Review: Michter’s Barrel Strength Rye Whiskey (2019)

One thing Michter’s does well is produce a rich whiskey. Their April 2019 release of barrel strength rye whiskey is no exception. I consider it one of the brand’s trademark characteristics.

Michter’s Master of Maturation Andrea Wilson may have an explanation for that. “The increased corn and malted barley used in the rye recipe really allows the barrel to transform the product into a super smooth, rich, and complex rye whiskey with an elegance on the palate.”

Another factor could be the low barrel entry proof Michter’s employs. Straight whiskey requires barrel entry proof no higher than 125 proof, or 62.5% ABV. Michter’s whiskey goes into the barrel at a much lower 103 proof.

The single barrel whiskies in this release have an average bottling proof of 110.8. My sample bottle, 19C472, is right under that at 109.8 proof. It’s where I’d typically add a splash of water, but not here. This whiskey is fantastic right out of the bottle.

The nose features hints of brown sugar, maple syrup, rye toast, vanilla, and some oak. On the palate, things aren’t as sweet as the nose suggests. Sure, the rich brown sugar is there, but it’s accompanied by orange peel, cardamom, bitter herbs, and rye spice. That last one ramps up in intensity to a satisfying but not overwhelming level. The finish features spiced cocoa, caramel, and tobacco.

Single barrels are different by nature. So while yours may vary a little, the big picture in terms of flavor profile remains constant barrel to barrel. The good news is Michter’s barrel strength rye whiskey is an example of a not-too-spicy rye whiskey with slightly concentrated flavors. It’s the right flavor delivered at the right proof. It’s worth every penny of the suggested retail price of $75. What boggles my mind is why this bold expression isn’t as popular as some of Michter’s older age-stated whiskies. It’s cheaper by a large fraction, but can still be somewhat easily found. I guess that just means there is more for the rest of us. Highly recommended. 8.5/10

michters.com

Thanks to Michter’s for the sample. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

Maker’s Mark, the Mint Julep, and the Road Ahead

As I stared at the buffalo head mounted above the warm crackling fireplace, I thought to myself, “why am I here?” ‘Here’ was the Historic Botherum, the incredulous Lexington home owned, renovated, and decorated by famed gardener, landscaper to the stars, and the quintessential Southern gentleman, Jon Carloftis. This was the beginning of a press trip sponsored by Maker’s Mark.

My thoughts were quickly interrupted when I was handed a mint julep. After all, this was Kentucky in springtime, and juleps are in season. The refreshing cocktail and some small bites came courtesy of the inviting Ann Evans, former executive director of the Kentucky Governor’s Mansion.

We were given the tour of the house, but it wasn’t until we explored his extravagant basement bar and enjoyed a pour or two of bourbon that I realized two things. First, Mr. Carloftis has an eye for design. The decor of his home is really something to behold. My wife, who was also on the trip, described the home as ‘southern masculine whimsy’. The man is clearly talented. Second, he loves his Maker’s Mark. In addition to dozens of Maker’s bottles displayed around the house, liquor closet, and basement bar, every one of his decanters held the famous wheated bourbon. Carloftis designed the landscaping at the distillery including the meandering pathways, something of which he is extremely proud. Trees at the distillery were also trimmed to provide a clear line of sight for visitors. Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait long to see this for myself.

The next day was the main event – the visit to Maker’s Mark. The hour long trip from Lexington featured long winding roads, plenty of silos, and countless bathtub Marys. Upon arrival, the pastoral beauty of the distillery grounds I’d long heard about quickly came into focus. This is one picturesque distillery.  Hell, even Master Distiller Denny Potter told me how gorgeous the distillery looked just a few days prior at the New Orleans Bourbon Festival.  The dark brown buildings with their Maker’s Mark signature wax red shutters stood out against the surrounding Kentucky greenery. It seemed right out of a painting. And the keeper of that little slice of whisky heaven, Maker’s Mark COO and grandson of the brand’s founders, Rob Samuels, Jr., was the perfect person to walk us around. I doubt anyone is more knowledgeable about the brand. Like Carloftis, Samuels is extremely proud of the work being done at the distillery. After all, it’s in his blood.  Whisky-making in the Samuels family goes back many generations.

