I have a soft spot for Michter’s. I thoroughly enjoyed their standard bourbon and rye when first exploring whiskey, particularly the former. Most other expressions I’ve tried from the Louisville brand have also held up well, even if the solid 10-Year expressions are difficult to justify spending $200 (or more) on. Despite my fondness, there’s a degree of uncertainty about the source of their whiskey (other than the state of distillation being Kentucky), since bottles still say “bottled by Michter’s” without the telling “distilled by” part. So when Michter’s claim they cut their whiskey from 138 to 103 proof prior to bottling, for example, one can only wonder whose whiskey it actually is.
For me, part of this wonder stems from how much I’ve enjoyed Michter’s up to this point. After all, if what’s presented to us as consumers is good and production is free of foul play, then why fret? Perhaps, but when brands like Wilderness Trail and Chattanooga Whiskey are producing their own quality distillate while disclosing additional production details, it makes Michter’s delicately hush-hush marketing tougher to shrug aside. Additionally, their more coveted products see limited production and availability, complete with expectedly heightened costs. Take their barrel strength rye, for example. Introduced in May 2015, US1 Barrel Strength Rye is released as a single barrel product with bottling proof typically ranging from 107-112. The only reason I was able to acquire a bottle was because a fellow whiskey fan was generous enough to sell me one at-cost after getting it for an amazing price ($60). My bottle comes from barrel 22B428, was chill filtered (like all Michter’s products), and bottled at 55.1% ABV. Since I’m already a big fan of their standard rye, this should almost certainly be a slam-dunk.
Nose: Vanilla, marshmallow creme, and a sweet, soft grain profile. A touch of mustiness that leads into a dark brown sugar note with an impression of smoky oak. Cherry and orange over a backing of just-present mint leaf. Once I get that mint the dry aspect of the rye comes through. I also get salted caramel coffee after coming back.
Palate: Soft and creamy (flavor and texture) with a slow-developing liveliness from the rye grain. Fruit really comes through upfront with cherry and plum. Transitions to mild pepper and orange spice with a generous dose of luscious toffee. Maybe a combination of cinnamon and nutmeg creep up too.
Finish: Lingering air of mint with vanilla ice cream and brown sugars rounding the experience out. Just enough dryness from the mint and pepper to keep it from feeling overly sweet.
Yup. That hits the spot. Michter’s Barrel Strength Rye showcases precisely what I love about low barrel entry proof barrel strength whiskey. The mouthfeel is soft without feeling needlessly diluted, the flavors are fantastically well balanced, and the development of the entire experience is enjoyable through to the finish. Another thing I love: it only seems to get better the more I sip it. Most whiskeys achieve an apex of sorts after a couple or so sips, often making their shortcomings that much more obvious over time. Michter’s US1 Barrel Strength Rye brings a bit more in each category as I revisit it. Even as I write this review during a rewatch of Stranger Things, I can’t help but be taken out of the show and focus my attention back on the whiskey.
Unsurprisingly, this is the perfect pour for fans of the more available Michter’s US1 Rye who want more personality. If only it was as simple as saying “head to your local liquor store and pick up a bottle of the barrel strength.” MSRP for a bottle recently jumped to $99, a price point that’s become increasingly commonplace amongst American whiskey producers. The fact I gushed about my bottle in the above paragraph means I feel the price is right, but only so long as we stay close to that point. Locally I’ve seen bottles being charged for upwards of $300 which, despite my clear affinity for the whiskey, is beyond what I’d personally justify. It’s a shame too, because I know I’m not alone in my adoration for this expression, since it recently became available at a local bar where an acquaintance described it as “happiness in a glass.” I couldn’t agree more.
Is this ultimately worth paying a marked up price for if you’re already a fan of Michter’s baseline rye? Potentially. If you take significant pause at the idea of spending triple digits on any category of whiskey, then I’d say your money and attention are better suited elsewhere. Like most highly sought-after bottles, the best course of action is trying it at a bar, provided their prices are reasonable.