Shenk’s Homestead Sour Mash Whiskey Review (2022 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 and inductee to the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame®.

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 a small-batch American whiskey produced by Michter’s Distillery in Louisville, KY. The brand honours the legacy of the original Michter’s Distillery in Schaefferstown, PA, which was owned by Swiss Mennonite farmers John and Michael Shenk and began distilling in 1753. As a satellite brand, Shenk’s allows Michter’s Master of Maturation, Andrea Wilson and Master Distiller, Dan McKee along with their dedicated teams an opportunity to innovate and produce unique flavours beyond their typical brand profile through special wood finishes, interesting mashbills, and more.

As an annual vintaged release, Shenk’s Homestead is a sour mash blend of whiskies featuring one or more innovations by the Michter’s Team. These innovations can include things such as using special wood finishes, making proprietary changes to the barrels the whiskies are aged or finished in, using special mashbills, etc., and are used to create something unique that wouldn’t necessarily fall within Michter’s ‘House Style’. From 2019 – 2021 we saw both Shenk’s Homestead and Michter’s other satellite brand, Bomberger’s Declaration, feature (amongst other innovations) the inclusion of a percentage of stocks finished in Chinquapin Oak barrels. This innovation proved very popular for both brands and Michter’s innovated further within the space, even going as far as using heavily charred Chinquapin Oak casks for a percentage of the stocks used in the 2021 releases. In 2022, however, it was announced that Shenk’s would not be using Chinquapin Oak, with the Michter’s website instead detailing, “The unique character of this 2022 offering results from our ageing a portion of the whiskey in special toasted French oak barrels that were made from 24-month air dried wood sourced from the Vosges region of France.” This news caused a larger-than-normal stir of excitement with fans for two reasons. First, Michter’s were returning to a type of oak last used in 2018, and second, the word ‘aged’ had been used in the description as opposed to ‘finished.’ As a brand notorious for being considerate in their approach to their whiskies and the language surrounding them, the use of the word ‘aged’ implied that the whiskey aged in French Oak barrels was either matured for longer than a standard short finish in these barrels, or, came from their own-produced whiskies, which would be the first time Michter’s own whiskey was included in this release. This hasn’t been officially confirmed as far as I’m aware but Michter’s have always said teh changeover from sourced to own-made would be seamless and without much fanfare.

Vital Stats:

Name: Shenk’s Homestead (Batch 22F1878)
Age: Non-Age Stated
Proof: 91.2 Proof (45.6% ABV)
Type: Kentucky Sour Mash Whiskey
Mashbill: Not disclosed –  mixed mashbill of corn, rye and malted barley
Producer: Michter’s Distillery, KY
Glassware: Glencairn


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.


As always, this whiskey is an absolute pleasure to drink. Any drinker will note that the flavours are complex, robust, melting on the palate in a symphony of earthy spices, thick caramels, warm toasted oak, and subtle fruits. What surprised me most were the lighter apple notes on the nose and palate which were reminiscent of calvados, and when combined with the subtle tannins and spices from the toasted oak gave a profile that’s distinct from the previous 3 releases-but more on that later!

Anyone who is familiar with Michter’s barrel-proof rye releases will also recognise the classic glint of red fruit and grassy rye shining through in this, driving the fruit notes to greater heights and adding a prominent herbaceous element that fits perfectly into the overall profile. What I like most about this whiskey is that it balances flavours which are delicate and nuanced with those which are robust and bold, all without a clash for flavour dominance. The use of toasted oak casks also shines through beautifully and gives the profile a heat and flavour intensity that makes it feel beyond 91.2 proof as you sip it.

At this point, the review is going to take a more technical turn as a result of a research rabbit hole I found myself in whilst trying to further unravel the magic in this whiskey. If this is something that interests you then buckle up, however, if it’s not your glass of whiskey, feel free to skip to my tasting of this release against several previous releases. Now back to business…

Unlike the previous three releases, Shenk’s 2022 contains a portion of stocks (potentially Michter’s own distillate) which has been aged to maturity in toasted French Oak casks. Considering how popular the previous releases using Chinquapin oak were, I found myself wondering why this might be the case and what impact using French Oak may have had on the whiskey. First, Michter’s are renowned for their ruthless quality standards, by which I mean if something doesn’t meet their expectations the whiskey is either aged longer or sent to the Ethanol plant across the street to be turned into jet fuel. There are no shortcuts, no blending away of bad barrels, and certainly no fobbing them off to someone else to put their name to it – either it shines brightly, or it is forsaken to the jet fuel factory.

