Shenk’s Homestead Sour Mash Whiskey Review (2020 Release)

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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. 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 allows Michter’s Master of Maturation, Andrea Wilson and Master Distiller, Dan McKee along their 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. This is achieved through the use of a variety of techniques such as special wood finishes, interesting mashbills, etc.

This year’s release of Shenk’s was made with a substantial amount of rye compared to previous years. Also, following the success of the 2019 Shenk’s release, the 2020 release used an even greater percentage of whiskey aged in custom charred and toasted Chinquapin Oak barrels made from wood that had been naturally air dried and seasoned for at least 3 years. According to Michter’s, this longer seasoning period combined with the custom toast and char allowed the oak aromas, and characters specific to Chinquapin oak, to fully express themselves in the whiskey that was blended into this year’s release.

Vital Stats:

Name: Shenk’s Homestead (Batch 20F1492)

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: https://michters.com/shenks-homestead/

Glassware: Glencairn

Review

Nose: The nose opens with tart green apples stewed in light brown sugar caramel, vanilla bean, and soft stewed red and black fruit dusted with earthy baking spices before notes of soft toasted oak and tannins emerge with a faint kick of cloves.

Palate: The palate opens viscous and sweet with vanilla, toffee, and faint green apples yielding to a grassy baking spice-heavy warmth that flows across the tongue, fading towards the warm taste of sweetly toasted oak tannins, dried raisins, dried cherries, and a charred oak edge.

Finish: The finish opens with some residual heat from the palate and a warm Kentucky hug that moves down the throat and settles in the stomach. Once the spice fades, chocolate, dried cherries and raisins, and grassy rye notes emerge before leading into a herbaceous aftertaste with a charred oak core.

Overall

This is a neatly balanced, easy sipping whiskey with a decent helping of grassy rye to make for a whiskey that is both more interesting and flavourful on the palate. As I’m sitting here drinking this it doesn’t take a lot to pull the flavours out and to enjoy them which is the magic of this particular whiskey.  As with previous releases, you also get a warm ‘Kentucky Hug’ from the finish 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.

Michter’s have never shied away from giving their fans a diverse American whiskey experience. For years now they’ve had both an Unblended American Whiskey and popular Sour Mash bottlings in their US 1 core range with the Sour Mash being a style of whiskey that doesn’t meet the criteria for either a bourbon or rye but marries the best parts of both to produce something unique. This commitment to pushing the boundaries in search of the best flavour is evident in their most limited release, their Celebration Sour Mash. With Shenk’s Homestead, they’ve extended their sour mash offerings to include both an annual vintaged whiskey that pays homage to their brand’s history and allows their genius Master of Maturation to innovate outside of their core flavour profiles. For the past 3 years this whiskey has been on my list of annual limited releases to seek out and to date it hasn’t failed to deliver a delicious whiskey.

This year’s release especially stands out because, as previously mentioned, there’s not only greater percentage of rye whiskey added to the blend, but the whiskey itself also features a greater percentage of whiskey aged in Chinquapin Oak barrels. These custom-made barrels are made of a species of oak which is related to the American White Oak but has a more porous grain structure thus releasing more sweetness and oak flavours to the whiskey as it ages. Combine this with the fact that the wood had been left to naturally season for 3 years before being exposed to a custom toast and charring protocol and the result is an innovate and delicious sour mash whiskey that’s big on flavour and easy on sipping.

To really appreciate the effect of this I tasted this whiskey side by side with both the 2018 and 2019 vintages. Whereas the 2018 featured stocks aged in French Oak cask, the 2019 also had stocks aged in Chinquapin Oak but to a smaller percentage. In comparison to the 2018, 2020 has more deep maple syrup, dried fruits, and cacao on the palate as opposed to tannic toasted oak, caramel, and chocolate milk. With the 2019, the main difference between the two was that 2020 has more rye-driven flavours of cinnamon, faintly herbaceous rye, and added dried red and black fruit on the palate, making it my preferred choice of the three in terms of pure unbridled flavour. It’s also worth noting that the 2020 release is also the darkest whiskey overall. For me the 2018 is reminscent of a classic French Oak finish, whereas the 2019 has flavours of both French oak and Chinquapin to almost act as a bridge between 2018 and 2020.

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 – despite being a self-identified proof junkie. As I’m drinking this it’s also easy to forget the proof on this whiskey as it’s packed full of mature and delicious flavours with none of the hallmarks of being watered down.

Try or Buy?

Shenk’s Homestead Sour Mash has been a favourite whiskey of mine since I first tried it in 2019. Every release following the 2018 vintage has continued to push the envelope and the 2020 release is truly wonderful. With an RRP of $80 there’s no way I couldn’t justify urging you to go out an either buy a bottle if you can or at least source a sample!

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