Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Tasting Notes #2: Michter's U.S. *1 Single Barrel Straight Rye
The second in an occasional series.
The name Michter's and whiskey share a long history. Kind of.
With its roots in eighteenth-century family-based whiskey production, a distillery in Schaefferstown, Pennsylvania became a major commercial player in the 1850s. The Bomburger family took over whiskey-making in the years immediately before the Civil War and ran the distillery until the dark night of Prohibition fell over the land in 1919.
By the early 1950s, the distillery had been permanently reopened under the leadership of Louis Forman. Forman installed an old-fashioned pot-style still, which most other competitors had abandoned as being too small and inefficient. In 1956, Michter's Pot-Still Whiskey (a bourbon) hit the market though it never gained a reputation as an exceptional product. In 1979, the entire distillery was renamed after Michter's--their top brand.
According to John and Linda Lippman, the reputation began to grown then. After A. H. Hirsch purchased the remaining stock as the distillery went out of business in 1988, and released them many years later as greatly aged whiskeys, the Michter's name took on mythic proportions among some bourbon afficianados. In 1996, Gene Wilson bought the remaining assets of the crumbling and abandoned distillery and sold the most intact item--the name. Chatham Imports now bottles four different boutique whiskeys under the Michter's brand, including this one.
Like nearly every other modern rye, this whiskey was made in Kentucky. After thirty-six months in the barrel, it is filtered and then returned to the barrel.
Here's how it tastes:
Appearance: A medium brown color typical of rye whiskey. Thick legs on the inside of the glass after just one swirl.
Smell: A muted alcohol burn, with sweet but peppery overtones.
Taste: Decidedly mellow. Sweet on one side, spicy on the other, but not much depth. The second sip brought out a slightly soured corn syrup taste, with the spiciness clearly coming out on the back of the tongue.
Finish: Very straightforward, with little to no bitterness.
Little about this rye makes it distinctive, and that makes it seemingly overpriced. It ranges from $25 to $35 a bottle in most markets where it can be found. Clearly it would work just fine in a wide range of cocktails, if only because it features the most basic characteristics of rye whiskey. One could also freely share this distillate as a sipping whiskey with good friends. But paying this much for this little means this may not be your best option when you start exploring more expensive ryes.