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.
Since reviving and revitalising the once-famous Michter’s brand, Michter’s Distillery in KY have earned a proud reputation for the quality of their award-winning bourbon, rye, and American whiskies. Of these styles, however, it can be argued that their firm dedication to single-barrel KY-style rye whiskey has produced a calibre of whiskies which stand head and shoulders above the rest and make up some of their finest releases. There’s the core rye – US☆1 single barrel rye; the premium rye – 10y.o. single barrel rye (which is rumoured to regularly feature 13y.o.+ stocks); the very limited release rye – US☆1 barrel strength toasted barrel finish rye, the ultra-mythical rye – 25 y.o. rye, and let’s not forget the ever-sought-after rye – their US☆1 single barrel rye bottled at barrel strength. All these whiskies have put Michter’s on the map as a dedicated rye producer putting out rye whiskies which are full of flavour, drinkable as hell, go great neat or in cocktails and are on par or better than anything their put against. To produce these rocking rye whiskies, they start with a Kentucky-style rye mashbill that has a very low percentage of rye and a higher percentage of corn. These rye stocks are then aged in custom deep-toast and charred ‘Michter’s’ barrels, put into the barrel at the lowest proof in the industry- 103 proof, and aged to maturity in heat-cycled warehouses before being dumped as a single barrel, run through a custom chill filtration protocol, and bottled at the chosen proof or at barrel strength. This produces Michter’s target profile of a rye whiskey which retains its grain character whilst showing the delicate interplay between the impact of the casks, the flavour effects of maturing at a lower proof (more wood sugars present in the final product), and the art of filtration.
Today I’ll be taking a look at the 2021 release of Michter’s US☆1 single barrel rye bottled at barrel strength (try say that 5 times fast after having a few pours of this whiskey!) This whiskey was announced in February for release in March and is the first release of their barrel strength rye since 2019, with the average proof of the barrels being 110.3 proof.
Name: Michter’s US☆1 Barrel Strength Rye (Barrel #L21B478)
Age: NAS (between 6 – 8 y.o.)
Proof: 111.2 Proof (55.6% ABV)
Type: KY straight rye whiskey
Mashbill: Not disclosed (minimum 51% rye grain)
Producer: Michter’s Distillery LLC, KY
Nose: The nose opens with toasted oak and thick caramel before notes of soft red fruit, cinnamon, earthy baking spices and a herbaceous edge emerge. As you nose deeper it shifts towards being darker with black cherries, charred oak, hints of cacao and cloves, aswell as a touch of ethanol in the back.
Palate: The palate opens thick and sweet at first with powdered sugar and toasted oak notes becoming soft red fruit and black cherries stewed in brown sugar and dusted with earthy baking spices and followed by a peppery kick of rye spice that’s faintly herbaceous around the edges. Once the rye spice fades it leaves behind notes of thick caramel, earthy baking spices, and red fruits.
Finish: The finish opens with lingering peppery rye spice from the palate, aswell as sweet red fruit notes before fading towards a warm aftertaste of dry earthy rye spices and tannic toasted oak.
Now this is a rye whiskey to get really excited about! It has grainy rye notes, soft fruit notes, earthy baking spice notes, sweet caramel notes, and warm toasted oak notes all without a hint of fiery spice and held together by wonderful flavour complexities, meticulous balance, and a viscosity that lingers on the palate long after the Kentucky Hug has passed. Every time I drink a Michter’s rye whiskey I’m reminded of why they’re held in such high regard and this release will no doubt be a massive hit with old and new fans of Michter’s rye! Drinking this I can’t find a single flaw, the proof is spot on, the lack of a fiery burn across the palate means you can enjoy all those subtle flavour complexities, and those sweet toasted oak notes dancing in the background makes for a truly enjoyable sipping experience. Altogether it reminds me of a toasted marshmallow on the nose and a delicious pie on the palate with cherries and red fruit all stewed in brown sugar and dusted in baking spices like cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and something with a faintly herbaceous and peppery edge.
Despite only being released when ready, we’ve been lucky to see three concurrent releases of a barrel strength rye from Michter’s since 2019. In fact, drinking this I was reminded of both the 2019 Michter’s barrel strength rye release and last year’s toasted barrel finished barrel strength rye and, being fortunate to have a bottle of all three, a side by side was called for. Although all great whiskies on their own, in comparison, the 2019 BS rye has a lot more rye grain influence shining through with less fruit, caramel notes and toasted oak notes; whereas the 2020 TBF BS rye had a lot more toasted oak and overall barrel influence packed in and wasn’t as sweet or fruity as the 2021. In my opinion, the 2021 serves as a bridge between the previous releases by retaining its grain characteristics and also showcasing how custom toasted Michter’s barrels can improve the overall drinking experience of a whiskey. It brings the best flavour elements of both together in one well-balanced whiskey that takes no prisoners.
By combining the knowledge of their Distillation and Maturation teams, Michter’s produce some of the most sought-after limited releases every year and their limited release rye whiskies are at the top of that list for me. With exacting attention to the minute details of production and the processes involved in producing these whiskies they have demonstrated that the labour intensity involved in producing these whiskies (in this case as a single barrel product!) is worth it every time. Hopefully as they continue to innovate we might see a 10-year-old barrel strength release some day, but I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
Try or Buy?
With a recommended retail price of around $100, existing fans of Michter’s rye can buy this with confidence if they happen to come across it. If you’re new to Michter’s products and not sure if you want to drop a $100 on a single bottle then I’d recommend you try this first from a bar or friend. Unfortunately, releases that are this good are becoming very difficult to get your hands on. However, if I came across another bottle I’d definitely pick it up.