The tour of the grounds was amazing. It is a pilgrimage every bourbon fan should experience. The word “handmade” appears on every label of Maker’s Mark. There is a certain charm in the quaintness of the distillery that lives up to that description. From the small stillhouse and wooden fermenters to the fact that every label is still printed by hand using a letterpress. The wax dipping is also done by hand instead of by machine. Make no mistake – this is no big, automated factory. It’s a “model of purposeful inefficiency,” as Mrs. Samuels put it.

One clear violation of that phrase is the new cavern carved into a limestone shelf that allows the distillery to create Maker’s 46 and Maker’s Mark Private Select year round instead of only in the winter. When Bill Samuels, Jr. created Maker’s 46 years ago, he discovered it could only be done in the winter. Otherwise the barrel-stave finished bourbon didn’t come out right. So, in an effort to efficiently make the expression year-round, Maker’s carved a massive chunk into a nearby limestone shelf. It houses Maker’s 46 barrels, Private Select barrels, and a tasting room.

But what struck me as most interesting was what Maker’s Mark informed us of as we shared a dram of their whisky at the edge of their solely controlled, limestone-filtered water source. The distillery’s Environmental Champion, Jason Nally, preached the importance of sustainability. A native of the area, Nally used to dirtbike in the backwoods surrounding Star Hill Farms as a kid. Now he studies just about every aspect of that same natural space for the distillery. For Nally, understanding and working towards a future that breeds sustainability is key not only for the future of distilling, but of a much larger picture – one of a cleaner planet. It was an impassioned plea from someone knowledgeable who clearly cares.

From a distilling standpoint, Nally wants to make sure the lake is clean to ensure that pristine water source will always be available and that oak growth in the forested area nearby flourishes. By the way, all this work being done does not harm local wildlife. In fact, all the area animals and insects are being studied as well.

This environmental stop along the tour wasn’t just for show. This year, Maker’s Mark has committed to removing 75,000 pounds of trash from the world’s oceans and waterways.  It’s bigger than the standard ‘giving back to the community’ line we often read about.  While that is certainly applauded, what Maker’s is doing seems bigger.  Another way we’ve seen change in a non-obtrusive manner came by way of using paper straws in cocktails instead of plastic ones. Every julep we were served on this trip featured a paper straw or reusable silver straw.

It was impressive to hear of Maker’s Mark’s efforts. They’ve come up with the hashtag #CocktailsForCleanups.  Use it every time you post a photo of a Maker’s mint julep or any other cocktail to bring a little awareness to their efforts. Know that in a microcosmic kind of way, it can at the very least help spark a conversation, which can be as refreshing as that ice cold, minty delight known as a julep.

Thanks to Maker’s Mark team and the EVINS team for the trip. Though my travel expenses were covered, neither group suggested nor held any editorial control over this post. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

Review: Barrell Bourbon Single Barrel (2019 New Orleans Bourbon Festival)

With the New Orleans Bourbon Festival right around the corner, now is as good a time as ever to take a look at some of their 2019 single barrel picks in a series of short reviews.  A lot of the whiskies in this series are still available in certain New Orleans retail stores and will be poured at the 2019 New Orleans Bourbon Festival.

We close our series of 2019 New Orleans Bourbon Festival single barrel picks with this lovely bottle – a 14-year-old Tennessee straight bourbon from Barrell Bourbon. As always, the brand bottles everything at cask strength. In this case, it means 118.12 proof, or 59.06% ABV.

I tagged along with Barbara & Tracy Napolitano and others to select a barrel. We were given three choices, which were arranged by proof. We didn’t know the age or any other information. The first sample was a bit too “Dickel” on the nose, with big corn and mineral notes. The second was dripping with lovely red fruit. As soon as the third barrel sample enveloped my senses, I knew it was a winner.

On the nose, dark chocolate covered caramel kicks things off alongside aromas of baking spice, fruit, some vanilla pod, and old oak. This whiskey screams balance on the palate. Orange peel and black cherries meet dark caramel and honey. A wave of baking spices (cinnamon and cardamon) washes over the mid-palate. Developing soon after are cigar box and some dark, oaky notes. The finish is long, with a sweet tobacco, cardamon, and caramel chew.

This barrel represents classic bourbon, or at least what I consider that to be. Lots of caramel, vanilla, fruit, spice, and oak. Again, everything comes together in harmony. Based on the completely different flavor profiles of the three barrel samples we tried, the folks at Barrell really have a wide arsenal of flavors to work with when blending their batches. I’m glad I got a chance to try this bottle. It’s superb. 9/10