Michter’s 20 y.o. Bourbon (2019) Review

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With strong ties to a distilling legacy spanning 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 facilities 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 Dan McKee, Master Distiller Emeritus 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.

First released in 2012, Michter’s 20 y.o. bourbon marked the third release of ultra-aged super-premium whiskey by the company which had already released a 25 year old bourbon and a 25 year old rye whiskey in 2008. Featuring bourbon from stocks sourced during the early years of Michter’s revival in Kentucky, this bourbon follows the same release process as Michter’s other age-stated products, i.e. released when it’s considered ready and not a moment sooner. Initially a single barrel product, 2016 saw the first year of it released as a small batch whiskey – no doubt so that there were more bottles available for clamouring fans. Bottled at a jaw-dropping proof for its age, Michter’s 20 has continued to enjoy adoration from both whiskey drinkers and critics with the 2018 bottling being named Jim Murray’s 2019 World’s Best Bourbon aged between 16 and 20 years in the 2020 edition of his infamous Whisky Bible.

When it was announced that 2019 will also see a release of Michter’s 20 year old, this time under new Master Distiller Dan McKee, the news, fan speculation, and excitement swept through the bourbon community overnight. This overwhelmingly positive response was partly fueled by multiple factors. These include the reputation of previous bottlings, the 2018 bottling having won Jim Murray’s prestigious award, and also in no small measure by the great success and acclaim attracted by McKee’s first release of an age stated whiskey, Michter’s 10 y.o. rye, which he released a couple of months after he took the reins from now-Master Distiller Emeritus Pamela Heilmann. Today I’ll be taking a look at the 2019 release of Michter’s 20 which I was beyond lucky to get my hands on a bottle of and I opened to ring in 2020 – a fitting celebration in my opinion!

Vital Stats:

Name: Michter’s 20 year old Bourbon Whiskey – Batch #19H1441 – Bottle 586 of 634
Age: 20 y.o.
Proof: 114.2 proof (57.1% abv)
Type: Kentucky straight bourbon
Mashbill: Not disclosed – sourced from a legally protected KY distillery
Producer: Michter’s Distillery, Louisville, KY.
Website: https://michters.com/20-year-kentucky-straight-bourbon/
Glassware: Glencairn

Review

Nose: The nose opens with complex notes of dark brown sugar, deep vanilla, dark cherries, charred oak, earthy baking spices, leather, and hints of coffee.

Palate: The palate is viscous, exploding with fresh black cherries simmering in thick brown sugar butterscotch, accompanied by an undercurrent of creamy dark chocolate and old charred oak. This followed by earthy baking spices and a touch of peppery old rye that adds a pleasant heat and earthy balance before mellowing into thick dark chocolate with hints of butterscotch and old barrel mint, whilst red fruit and a touch of sweetness clings around the edges.

Finish: The finish is long and opens with a touch of spice left over from the palate followed by a flash of red fruit, before notes of barrel mint and cacoa powder emerge leaving a long aftertaste of herbaceous char, deep cacao powder, and tingling oak spice.

Overall 

Are those angels I hear singing as I sip this whiskey? There is truly only one word for a bourbon like this and it is amazing. It’s deeply flavourful, fantastically balanced across sweet, spicy, and earthy notes, and does it all without being over-oaked or over-proofed. Imagine the finest dark chocolate mousse drizzled in thick butterscotch, with cherry coulis on the side, and a dusting of nutmeg and cacao on top and you might come close to experiencing what this bourbon tastes like. At 20 years old most bourbons start to lose a lot of their flavour to the astringent influence of the oak casks and so are bottled at around 90 to 100 proof to contain this oak-driven astringency. Michter’s, however, have boldly bottled this whiskey at 114.2 proof whilst maintaining a wide spectrum of flavours from deep butterscotch and cacao, to fresh black cherries and earthy baking spices. On the nose alone there’s tonnes of dark fruit and deep brown sugar with the oak adding a nuance of character and earthiness. It has a perfume-like sweetness that is balanced out by the earthier oak notes and char-driven cask notes, whilst along its edges there’s notes reminiscent of a ‘dusty’ bourbon with complex butterscotch and old rye also catching the nose. It also tastes exactly like an old Michter’s would be expected to taste with an emphasis on cherries, baking spice, butterscotch, and subdued mint and cacao-heavy old oak. Every drop oozes layers of flavours that are delicious and drink well without any strong, dominant, or overpowering notes taking away from the perfect balance and vast complexity of the whiskey. In fact, whislt drinking this I can’t help but notice that this bourbon has all the hallmark notes that usually make for legendary and much-sought after dusty bourbons. You get the fresh fruit, the  deep butterscotch, the old minty oak, and the touch of the bitter barrel char that these ‘dusties’ are known for. Even the finish is a feast for the sense as the various complex flavours fade to a lingering aftertaste that ends with the best kind of old minty oak. All in all you get an amazing whiskey sipping experience that will turn your head no matter what your preferred style of whiskey is.

My hat once again goes off to Michter’s on this one. Yes it is sourced whiskey, but maturing it to this point really demonstrates the level of skill that their team possesses. Ageing bourbon past 17 years old without it turning into disgusting oak water is an art all in itself and the Michter’s team have demonstrated that they are masters at it. All money aside this is an absolutely fantastic whiskey so are you getting value for your money? I’d argue yes. I’ve seen more readily available whiskies that taste nothing even close to this on the best of days yet sell for more so my advice would be to sell your Pappy and spend your money on Michter’s 20 – you’ll thank me later.

Try or Buy?

If this whiskey didn’t have an RRP of $700 I’d say go out and do whatever you have to to get your hands on a bottle. However, as it is a fairly large amount of money to part with all I can say is that I will cherish every drop from my bottle and if you see it on a bar, or a friend is nice enough to pour you a dram, then try it for yourself and you’ll see what I mean.

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