Shenk’s Homestead Sour Mash Whiskey Review (2021 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 1990s. 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 comes 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.

The 2021 release of Shenk’s was made with a “substantial amount of rye” compared to previous years. Following the success of the 2019 & 2020 releases we also once again see the Michter’s team blending in 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 allows the oak aromas, and characters specific to Chinquapin oak, to fully express themselves in the whiskey that was blended into this year’s release. The big addition this year is those stocks from barrels with various char levels. This means that at least some of the whiskey was aged in heavily charred barrels which will no doubt have an impact on the final profile like what we tasted with the Bomberger’s Declaration. Let’s get tasting!

Vital Stats:

Name: Shenk’s Homestead (Batch 21F1899)
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 complex, sweet, and musky. Notes of sweet toasted oak wrap around red and black fruit which are stewed in dark brown sugar syrup and dusted with earthy baking spices such as nutmeg, cinnamon, black pepper, and herbaceous clove. As you nose deeper it becomes darker and more spice-forward with the influence of the charred barrels shining through and strengthening the existing baking spice notes. 

Palate: The palate follows the nose, opening with sweet brown sugar syrup drizzled over stewed red fruit before dry cacao powder and white pepper notes emerge. These are closely followed by herbaceous rye and earthy baking spices which become darker and more spice-forward as you continue to chew, gaining a note reminiscent of fresh pencil shavings from the oak and leaving a warmth that lingers on the palate.

Finish: The finish opens with lingering rye and tannic spice, dark chocolate mingled with dried red fruits, warm toasted oak butterscotch sweetness, and oak tannins. The aftertaste is long and leaves a warming KY hug.

Overall 

This whiskey is a carefully-balanced, easy sipping, flavour-bomb. From nose to finish it’s a pleasure to sip with warm toasted oak being the star of the show alongside supporting notes of sweet herbaceous rye, abundant fruits stewed in brown sugar caramel, and earthy baking spices galore. As a whole, these flavours combine to bring the drinker on a journey of ever-evolving nuance that moves from sweet to earthy to spicy, all whilst maintaining the overall robust decadence. At 91.2 Proof (45.6% ABV) how Michter’s have achieved this in a whiskey is a mystery to me but speaks volumes to their low-abv barrel entry proof and the impact this has on the complexity of the end product. A warming ‘Kentucky Hug’ also awaits in the finish and travels down the throat whilst flavours from the palate continue to melt on the tongue.

This release builds strongly on what has worked well previously by including an undisclosed percentage of whiskey stocks aged in Chinquapin Oak barrels prior to being blended. These custom-made barrels were made of a species of oak that is related to the American White Oak. It has a more porous grain structure thus releasing more sweetness and oak flavours to the whiskey as it aged. 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 this innovative and delicious sour mash whiskey.

To really appreciate the impact of these custom barrels I tasted this whiskey side by side with both the 2019 and 2020 vintages. Both these releases also included stocks from Chinquapin Oak barrels, with the 2019 containing a smaller percentage and the 2020 containing a larger or equal percentage to the 2021. Overall, the 2020 tasted more mature with darker caramel notes, dried fruits, white pepper, and mint-driven rye. The 2021 on the other hand matched many of these notes but also brought superior fruit notes, delicious, sweet herbaceous rye notes, and bright toasted oak notes of butterscotch and cinnamon. In comparison, the 2019 release brought more peppery spice, cereal-forward rye, and thick maple syrup notes, with 2021 making up for the absence of these with its profoundly flavourful profile. The biggest shock from this comparison was that I preferred the 2021 to the 2020 release. The 2020 release is one of my favourite whiskies of all time, however, despite it being darker and tasting older, the 2021 fought its way to the top, with 2020 nipping at its heels and 2019 following close behind.

If you’re familiar with this brand, you’ll already know that Michter’s are committed to giving their fans a diverse American whiskey experience that steps outside traditional straight whiskey categories. As an example, neither their US 1 Unblended American Whiskey or US 1 Sour Mash bottlings meet the criteria for either a bourbon or rye, but instead are unique blends of mashbills. This is true even in their most expensive and sought-after limited release yet, the Celebration Sour Mash, which contains some of their rarest ultra-aged stocks in what is the unicorn of rare releases.

As with the other whiskies produced by Michter’s, Shenk’s Homestead maintains the consistent level of premium quality and depth of flavour that their fans know to expect. This annual vintaged whiskey both pays homage to their brand’s history and allows their genius Master of Maturation to continue innovating outside of their core flavour profiles and to date. It certainly hasn’t failed to deliver a delicious whiskey.

Try or Buy?

This is an easy recommendation folks. With an RRP of $90 my recommendation is to buy, buy, buy! For those stuck on the low proof I’d highly recommend you try this because it might just shock you like it shocked me.

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