This past year we have landed a few standard Michter’s offerings, like the US*1 bourbon and rye, along with a few limited releases like the 10-Year bourbon and the Barrel Strength rye. Overall, we have been very impressed with Michter’s quality, but a bit on the fence as to the Michter’s backstory.
So when this latest limited release – the Toasted Barrel Finish Rye – hit the shelves, we jumped on the opportunity to give it a try.
But what is it?
Both Bourbon and American Rye Whiskey, by law, must be aged in new American charred oak containers. Charred oak is created by applying fire to the inside of the barrel, at varying degrees, to achieve a chemical reaction in a barrel that is responsible for many of bourbon and rye’s vanillas, caramels and fruit flavors (just to name a few). All Bourbon and American Rye is produced using charred oak – in many ways charred oak makes Bourbon a Bourbon, and a Rye a Rye.
But charring a barrel is not the only way to impart flavor from a barrel. If you enjoy any wine that has been aged in a wood barrel, then you are likely familiar with the “toasted barrel” concept, which also applies heat to a barrel, but in a more gentle fashion. Imagine a marshmallow over a campfire – some prefer indirect heat and the subtle lightly browned flavors, while others prefer a marshmallow that resembles yesterday’s spent firewood. Neither is right or wrong per se, but their results are quite different. For more, our friends at The Whiskey Wash provide a great primer on charred versus toasted barrels.
Back to Michter’s. By law, Michter’s must first use charred American Oak to market its product as bourbon or rye. It does. Both Michter’s Barrel Strength Rye and Michter’s Toasted Barrel Rye begin their life the same – in charred new American oak. When that whiskey comes of age, it is generally removed and barreled as Micther’s Barrel Strength Rye (and, possibly, diluted to the standard US*1 Rye). But Michter’s decided to transfer some off that barrel strength rye to new toasted barrels, to “enhance the spice character in the rye while adding hints of dark toast and smoke.” I’ve read where this secondary finishing is more of a resting (weeks) versus true aging (years).
Did Michter’s “enhance” its Barrel Strength Rye offering, or did it change it altogether? If the latter, is that change for the better or the worse? I recently put the two side-by-side for a comparison.
Michter’s Single Barrel Limited Release US*1 Barrel Strength Rye (Barrel No. 16D419) (114 Proof) (previously reviewed)
Nose: Warming, not burning, but still under proof; cinnamon, ginger, dill and pepper spice; honey and caramel sweetness; vanilla oakiness; dark berry fruitiness (blackberry and black cherry). This doesn’t jump from the glass, but every note is pleasing. 3.5/5
Palate: Cinnamon; pronounced dried oak; brown sugar; vanilla; fruitiness that includes stonefruit in addition to the the dark berry from the nose; thinner than I’d prefer; the proof hits at the end of the palate. 4/5
Finish: Medium-long; more developed stone fruit, hot red and black pepper, lingering caramel/brown sugar sweetness. 4/5
Overall: The Michter’s Barrel Strength Rye represents a harmonious balance: the youthful rye notes are nicely complimented by the oak, but not aged out; the sweetness is well balanced with the pepper. And the fruit combines with the brown sugar and baking spices like a delicious pie. If this has flaws, they would be (a) it is slightly thin and (b) the end palate/finish may be too hot for many. 4/5
Value: This retails for around $75, although it is hard to come by. This price registers slightly above standard offerings like Pikesville (nearly the same proof), but well under some of the limited release barrel strength offerings like Kentucky Owl. At MSRP, I think you are getting a good amount of bang for your buck. 3.5/5.
Michter’s Single Barrel US*1 Barrel Strength Toasted Barrel Finish Rye (Barrel No. 17C603) (106.8 Proof)
Nose: A youthful vanilla and caramel overtake the rye notes; cake frosting; baking spices; toasted marshmallow (inclusive of the marshmallowy sweetness); background rye spice, clove and anise; toffee. Unfortunately, the overwhelming takeaway from the nose is the youthful barrel character that remind me of small barrel craft whiskies. Some complexity helps offset that, but overall disappointing. 2.5/5
Palate: More youthful vanilla and caramel; toffee; rye spice; pepper; ginger. Creamy. Less complex than the nose, but more satisfying. 3.5/5
Finish: Medium; dissipating caramel syrup, leaving nice drying toasted marshmallow; nuttiness. 3.5/5
Overall: The toasted barrel finish seems to have taken all the enjoyable rye herbal/spice away, leaving what feels like a young, albeit well done, bourbon. The toasted marshmallow creaminess on the palate and the finish is the highlight, but those same notes on the nose come across a bit out of place. 3/5
Value: MSRP on this bottle is around $75. On the secondary market, this goes for 1.25x-2x MSRP. Even at MSRP, I’m underwhelmed. I expected notes that improve on the standard barrel strength rye, not take away. 2.5/5
I would not have pegged the Michter’s Barrel Strength Rye and the Toasted Barrel Finished Rye as essentially the same product. Knowing that this has only been aged for around a month in the toasted barrel, I would have expected more commonality between the two. Unfortunately for the Toasted Barrel Finish, that commonality is lost. The toasted barrel finish takes the rye a completely different direction. That direction may be more pleasing for some, but it is not for me. Most of the reviews I see are positive, but I suspect in reality this is a bit polarizing – either you like it or you don’t. While I rate it as satisfactory, the reality is that outside that vacuum, I’m relatively disappointed in this one compared to the standard rye offerings (including the standard rye, the barrel strength rye, and the 10 year rye).
“I would not have pegged the Michter’s Barrel Strength Rye and the Toasted Barrel Finished Rye as essentially the same product. Knowing that this has only been aged for around a month in the toasted barrel, I would have expected more commonality between the two. Unfortunately for the Toasted Barrel Finish, that commonality is lost.”
Scott is a co-founder of Flight Club and a frequent writer and reviewer on the Club’s blog.