by Scott Hill
What’s in a name? According to Michter’s, a lot.
Take a look at any current Michter’s branded whiskey bottle and you will find the phrase “Distilled in small batches according to the Michter’s pre-Revolutionary War quality standards dating back to 1753.”
Truth be told, there was a “Michter’s” that had roots back to 1753, but that ain’t this Michter’s. The Bomberger’s Distillery in Pennsylvania shut its doors following a 1980’s bankruptcy. That company (and its predecessors at that same Pennsylvania location) began operations in 1753 and offered whiskies with the Michter’s brand name (named after a former owner’s son’s Michael and Peter). The owners of the now Michter’s brand merely bought the name out of bankruptcy and began operation over a decade later (early 2000’s) in Kentucky.
There is, therefore, as much lineage to the historic brand as I have to basketball great Grant Hill or singers Faith Hill and Lauren Hill.
Need I mention that Michter’s sources all the bourbons and ryes offered to market today? So not only is there no lineage in the name, there is no distillation done at Michter’s that could be said to follow any pre-Revolutionary War standards (that is, until recently, as Michter’s is now distilling their own whiskey, which has yet to hit the market).
Truth be told, I love capitalism, and this is pure capitalism. I also love good whiskey. And this, my friends, is good whiskey. So without further elaboration on why many despise the company, I’ll tell you what I think of a couple of their products.
Michter’s Single Barrel US*1 Straight Rye Whiskey (Barrel No. 15A16)
Nose: Heavy rye breadiness; light vanilla oak notes; dill, which becomes more pronounced the longer in the glass; sweet berry and raisin fruitiness; pepper, cinnamon and rye spice.
Palate: Nuttiness followed berry fruitiness; some caramel sweetness; not as complex as the nose; some lasting spice and dill; a bit of mint in the transition to the finish; medium bodied.
Finish: Disappointingly light and simple; some lingering bittersweetness and cinnamon and pepper spice.
Overall: The polar opposite of a crescendo: the nose is pleasing, the palate loses some complexity, and the finish is short and simple. It’s not that I don’t like it, it is that I expected so much following the nose and the early palate.
Michter’s Single Barrel Limited Release US*1 Barrel Strength Rye Whiskey (Barrel No. 16D419)
114 Proof (note, the Michter’s website indicates the “majority” proof to be quite less)
Nose: Warming, not burning; cinnamon, dill and pepper spice; honey and caramel sweetness; vanilla oakiness; dark berry fruitiness (blackberry and black cherry).
Palate: Cinnamon; pronounced dried oak; brown sugar; vanilla; fruitiness that includes stonefruit in addition to the the dark berry from the nose.
Finish: Medium-long; more developed stone fruit, pepper, lingering caramel/brown sugar sweetness.
Overall: Where the lower proof single barrel starts strong and then falls off, this pour is delicious from start to finish.
Both of these pours reminded me of Heaven Hill’s rye offerings, with Heaven Hill’s Rittenhouse and Pikesville being personal favorites. Some brief research online regarding the source of both reveal that Heaven Hill is the presumed distiller. I’ve in turn sampled both the Rittenhouse and the Pikesville. It surprises me truly to say that I prefer the Michter’s Barrel Strength to the Pikesville – although there is certainly a strong resemblance, I prefer the stonefruit/berry sweetness of the Michter’s to the nuttiness of the Pikesville. Likewise, I’ll say that I prefer the Straight Rye to the Rittenhouse, but that is to be expected at the comparative price points.