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Michter’s Unblended Small Batch American Whiskey

Michter’s Unblended Small Batch American Whiskey , 41.7% abv (83.4Proof), $30/bottle

Color: Deep Amber

Nose: Corn, candy corn, vanilla bean, marshmallow, and musty wood notes. It’s somewhat reminiscent of Black Maple Hill Small Batch. I later found out from Ethan Smith, a Michter’s historian of sorts, that Kentucky Bourbon Distillers LLC (makers of Black Maple Hill) is aging and bottling all Michter’s products today. So perhaps there really is some relation between the two.

Palate: Candy corn, vanilla, and custard to start, and then a thin veneer of oak and spice emerges at mid palate through to the finish. For a whiskey aged in barrels that had already been used for aging bourbon, this has a good bit more oak than I would have expected. There is also some slight astringency. All in all, it’s a bit simplistic, but it’s tasty.

Finish: Prickly spices continue to warm the tongue with some dusty oak and confectionery sweetness. Moderate in length before gently fading.

Overall: This whiskey has a long name. That stems from the fact that it has been aged in refill barrels that once aged bourbon (this is similar to what the Scotch industry does with bourbon barrels). While not 100% stated on the packaging, one has to use their imagination to decipher what “Aged in bourbon soaked barrels” means. All in all, this is a fine, simple sipping whiskey that is good, albeit unspectacular. Michter’s is a storied brand, and one of the oldest distilleries in the US at the time of its closing in 1989. Some say George Washington and his troops sipped Michter’s (rye at the time I believe) whiskey well back into the 1700s. Regardless of that, this particular product in the Michter’s line left me wanting more depth, richness, and character.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 7.4 (Good/Solid)

16 Comments

  1. sam k says:

    Jason, you had my attention up to the point where you repeated that unfounded story about George Washington. There is no evidence whatever that Washington ever trod upon the banks of Snitzel Creek at Schaefferstown.

    As a Michter’s fan just slightly less involved than Ethan, I’ve been relatively unimpressed with the modern versions of whiskey wearing the Michter’s sheep’s clothing, and truly wish it would go away altogether. Not a very transparent company, and they continue to muddy the waters with subterfuge.

  2. Yep, this doesn’t surprise me Sam. I too don’t appreciate the lack of transparency. It’s frankly kind of weird.

  3. Texas says:

    Yeah..this is what I was complaining about..the obfuscation with American whiskey. No way in &&& was this distilled at the true Michter’s distillery, so why even pretend?

  4. Texas, this kind of stuff is certainly frustrating for whiskey consumers. Like you, I’d appreciate it if I didn’t need to investigate to figure out who in the hell makes the stuff. Not saying they need to tell us every minor detail, but there’s a middle ground they could be in.

  5. Sam, thanks for keeping my on my toes with this one. I am NOT a Michter’s historian. The review has been amended for accuracy (re: the G. Washington info). Thanks!

  6. Ethan Smith says:

    While having a discussion with the REAL Michter’s Master Distiller, Dick Stoll, we had a discussion about the current Michter’s Unblended American Whiskey. We came to believe that it is most likely a re-invented version of the original Michter’s that was made famous by the hundreds of decanters produced by Michter’s Distillery, Inc. in the 70′s and 80′s. If you break the name down, it points directly to it being a similar product to what Michter’s was:
    —Unblended- A “straight” whiskey of one type. Not a mix of different types of whiskey. It is derived from only 1 mashbill.
    —American Whiskey- Not bourbon or rye. It fits the definition of “Whiskey” but does not contain 51% or more corn or 51% or more rye. Original Michter’s was also not a bourbon or rye. It was 50% corn, 38% rye, and 18% barley malt, which makes it simply a “Whiskey.”
    —Aged in “bourbon-soaked” barrels- The original Michter’s from PA was sometimes aged in used barrels to keep costs lower. However, it was also aged in new barrels at times too. There was much variance in the taste of Michter’s straight from the barrel because of this. Since the modern version seems to also be using used barrels, it seems they are once again following the path of the original.

    All that being said, it does seem that the current Michter’s Unblended American Whiskey follows the footsteps of it’s forerunner. When the 2 are tasted side by side, the current is much more subdued and mellow. If you need an idea of what the original Michter’s tasted like, imagine about the same flavor but with a stronger bite similar to Old Grand Dad 100 proof and a stronger, edgier flavor profile, but yet very deep and satisfying.

  7. Ethan, thanks a bunch for the comments. Appreciate your knowledge of Michter’s and your help with a bit of info. Sam noted a mistake in my summation and it’s good to clear that up.

    Also thanks for the background on this product. I thought it has some really nice high points, but it was just lacking some depth. You noted “more bite” and that interestingly is one of the things it’s missing. Also the new barrel would have added a lot more body to the whiskey, something else it missed.

    It’s a darn solid easy sipper though.

  8. Ethan Smith says:

    I agree. It’s certainly a nice whiskey but the price is a bit hard to swallow considering you can get some really nice sippin’ whiskey for less money. While I am glad to see the Michter’s name still in existence, I wish the company would be more transparent and also drop a few of the selling slogans they use that are very incorrect. Furthermore, I wish they would stop calling Mr. Willis Pratt Michter’s Master Distiller. He is not. The last Master Distiller Michter’s had was in Schaefferstown and his name is Dick Stoll. The current Michter’s does not have a Master Distiller as they promote. They Kentucky Bourbon Distillers is buying and aging bulk whiskey from another distillery and then bottling it for Michter’s. No where in that process at KBD is the whiskey distilled, therefore NO Master Distiller. I understand what they’re doing- giving someone the honorary title of Master Distiller, but it’s just very frustrating for those of us that are historians of the original!

