There’s a new whiskey making waves here in the UK, and if you follow me on any of my social media channels, you would have seen me become one of the first to experience when they were released only 12 weeks ago. A look into these new expressions from the Michter’s brand reveals some classic history lessons, so pour a dram and let’s go exploring!
The Michter’s brand starts way back in Schaefferstown, Pennsylvania in 1753. Swiss man John Shenk founded a distillery and named it after himself, producing whiskey from rye grain, favoured by many local farmers in the Pennsylvania Blue Mountain Valley. In the mid-1800’s, Dutchman Abraham Bomberger purchased the distillery from the Shenk family, changing the name of the distillery to Bomberger. Once 1919 hit, Prohibition came into force across America, temporarily shutting the distillery until the repeal. Once it reopened though, the distillery changed hand many times, coming close to financial ruin until the 1950’s when Lou Forman, the current owner at the time, created the Michter’s brand we see today. He combined portions of his son’s names – Michael and Peter. in 1989 though, the American whiskey industry was in the midst of a downturn of fortunes, and the owners declared bankruptcy, leaving the distillery in disrepair.
It wasn’t until the 1990’s did we see the foundations laid for the brand we see today. Joseph J. Magliocco (a previous lover of Michter’s and bartender in New York) and his consultant and mentor Richard “Dick” Newman (previous runner of Old Grand-Dad, Old Crow, and Old Taylor for National Distillers before becoming President and CEO of Austin Nichols, the distiller of Wild Turkey) came together with a focus to honour the Michter’s legacy. After gaining the Michter’s trademark, they made the bold decision to resurrect Michter’s in Kentucky to ensure better access to the resources needed. Here they built a a 65,000 square foot distillery in the Shively section of Louisville and, currently under renovation, the architecturally significant Fort Nelson Building in downtown Louisville.
So what are Michter’s Master Distiller Willie Pratt and Michter’s Distiller Pam Heillmer doing to create the range of expressions available?
After using two small pot stills and a custom-built 32 inch diameter, 46 foot high copper column still with a distinctive copper pot still doubler, they are utilising a different method than usual to mature the casks. Using charred oak barrels that have been dried, sometimes for as long as 18-36 months, this causes the whisky to interact with an enhanced state from the natural properties of the wood, resulting in a supposed better flavour. The whisky itself is 103 proof instead of the normal industry level of 125 proof, and it’s said to be lower so the concentrated sugars in the toasted and charred wood can dissolve more readily.
A relatively unheard of process being used is heat cycling the barrels. Essentially, the more often whiskey expands and contracts (‘cycles’) soaking in and then out of the wood of the barrel, the more flavour it absorbs from the sugars in the caramelized toasted wood. Heat cycling is caused by the raising of the temperatures in the barrel warehouses to induce extra cycles within a given year. Although the process is not without its flaws. It is extremely costly due to the cycles increase of the ‘Angel Share’ evaporation during ageing.
The US*1 expressions, so named to honour Michter’s heritage harkening back to America’s first whiskey company, are the current released names in the UK market, so below, I give to you my tasting notes –
Michter’s US*1 Straight Rye – 42.4%
Made from select American rye grain and comes from a new American single white oak barrel. Light with dry rye notes on the nose. Plenty of oak on the palate, with dry raisin and fruits to create a very long, soft spice finish.
Michter’s US*1 Sour – 43%
A hark back to the 1970’s and 1980’s when the original Michter’s Sour Mash Whiskey was the distillery’s single most popular product.
Light on the nose with soft butter notes. Soft with a punch of dry fruit upon the palate. Cinnamon flavours are present leading to a very dry finish with hints of oak.
Michter’s US*1 Bourbon – 45.7%
Made from a selected mashbill that features the highest quality American corn. Matured often in excess of eight years. in a batch size composed of no more than two dozen barrels.
A great nose of whiskey soaked Christmas pudding, with sharp intakes of caramel. Slight bitterness from the fruits on the palate, but mellows into rich caramel to create a long and very dry spiced finish.
Michter’s US*1 Unblended American Whiskey – 41.7%
Taken from the Michter’s website – “Unlike Bourbon or Rye, which, by definition, must be aged in new oak barrels, our US 1 Unblended American Whiskey is aged in a way that utilizes bourbon-soaked barrels to achieve a rich and unique flavor profile. In late 2013, Master Distiller Willie Pratt agreed to re-release our US 1 Unblended American Whiskey after a nearly three-year absence from the market, deeming it “just right” and “the best it’s ever been.” Crucially, our US 1 Unblended American Whiskey never contains grain neutral spirits – hence its “unblended” distinction”
Very light upon the nose, with soft oak aromas mixing with vanilla essences. Soft and light on the palate too. Butterscotch and caramel blend before a slight hit of fruit before the short finish.
A great range, with four different profiles to entice a wide range of whiskey lovers. Although not once to shout about any signature serves per say, a good dram on its own or over ice would do the trick.
One or two for your collection at home, and lets just hope that this latest chapter of Michter’s is a lot more steady than its previous years!
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