Second, I’m confident Michter’s have a large inventory of stocks finished in American Chinquapin oak casks that they could have drawn from for this release if they wanted to.

Thus, if they have decided to instead use their own French Oak aged stocks in this blend it not only speaks to the quality of these stocks but also alludes that there was an element of Je ne sais quoi which convinced those involved that this release is where they will shine their brightest. To possibly find out what this something may have been, we must consider where the oak came from, the species of oak used for this release, the advantages of using French Oak into account, and finally the taste of the whiskey compared to previous releases.

The Where
Further scouring the press release for this whiskey, Michter’s specified that the toasted oak barrels used to age a portion of the whiskey in the final came from the Voges region of France. As a country with a far older and more established oak forest management system, France has approximately 5,248,000 hectares of heavily managed oak forest covering several key regions including Limousin, Vosges, Nevers, Bertranges, Allier, and Tronçais (a sub-section of Allier). Under the Futaie Régulière system employees of France’s Office National de Forêts have been planting oak trees for centuries in clusters and then systematically clearing away any slower-growing oaks, until only the fastest-growing, straightest, and, therefore, healthiest remain. Under this system of management, the competition among young trees encourages upward growth free of knots resulting in a straighter grain and better wood. These oaks are then aged to a minimum of 120 years before being reviewed for cutting to serve a number of French industries including cooperages. Additionally, using older oak for barrels means the wood imparts more subtle ‘mature’ tannins to the liquids ageing within them whether that is wine, brandy, or in this case, whiskey.

The Species

Let’s now look at what other clues the name of the region holds for the species of oak which may have been used in this release. In the past Michter’s have made a point of mentioning details regarding the oak used for barrels because different species of oak have different flavour impacts on the final whiskey. This time, the wood came from the Vosges region of France meaning it is more than likely from the Sessile Oak (Quercus Petraea), which is considered the finer of the two species of ‘barrel oaks’ grown in France. This species grows throughout France and matures slowly, with the space between the growth rings being compact and yielding a tighter, smoother grain. This impacts the flavour transfer from the wood to the whiskey as it ages because the looser the grain, the more easily liquid can penetrate the wood, with a tighter grain yielding the opposite effect.

The Feuding Cousins

Based on what we now know, it’s clear why a brand like Michter’s would be drawn to experimenting with a variety of oak species in their pursuit to produce only the finest premium whiskies. In this case, the use of toasted French Oak has produced an excellent whiskey but what are some of the important technical differences between French and American Oak?

  1. French Oak (particularly Quercus Petraea) is much tighter-grained but less dense than American white oak species. As such, French Oak imparts more subtle flavours and firmer, but silkier tannins.
  2. French Oak is split to follow the wood’s natural vertical sap channels, called medullary rays. The medullary rays are not the same as the grain; instead, they are what makes French Oak resistant to leakage. As the most central “heartwood” hardens, these fibers running perpendicular to the tree’s growth rings from the roots to the branches, are filled with tylose lignin and become plugged. If, however, the fibers are crooked, the barrel will leak. In comparison, American oak has a much higher amount of tylose, which allows coopers to saw across the face of the log, breaking sap channels without fear of leaking. This process also involves fewer labour expenses and is why American oak barrels are usually cheaper than their French counterparts.
  3. Given their reputation for wine and centuries-old experience with producing oak barrels, the French appear to treat every aspect of producing their barrels; from growing the trees to cutting the logs, seasoning the cuts, toasting the staves, and assembly; as holy arts, with every detail and tradition considered along the way to only produce truly the best. This means that only 20% of the wood destined to become barrels actually makes the cut, compared to America’s higher yield of approximately 50%.
  4. The average time for which rough staves are seasoned is also longer in France than what’s standard in America with the French prioritising this step as when exposed to the elements, especially rain, the oak leaches out the harshest and strongest of its tannins and flavours. 
  5. The French can spend up to an hour toasting barrels over open fires to achieve the perfect toast for their barrels and unlike American cooperage, there’s no requirement to char the insides. This has a massive impact on the final flavour as it makes more of those naturally higher amount of tannins and wood sugars available to dissolve into the whiskey and add more complex flavours than is possible with American oak.