  9. Ethan Smith says:

    Wow did I end up getting off-track with the last comment. I guess when you feel strongly about a cause, you tend to get carried away. Anyway, back to Michter’s Unblended American Whiskey. I also have the bourbon and rye bottles and they too aren’t too bad. If the price was lower, I’d probably buy a good amount of it. Dick Stoll has a hunch that the current bourbon and rye also loosely follow the original Michter’s mashbills too. “But wait Ethan. I thought you said Michter’s wasn’t a bourbon or rye?!” While that is correct, Michter’s Distillery Inc. (And Pennco- Michter’s predecessor), distilled products for many producers. I have hard evidence of them making products for Hiram Walker, Wild Turkey, and Jacquin’s. They also made bulk whiskey for customers too- which was often derived from their rye and bourbon mashbills. I don’t know the mix ratios of them unfortunately. So who knows. Maybe the current Michter’s line-up is being distilled specifically for KBD with the original mashbills, or maybe KBD is just buying what’s available and aging some in used barrels. Looks like it will remain a mystery!

  10. sam k says:

    Ethan, you and I are well aware that the original Michter’s made Wild Turkey straight rye for a time, and also my beloved Sam Thompson straight rye. Wild Turkey rye was also produced in Maryland prior to its relocation to Schaefferstown, but I’m not sure if it was also being distilled in Frankfort at those times too, or was being totally outsourced until the pioneer mid-Atlantic rye distilleries ceased production.

    Also, I was under the impression from Dick Stoll that the real Michter’s tended to be a mix of new and re-used barrels, which would account for more depth of flavor. If the impostor is using re-used cooperage only, that might account for the thinner profile (think Early Times whisky).

    Interesting stuff about the potential for the newbies actually trying to copy some of the recipes and techniques used at Schaefferstown, but it’s a shame none of that can be confirmed because of the marketing smoke screen they throw down in front of the product.

    Jason, thanks again for hosting such a thoughtful forum.

  11. sam k says:

    By the way, Jason, I think the George Washington rumors arose from a combination of two things. For some time, Michter’;s used the slogan “The Whiskey That Warmed the Revolution, ” which was absolutely credible, since their founding predated the Revolutionary War. That doesn’t mean, however, that George Washington ever showed up for any, as there were literally hundreds of distilleries scattered around eastern PA at the time, and George had no need to travel that far west for a drink.

    Then the Lebanon Valley Coin Club struck a commemorative coin in 1978 showing the modern Michter’s Distillery on one side, with a scene showing Washington and his troops at the Bomberger Distillery on their way to Valley Forge on the other. Bomberger was the successor to John Shenk, the original farmer-distiller at the site, but was the pre-Prohibition predecessor to Pennco, Kirk Faulk (a later owner, himself a farmer), and eventually Michter’s

    This scene in itself would have been impossible, since Bomberger didn’t run the distillery until the 1800s, and didn’t erect that building until he distilled there. Also, Washington’s troops never traveled east from Lebanon County to Valley Forge…they were always stationed east of Lebanon, and would be for the duration of the war.

    Such is the stuff of legend!

  12. Ethan, no such thing as off track. This is great stuff. You and Sam both have a lot of great insight into this so I appreciate your comments. I’m sure other viewers do as well. And as for me, it just simply comes down to the shroud of mystery over this stuff that has me a little frustrated. But I put that aside when reviewing the product of course. I just wish producers were a little more forthcoming.

    There are some shining examples of producers that don’t mind laying it out there. I would like to see KBD follow suit. Now, does that mean they have to give it all away? Absolutely not. But I think they are missing an opportunity to lift the veil. Greg from Bourbondork.com has commented on KBD and says they are close on the old Willett Distillery. I hope that happens, but in the meantime they could have been telling the story, “this is what we’re doing now, this is how we’re doing it (to a degree), and we hope to have the distillery rocking soon.” And who can’t appreciate that?

    Anyways, thanks to you both for the great background on Michter’s.

  13. Texas says:

    Thanks to Ethan and sam k for enlightening a newbie. I still kick myself that I waited until I was past 40 to really enjoy bourbon…I missed some great stuff.

    BTW, sam k..from another forum, I am starting to sour a bit on the Ezra Brooks. Maybe you were right all along..

  14. sam k says:

    Tex, who knows? I used to like the Ezra myself. I’ve had the regular expression and the Single Barrel, but never the 101 you mentioned. I keep harping on my feeling that taste is absolutely subjective, and you and I may not see eye to eye every time (though I think for the most part we do!), but I found other bourbons at that price point that appealed to me more.

    Not to say I wouldn’t revisit the brand, but I just don’t see a need to right now.

  15. ken says:

    not a huge whiskey fan, but I do have many unopened bottles I purchased years ago from the original distillery. obviously illegal to sell without a liquor license, but short of giving them away, I’m not sure what to do with them. any ideas???