Michter’s US☆1 Sour Mash – Toasted Barrel Finish (2019 Release) Review

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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 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 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.

Following the long-time success of their Toasted Barrel Finish (TBF) US☆1 Bourbon, and subsequent booming success of their TBF US☆1 Barrel Proof Rye, Michter’s have continued to up the ante when it comes to these innovative whiskies and recently announced that the next release of TBF whiskey would be their very popular US☆1 Sour Mash whiskey. With a massive following, the standard Michter’s US☆1 Sour Mash Whiskey is already one of my favourite US whiskies and is also the first whiskey made in the United States to ever achieve the honour of being named “Whisky Of The Year” by The Whisky Exchange. Originally distilled from a mashbill that doesn’t qualify as either a bourbon nor a rye whiskey (the percentage of both corn and rye in the recipe are each below 51%), it is the hidden gem in Michter’s US☆1 core range. So when this announcement landed many Michter’s (and Michter’s TBF) fans wasted no time in preparing for something special.

The process involved in making this whiskey followed the same steps as seen before with Michter’s taking fully mature barrels of US☆1 Sour Mash American whiskey, re-barreling them into special custom barrels, and then ageing the whiskey for an undisclosed period of time until the flavour profile has reached a point where Master of Maturation Andrea Wilson and her team deem it ready for bottling. The custom barrels used were assembled from 18-month air dried oak and toasted to a custom level without charring. According to Andrea Wilson:

“The toast profile used to finish our Toasted Barrel Sour Mash differs from both the toast profile used for our Toasted Bourbon and the toast profile used for our Toasted Barrel Strength Rye…A milder toast was chosen to enhance the toffee character of the US*1 Sour Mash and provide a hint of campfire on the finish. After evaluating different degrees of toasting, we selected a level that would provide the toasty profile people enjoy while complementing the elegance of the sour mash whiskey,”

This process of finding what works best for the particular style of whiskey, as opposed to making the whiskey fit an envisioned process, has become a hallmark of Michter’s whiskies and with the success of previous TBF releases I wonder if it will carry through with this experimental release and deliver what Michter’s set out to achieve. Let’s find out!

Vital Stats:

Name: Michter’s Toasted Barrel Finish Kentucky Sour Mash Whiskey (Batch No: 19G1244)
Age: NAS
Proof: 86 Proof (43% ABV)
Type: American whiskey
Mashbill: Not disclosed
Producer: Michter’s Distillery LLC, KY
Website: https://michters.com/us1-toasted-barrel-finish-sour-mash/ 
Glassware: Glencairn

Review

Nose: The nose opens with soft toffee, thick vanilla, earthy baking spices, subtle black stone fruit (plums and cherries), orange peel oil, and faint black pepper all tied together by an undercurrent of toasted oak.

Palate: The palate opens viscous with notes of toffee bordering on butterscotch, followed by warm toasted oak, a building wave of earthy black pepper spice, slight fermented cherries, orange peel, creamy milk chocolate, and rich baking spices on the back as you chew.

Finish: The finish opens with a wave of dry and warming oak spice, vanilla, and thick toffee that sits on the tongue and leaves a warming baking spice and toasted oak aftertaste.

Overall 

Delicious! Just like the standard US☆1 Sour Mash the Toasted Barrel Finish really doesn’t disappoint. Whereas the standard release has butterscotch, earthy rye spice and cherries galore, this expression is syrupy with creamy toffee on the nose and palate, an oily mouthfeel, earthy baking spices throughout, and the wonderful addition of warm toasted oak notes to round out the flavours you would traditionally get. There’s a balance between the creamy sweet toffee and the earthy baking spices that creates a deep complex and easy to drink whiskey packed full of flavours with a long flavourful finish and no burn. With Michter’s recent release of TBF bourbon last year one comment I saw come up from several fans was that the toasted oak influence was too strong, and some preferred the previous releases for their more delicate influence. With this release I feel like the Michter’s team took those comments on board and as a result the toasted oak influence in this release is milder without sacrificing any of that toasted oak goodness that you would expect from a Michter’s TBF whiskey. The oak never dominates the flavours, instead it runs concurrent with them, adding warm spice, rich toffee, and tannic oak exactly where they are needed, leaving no bitter or harsh oak notes whatsoever.  

At this point I think it’s fair to say that Michter’s produce some of the best TBF whiskies on the market and each release is another testament to the skill and hard work of Andrea Wilson and her dedicated team. It’s also great to see that Michter’s are continuing their innovations into new TBF expressions as each release so far has demonstrated how they are striving to attain perfection within the chosen whiskey style, balancing the influence of the toasted oak barrels with the already complex mature whiskey going in. If I had to rank this release against previous releases it would easily fall into second place behind the TBF barrel proof rye that remains one of the best releases yet under the US☆1 label. The fact that Michter’s are continuing to release TBF whiskies fills me with hope that one day Andrea Wilson and her team will perfect and release another barrel proof TBF whiskey, but until then delicious releases like this will keep me satiated.

Try or Buy?

This has a US MSRP of $60 per bottle and at that price I’d say buy as many as you can get your hands on. For Michter’s fans on this side of the pond this bottle will hopefully fall under the €100 mark and will be a steal at that. If TBF whiskies are hit or miss for you then I would recommend buying a bottle, trying a measure at a bar, and then either drinking the bottle you bought neat or mixing it into cocktails because that toasted oak influence will no doubt make a killer Old Fashioned. Either way you win.

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