Despite being cousins, many aspects of how oak is grown and processed into barrels is quite different depending on the type and species of oak used. This isn’t to say that one is superior to the other but more highlights why Michter’s may have considered including French Oak aged stocks in this release.

The Taste

Now of course, despite the differences between the two types of oak, the 2022 release of Shenk’s Homestead does contain an overall blend of stocks aged in both French and American oak, with the French oak being used to impart a unique flavour profile to the overall blend – a flavour barrel if you will. This is similar to when they used Chinquapin oak in previous releases as Chinquapin is known to extract more fruitiness from the spirit while adding a touch more tannin and imparting an incredibly rich profile.  The art then comes from how these different tasting stocks have been blended to create a product that highlights the best of all the oak species used whilst remaining balanced and giving fans a unique tasting experience. So how do we draw a comparison between the previous releases and this release? A side-by-side tasting of course, and what better way to gain a true appreciation for the impact and differences than to pit the 2022 release, against the releases from 2021, 2020, 2018 (being the last time French Oak was used), and Michter’s 2022 release of Toasted Barrel Finished Sour Mash. Let’s jump in!

2022 v.s. 2021

When drank side by side, the 2021 release immediately stands out for its intense fruit, dark caramels, and deep chocolate flavours, which can be attributed to a percentage of the stocks being finished heavily charred Chinquapin Oak barrels. This makes for a tough comparison because, by virtue of not using heavily charred barrels and using a different species of oak, the 2022 release’s more subtle caramels, toasted oak, bold rye, and rich fruit notes are overwhelmed by the power of the 2021 release. So let’s make it a fairer fight.

2022 v.s. 2020

I also tasted the 2022 against the 2020 release which used more Chinquapin Oak than the 2019, but didn’t use heavily charred asks. In this comparison, the dark chocolate, coffee, and fruit notes in the 2020 were again quite intense, but this time the 2022 held its own with big caramels, more mature rye notes, and those beautiful dry apple and warm toasted oak notes.

2022 v.s. 2018

With 2018 being the last time we’ve had a release that featured stocks finished in French Oak casks this is probably the closest comparison available in recent releases. Compared to the 2018, the 2022 features a lot of notes which are similar to the 2018 release but hit the palate with greater nuance, complexity, and a thicker viscosity. The chocolate, apple, and berry notes in the 2018 also ring through in the 2022, however, the 2018 has perfumed apple notes and a sharper grassy rye note. Put side by side, the 2018 tastes akin to a delicious first draft for the perfected piece that is the 2022.

2022 v.s. US☆1 Toasted Barrel Sour Mash (20022 Release)

As the final test for the 2022 release, I decided to include Michter’s 2022 release of their US☆1 Toasted Barrel Finished Sour Mash. This whiskey follows the same concept as Shenk’s but falls within Michter’s target profile for their US☆1 line of whiskies. Both are sour mash whiskies, both fall under a similar-ish proof, and both have been finished in custom toasted barrels – albeit different types of oak as far as I’m aware. Compared to the 2022 release, the US☆1 Toasted Barrel Finished Sour Mash has a sweet dark cherry, darker caramels, and strawberry note on the nose, with more intense caramel and milk chocolate notes on the palate. The toasted oak profile is also different to Shenk’s, with more aggressive tannins and less complexity coming directly from the oak into the general profile. This is a key difference and highlights Michter’s vision for TBFSM to be a release that highlights the nuance and complexity of Sour Mash as opposed to having as big an impact as what we see with Shenk’s. Shenk’s instead exists on the edge of innovation and thus has more flexibility for how much the toasted oak is allowed to impact the overall profile.

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 the 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. The return to toasted French Oak has definintely provided us with something we haven’t tasted in Shenk’s before and the fact that there might even be some of MIchter’s own distillate in this release adds another level of excitement to an already delicious whiskey regardless.

Try or Buy?

This is an easy recommendation folks. With an RRP of $90-$100 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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