Michter’s is an old name. The brand was founded in the 1950s at the legendary Bomberger’s Distillery in Pennsylvania, but claims heritage to a long line of Pennsylvania distillation that goes back to a (probably apocryphal) story about George Washington ordering whiskey from the area to enliven his troops during the Revolutionary War. The brand name dropped into disuse and was renewed by Chatham Imports in the 1990s, where industry contacts allowed the brand to distill its recipe under contract at an undisclosed Kentucky distillery. The recipe, incidentally, includes not only a specific strain of yeast and a mash bill of 79% corn, 11% rye, and 10% barley, but the unusual choice of filling barrels at 103 proof (instead of the more cost-effective 120+ proof). That would have been the end of the story, but Michter’s built a full-scale industrial distillery in Shively, Kentucky, and began distilling bourbon in 2016. Even though the new distillery is large, Michter’s will still be using small batches of around a dozen barrels to maintain quality control.
Without an age statement, there’s no way of knowing when the new juice will be ready for the shelves, but it will be at least three or four more years. I grabbed a sample from a friend’s bottle to do the following review, which is obviously from the “under contract” distillate.
Nose: Maple syrup. Heavy corn syrup and oaky notes, with caramelized sugars (toffee), cherry bitters, and oak varnish or furniture polish. Heady, but without a strong nose tickle.
Palate: Syrupy body. An initial impression of maple sugar candies followed by a strong tongue burn (a bit hot for 45%). Through the haze, there are cinnamon red-hots, maple syrup, and cocktail bitters (Angostura). A vague hint of vegetal grassiness, but obscured by the heaviness of the oak and sugars.
Finish: Medium-long. Cherry lozenge. A hint of charcoal but without any bitterness.
With Water: Several drops of water increases the nose tickle and adds grassiness. On the tongue, the water draws out some nutty notes, like toasted pecans, but thin the body. The finish is also grassier. Take or leave water with this one.
Overall: This is a quintessential bourbon. It has all of the hallmarks of a low-rye, mid-proof bourbon: cinnamon sweets, big oak, corn syrup, cherry notes, bitter charcoal, and a little youthful grassiness. If this were $20 I’d be calling it the value of the century. At $40, I’d pass because it doesn’t elevate itself beyond that “big basic bourbon” category. There is hope that Michter’s new facility will enable the brand to justify itself on the shelf with either a lower price due to economies of scale, or a better product through finer-grained control.