What, Exactly, Is This?
The History of Michter's
The Michter’s brand claims a heritage going back to 1753, when the Shenk family began distilling rye whiskey at a site near present day Newmanstown, PA. After it was purchased by Abraham Bomberger around 1860, the distillery grew to be one of the biggest distilling operations in the area and was eventually renamed ‘Abraham Bomberger and Sons’. Suffering through downturns, prohibition and changes in ownership, the facility was in the hands of Louis Forman for a second time when, according to one story, the firs t batch of ‘Michter’s Whiskey’ (named by combining his two sons names, Michael and Peter) was distilled on site around 1951. This would have been the product of Louis’s Master Distiller Charles Everett Beam. (Yes, one of those Beam’s) and supposedly based on some old recipe found in an attic. There is some evidence that a sourced whiskey may have been sold under the Michter’s name in the 40’s.
The brand was successful, at least locally, but with bourbon beginning to drop in popularity, and being mired in debt, Louis Forman was forced to sell the distillery (late 50’s?) to a shell company (?) called Pennco but leaving Louis in charge of operations. Louis may have been a partner at Pennco. Louis headed up a local conglomerate that repurchased the distillery in 1974 when Pennco itself collapsed. Sadly, after several more twists and turns the distillery finally closed for good in 1989 and the building passed through several non-distilling owners before becoming an unoccupied and eventually derelict site.
That could be the end of Michter’s story but in 1996 Joe Magliocco, owner of Chatham Imports Company (an importer of various obscure clear spirit beverages) purchased, on a whim, the abandoned Mitcher’s trademark for around $300. In the early 2000’s, as the bourbon rebound was beginning, Joe searched for sources of whisky that could be used for bottling under Michter’s brand name. They eventually ended up contract distilling whiskey from Brown Forman (likely at the Early Times Distillery) using their own tight specifications for cask quality and barreling proof.
With the subsequent sale of the Early Times brand by Brown Forman to Sazerac, and other ‘sources’ becoming scarce, Joe decided it was time to create his own whiskey production facility. Construction work began in 2011 on a new distillery in Shively and they also purchased the old Fort Nelson building in Louisville and started to resurrect it. Through hiring experienced talent and paying attention to specific processing techniques the modern Mitcher’s venture has clearly been a success and now produces a fine range of whiskies. Much of the core Mitcher’s output is now (as of 2023) a product of these new distilleries.
As to the rich Michter’s heritage it is important to remember that the Michter’s brand name itself did not appear until the 1940’s at the earliest and the only real tangible link between that Old Mitcher’s and the Modern 21st century Mitcher’s was the purchase of the defunct trademark years after the original Michter’s PA distillery had closed.
The source for much of this info is an excellent article on the ‘www.thebourbonculture.com’ website. Check this out for the full details of the history of Mitcher’s.
Michter’s Unblended American Whiskey
The key here is that this whiskey is matured in ‘bourbon soaked’ barrels, i.e. ‘second use’ bourbon barrels and not the ‘new oak barrels’ required for the ‘Bourbon’ designation. Hence the use of the broader label of ‘American Whiskey’. The objective is to produce an alternative whiskey taste profile to the ubiquitous bourbon.
Why use ‘ex-bourbon’ barrels? Well, it is certainly cheaper to use an existing barrel rather than pay for a new one, but the key point is the different maturation obtained. New, charred barrels interact with the distilled spirit more quickly than used barrels, allowing for faster maturation. The fresh char layer is effective in removing undesirable phenols and other ‘off flavors’. Vanilla and caramel notes, woody and dry astringent notes and perhaps smoke and are all extracted from the wood more efficiently. Although used barrels are slower acting, they tend to provide a less astringent, lighter, more subtle flavor often including berries, floral and herbal notes.
The term ‘unblended’ is supposedly used here to indicate that the whiskey contains no neutral grain spirit (unaged distillate). In other words, all the whiskey has been aged in oak containers. This is a somewhat archaic use of the word as today the term ‘blended’ may indicate a blend of whiskies sourced from different distilleries, and/or a blend of different mash bills, or even just a blend of whisky from barrels aged for different lengths of time.
Mash bill: Not publicized but probably 79% corn, 11% rye and 10% malted barley, duplicating the ‘Early Times’ sourced whiskey initially used for the Michter’s brand.
Batch: Batch #23A0118. Batch size unknown but promoted as a genuine ‘Small Batch’. Would guess something in the 50 to 100 barrel range.
ABV = 41.7%. A weird proof point, and by today’s standards, on the low side.
Matured: As discussed above, matured in ‘bourbon soaked’ barrels (used bourbon barrels) à la Scotch maturation practice. Designed to provide a different taste profile to the bourbon. NAS, but speculation is 4-6 years.
Cost: $49.99/750ml bottle.
Color: Amber 0.7 (Whisky Magazine Scale). Note that as an ‘American Whiskey’, the use of coloring is permitted. Unclear if there is any used here.
Swirl: Distinct rim with coarse puckering and a few fat legs running down the glass.
Nose: Medium strength, and well balanced. A 'confectionary shop’ in style with plenty of caramel and faint hints of apple peel and maybe cinnamon. Pleasant enough, straightforward but almost one dimensional. No ‘off notes’ and a slowly developing modest alcohol prickle.
Taste: Light body, bordering on watery. Sweet and laid back. No real punch to it at all. Fruity bubblegum along with hints of some sweet strawberries and vanilla ice cream. A caramel background emerges slowly but is very laid back. Nothing coarse, bitter or even spicy. Very easy-going sipper with a pleasant mild warmth.
Finish: Very short, with just the faintest of light caramel lingering.
Verdict: An interesting and rather unique whisky which would be a good complement to a classic afternoon tea with sweet baked goods. Cleverly constructed and completely inoffensive. A whisky for those who thought they did not like whisky. A little steep at nearly $50, but I would keep a bottle around.