled toffees, followed by grassy rye, sweet toasted oak, cherries, and dark chocolate.
Palate: The palate is oily and thick, opening with notes of brown sugar, orange peel, fresh red and black berries, herbaceous rye, faint baking spices, and minty toasted oak.
Finish: The finish opens with old and musty charred oak, butterscotch, a flash of rye spice, cherries, faint baking spices and leaves an aftertaste of sweet old minty barrels, red fruit and baking spices.
Overall: As soon as you smell this you can tell that this is definitely an older rye whiskey. Whereas the barrel proof rye was lively and intense, with all its flavours turned up to the 9’s this whiskey is more rich, mature, and subtle. Instead of deep caramel, intense red fruit, hot rye, and oak spice, this whiskey gives a far lighter but classic drinking experience that is notably more mature. The caramel notes taste similar to what you taste from older styles of bourbon from the 90’s, the rye is grassier and sweeter with very little burn, and even the oak tastes older and mintier. This is a fantastic rye whiskey and instantly distinguishes itself as a special occasion pour instead of something you would drink every day. It’s rich, opulent, and tastes of whiskey from times long past. If you’re the kind of person who appreciates a lighter but noticeably mature rye whiskey that’s packed full of those traditional rye whiskey flavours you can only find in ‘dusty’ bottles then this release would be right up your street. If it’s flavour intensity you’re looking for I’d stick to the barrel proof rye.
US☆1 Toasted Barrel Finish Barrel Proof Kentucky Straight Rye
107 proof (53.5% ABV)
Nose: The nose opens with notes of warm toasted oak, leather, baking spices, caramel, cinnamon, grassy rye, milk chocolate, and faint cherries.
Palate: The palate opens thick with notes of warm caramel, toasted oak, plums covered in sweet powdered sugar, slightly herbaceous oak, baking spices, earthy spicy rye, and creamy milk chocolate.
Finish: The finish is long opening with toasted oak, red fruit, sweet caramel, and earthy rye, leaving an aftertaste of tannic oak and baking spices.
Overall: Another big hitting rye whiskey the toasted barrel takes the standard barrel-proof rye and adds even further complexity to an already delicious whiskey. This whiskey was dumped cask-by-cask directly into new un-charred toasted casks made from 24 month air dried staves with no batching and has retained its single barrel individuality whilst gaining a rounder flavour profile with added wood-driven sweetness and warm baking spices. The nose is very similar to the standard barrel proof rye with the exception of the toasted oak influence which is more pronounced. Whereas deep caramel and red fruit dominate the nose of my bottle of standard barrel proof rye, this whiskey has more leather, nutmeg, and cinnamon. The palate also features added milk chocolate notes, more syrupy oak sweetness, and baking spices a-plenty on top of the big bold flavours you get from the standard barrel –proof rye. As with the standard barrel-proof rye there’s again not much spice or alcohol burn on the palate, giving you a chance to truly experience the complexity of the added oak notes without killing your taste buds with fiery alcohol and rye spice. Of the two barrel proof ryes this would have to be my favourite, because not only has it managed to make an amazing rye even better, but toasted oak is a flavour profile I really enjoy. This is an excellent rye whiskey with the classic Michter’s rye DNA and I hope Michter’s make it an annual or bi-annual release.
These are all fantastic examples of delicious rye whiskies and in my opinion Michter’s are producing some of the best rye whiskies on the market. My reasons for saying this lies behind factors such as their unique barrel-entry proof, their choice of barrels, their ageing process, and the fact that all of their rye whiskies are bottled as single barrel whiskies. Michter’s have the lowest barrel-entry proof in the business, entering their rye (and Bourbon) into barrels at 103 proof. Despite being a costly method, using the lower 103 proof allows the concentrated sugars in the toasted and charred wood to dissolve more readily into the distillate as it cycles in and out of the barrel. Even though the lower entry proof yields fewer bottles per barrel, the outcome is a richer flavour as is obvious when you taste these whiskies. Their barrels are also unique in that Michter’s have very strict and costly specifications for how they’re made. Joe Magliocco once described Michter’s barrels as the “Porsche of whiskey barrels” and each 53 gallon barrel is made from wood that has been air dried for no less than 18 months and has been extensively toasted to concentrate the wood sugars before charring. Michter’s also heat cycle barrels during their ageing because the more often whiskey expands and contracts in and then out of the wood of the barrel, the more flavour it absorbs from the wood. Heat cycling like this is an uncommon practice used to raise the temperatures in the barrel warehouses to induce extra cycles within a given year. This practice is extremely costly, because it significantly increases the evaporation during ageing, but in most cases it enhances the quality and natural colour of the whiskey. Finally, Michter’s bottle all their rye whiskies as single barrel expressions meaning there’s no hiding poor quality whiskey behind crafty blending. In fact, Michter’s rye whiskies are so distinguished that many American whiskey fans would argue that their rye whiskies are far superior in taste and quality to their bourbon.
When Michter’s President Joe Magliocco chose to restart the brand with a focus on both bourbon and rye whiskey he took a massive gamble; only a small cluster of people want older age-stated bourbon (yes, 10 years old was considered old in those days) and rye whiskey was a style and category that was completely defunct in the 90’s. Despite the risk of failure Michter’s pushed on with their rye releases and in the 29 years since 1990 we’ve seen rye return to popularity among drinkers and mixologists, as well as a very well-received expansion into international markets for whiskey drinkers who want more diversity in the whiskies available to them. Michter’s attention to detail, their unique production and ageing methods, and ‘spare no expense’ attitude towards making their whiskey as good as they possibly can has resulted in their rye whiskey being at the forefront of this renewed popularity. It’s also no surprise that in the two years that the members of the bourbon society I’m part of (the British Bourbon Society – with over 2000 online members) have been asked to vote for their Rye whiskey of the Year, Michter’s has taken the top spot with their barrel proof ryes both times (Barrel Proof Rye – 2016 winner; Toasted Barrel Finish Barrel Proof Rye – 2017 winner).
Try Or Buy?
Due to its popularity, demand for Michter’s whiskies has always outstripped supply. As such, when you find it I’d highly recommend you pick up any bottle from their core range – I especially recommend their rye whiskies. One thing that seems to stop drinkers from picking them up would be the retail prices, however, when you’ve considered the cost and effort involved in making them the prices can easily be justified – personally I’ve bought, drank, and replaced several bottles from their core range over the years . If, however, you’re still not sure whether to spend the money or not find a bar that stocks Michter’s and do a test-drive of their range – you won’t regret it.