Shenk’s Homestead Sour Mash Whiskey Review (2018 Release)

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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 global recognition for the quality of both their own and their sourced whiskies under Master Distiller Pam Heilmann – the first woman to serve as a Master Distiller at a Kentucky Distiller’s Association distillery since prohibition, and Master of Maturation Andrea Wilson – the first woman to ever serve as Chair of the Kentucky Distillers Association. The Michter’s core range of whiskies, which are bottled under their popular US1 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 and are released on a ‘when-ready’ basis to eager fans. In recent years Michter’s have also released two innovative satellite brands – Shenk’s Homestead Sour Mash Whiskey, and Bomberger’s Declaration Kentucky Straight Bourbon – which honour the heritage of the Michter’s brand.
Shenk’s Homestead Sour Mash whiskey is one of two legacy brands produced by the Michter’s Distillery in Louisville, KY which honours the legacy and history of both the brand and original Michter’s Distillery in Schaefferstown, PA. With records indicating that distillation had been taking place at a distillery (which would eventually become known as Michter’s) in Schaefferstown by Swiss Mennonite farmers John and Michael Shenk around the year 1753, Shenk’s has thus been named in their honour and is a small batch American whiskey made using the traditional sour mash technique.
This brand is an exciting addition to the Michter’s Distillery portfolio for Michter’s fans as it has also allowed Michter’s Master of Maturation, Andrea Wilson, and her dedicated team an opportunity to innovate and produce something truly unique that is beyond what Michter’s target flavour profile for their brand would be through the use of a variety of techniques such as special wood finishes, interesting mashbills, etc. This 2018 bottling of Shenk’s includes a previously unreleased mashbill and a portion of the stocks were aged in French Oak barrels and blended into the final batch. Another interesting fact about this particular whiskey is that the dominant grain in the mashbill is neither corn nor rye (similar to Michter’s US*1 Sour Mash but a different whiskey) hence it cannot be classified as either a rye or a bourbon whiskey.

Vital Stats:

Name: Shenk’s Homestead (Batch 18C321)

Age: Non Age Stated

Proof: 91.2 Proof (45.6% ABV)

Type: Kentucky Sour Mash Whiskey

Mashbill: Not disclosed – assumed mixed mashbill of corn, rye and malted barley

Producer: Michter’s Distillery, KY

Website: http://www.shenkshomestead.com/

Glassware: Glencairn

Review

Nose: The nose opens thick with flavour as notes of soft brown sugar caramel and thick vanilla, contrast with warm toasted oak, earthy, herbaceous rye, warm baking spices, slight cherries, and orange peel.

Palate: The palate opens viscous and well-rounded, opening with notes of warm toasted oak, caramel hard candies, and a wave of peppery rye and oak spice which fades to slight milk chocolate, baking spices, faint orange peel, stewed red fruit, and smoky oak as it’s chewed.

Finish: The finish opens with sweet toasted oak, barrel smoke, and a warming kick of rye and cinnamon, fading to milk chocolate, red fruits, and orange peel

Overall

As with the other whiskies produced by Michter’s, Shenk’s maintains that consistent level of premium quality, and depth of flavour that fans know to expect. It’s packed full of well-balanced flavour, there’s no unpleasant burn or tannin heavy oak dominating the palate, and the proof is perfect (even though I am a self-identified proof junkie). The nose has a beautiful and soft balance between deep brown sugar, warm toasted oak, earthy rye, vibrant baking spices, and smoky oak notes working together in harmony. On the palate, the viscosity on the tongue is thick and rich before the oak and the rye really start showcasing their delicious flavours alongside those of a butterscotch- heavy whiskey. Finally, the finish gives you a warming ‘Kentucky Hug’ as the flavours from the palate continue across the tongue. When describing what this whiskey is like when you drink it I really don’t want to use the dreaded word ‘smooth’ but, without a better alternative, this starts as a really smooth whiskey on the palate before those bold and spicy flavours from the rye and oak develop. I had heard before trying this whiskey that it was a blend containing stocks aged in French Oak (a more tannin-heavy species of oak). As such I was curious to see what influence this would have on the finished product and was nicely surprised by how well-balanced this turned out. Overall there aren’t any unpleasant or dominant notes in this whiskey that would take away from the tasting experience. Yes, the oak and the rye have a lot of influence but they are not overbearing over the subtler, softer flavours instead they highlight and invigorate them nicely.

In order to also try and get a better idea of what the blending in of stocks that were aged in French Oak barrels added to this whiskey I drank it side by side with the standard Michter’s US☆1 Sour Mash whiskey for one of my tastings. Despite being made from different mashbills, I hoped the fact that they were a similar style of whiskey would help highlight some of the differences. What I found was that where Shenk’s had that distinct soft butterscotch and caramel candy nose, the US☆1 Sour Mash instead gave a more dominant black cherries note with burnt caramel being the less dominant note. On the palate, Shenk’s also had more depth and complexity with more viscosity, barrel smoke, toasted oak, and general overall oak tannin-driven flavours, making it a more enjoyable pour. The US Sour Mash, although not an inferior product, just didn’t command the same level of depth of flavour or complexity as the Shenk’s, with Shenk’s building upon what is already found in the US Sour Mash flavour-wise. In fact, when you taste both side by side the difference that the extra 2.6 proof points and the blending in of stocks that had aged in tannin-heavy French Oak casks really becomes apparent and makes for a more enjoyable whiskey overall. There’s also a softness to the Shenk’s that not only carries the flavours well but makes it the perfect whiskey for sipping neat. In fact 5fact I don’t think I’d forgive myself if I were to put this into a whiskey cocktail as some things were just made to enjoy neat.

The addition of Shenk’s and Bomberger’s to Michter’s existing whiskey portfolio has so far been a great success in my opinion. Although I don’t own a bottle of Bomberger’s, I have tried it on three occasions to date and have, like Shenk’s, found it to be a great whiskey that’s both unique and in keeping with Michter’s level of quality. The most exciting part of these legacy brands is that, for Michter’s fans like me who love seeing innovative and interesting releases hit the market, they represent an exciting future. These brands offer Andrea Wilson and her exceptionally talented team an annual opportunity to create an innovative whiskey outside of Michter’s target flavour profile that not only honours their brand legacy but also allows fans to taste what’s possible when a talented and passionate team have the creative freedom to outside of the exciting innovation that already exists within the Michter’s brand.

Try or Buy?

If you like an American whiskey with a good balance of rye, butterscotch, and toasted oak then this is a whiskey for you. Alternatively, if you’re already a fan of Michter’s US1 line, then Andrea Wilson and her team have really knocked it out of the park with this one and I’d recommend this even more. This bottle is currently on sale in Ireland with an RRP of less than €100 (inclusive of EU bourbon tariffs) which in my eyes is a bargain for what you are getting.

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