Michter's is back with another toasted barrel rendition, this time opting for another rye release. The toasted barrel rye product has previously been released in 2017, 2018, 2020, and 2021. This takes their traditional US1 single barrel straight rye which which is aged in charred new American white oak barrels and adds a second barrel maturation of a 24 month air-dried wood barrel that has been toasted rather than charred. Michter's is quite unique in the fact that the barrel was filled at a fairly low entry proof of 103. Knowing this, we can see that it only marginally climbed in proof during its maturation.
Since this isn't the first time this has come around, I do have some experience with previous offerings. I was a fickle fan of the 2020 release, but early indications suggest I'm a fan of this one. From distant memory, I recall chasing after the marshmallow tones that the 2020 release would put off some nights, but not others. I was always chasing that flavor in the bottle and it seemed to only ever come up 50% of the time. I'll give a quick comparison to 2020 at the end of the review for those who tried that and are wondering about the new release.
Michter's describes this release on their website by saying:
While our Michter’s team distills according to tried and true Kentucky practices, it continually experiments as it pursues Michter’s goal of making the greatest American whiskeys. Following years of research on different barrel finishes for rye whiskey, we are proud to offer this release of our Michter’s US1 Toasted Barrel Rye. To make it we take our US1 Kentucky Straight Rye at barrel strength and then age it for an additional period in a second custom barrel. This second barrel is assembled from 24 month air-dried wood and then toasted to our specifications. The result is a unique rye whiskey that we take pride in offering to you. The average strength of the barrels in the September 2023 release is 108.9 proof.
Interestingly enough the back label of this bottle still says "Bottled by Michter's Distillery LLC" which would, I suppose, give them the creative freedom to be able to be blending with sourced whiskey still, despite being solidly old enough to have this release be all their own distillate given they resumed distillation in 2014/2015. This brand is coming off some serious highs with the 2023 10 year bourbon release cracking into my upper echelon of whiskey quality with the coveted 5/5 score. Let's see where this one lands!
Company on Label: Michter's Distillery LLC
Whiskey Type: Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey
Mash Bill Percentages: Undisclosed
Age: NAS, but a minimum of 4 years based on labeling requirements
Further identification: Barrel No 23G2494
Nose: Plenty of baking spice greets my nose on a surprisingly cold glencairn; I'll do my best to warm it up with my hands to a more realistic temperature than I keep my New England home at this time of year. Diving back in shows off big molasses tones up front before more subtle berry tones seep in. I find raisin, plum, raspberry, and fig aromas that all cool and calm in the nostrils. If you told me this was port finished, I might believe you. Graham cracker and funky, earthy oak creeps in on long inhales. Overall the nose is quite light in intensity, but subtly nuanced with something worth finding. The nose-feel carries a slightly oily texture but is overall quite thin and fleeting. As the glass begins to approach a room temperature that a sane person might call livable I find the glass forms a neat balance between sweet and spice. I think I'll have a taste before continuing on from here.
Wow. After a sip I find so many parallels to a good glass of red wine, particularly cabernet sauvignon. Creamier tones of vanilla and caramel proliferate now as well. Ah - there's all that repressed oak. The red fruits from before are now struggling to escape the oak and linen blanket pile that have moved over the surface of the glass. Deep inhales late in the glass show off a nicely layered whiskey that exudes the class of an upscale dinner, the poise of a ballet dancer, and the wisdom of a tenured, graying professor. As we near empty, sweet butterscotch and black pepper tones build well. The liquidless glass smells of orange marmalade, stainless steel and a hint of salty ocean air.
Palate: My first sip dances softly on the palate with almost no evidence of proof. Cherry skins, plum, raspberry and red grape flavors land without too much sweetness. There's definitely a good bit of tannin to be found here, so fans of oakier whiskey or well-aged red wines will find that comforting. To me it tastes just like having a nice cabernet sauvignon around Thanksgiving. A longer sip and swish adds in coffee bean, dark chocolate and brown sugar. The linger is quite ladened with oak tones - a bit too much for my usual comfort zone - though it remains quite drinkable. While I occasionally find flaws, there's still much to celebrate. Late in the glass the red berries turn sweeter, bordering on candied. I find sweet tart textures dancing between raspberry and blackberry before caraway seeds create a head turning shock. I thought I had this one well characterized before that box of chocolate surprise. My last sip is enjoyable with raspberry parfait, chocolate, rosemary, lemon zest, and light cracked black pepper. The finish is medium with plenty of barrel influence to go around.
TL;DR: Dark, silky red fruit tones all throughout for fans of red wine
I enjoy this a lot, but I'm struggling to find a deep excitement that I would normally have for a really high quality whiskey. My biggest personal qualm with this one is just how tannic the overall profile is. This one probably could have used a little longer of a dry aging duration than 2 years - perhaps 3 years like the Bomberger's release. Open air seasoning of cooperage wood prior to being formed into staves is known to be responsible for seasoning tannins out of oak.
I know that Michter's knows their ryes. Perhaps rye just wasn't meant to be finished in a toasted barrel. Having tasted this one on four separate occasions (an upgrade from my usual 3 minimum before reviewing), I can say that it's less fickle than my memories of the 2020 release, though still potentially susceptible. Having a well-oxidized bottle of the 2020 release next to me, I'll briefly give you my thoughts on the comparison between the two.
Bonus Round - 2020 Michter's Toasted Barrel Rye Comparisons
Nose: Everything about this glass screams "clean" tones, whereas the 2023 is darker, more tannic and clearly carried more red berry tones. It manages to be even lighter on the nose than the 2023, but that could have more to do with the amount of oxidation that has definitely occurred on this bottle. Woah... No, that definitely has a different base character. I almost get Willett kind of vibes from this one (barrel 20G1711 for the record). Cinnamon and cherry really grow on me as this one warms and opens up. Ugh - I get that wonderful marshmallow note that I know and love. Goodness, the oak tones are so silky and creamy in the nose-feel, but a one note moment does not make a whiskey great overall unfortunately. Looking back on the 2023 notes, I am realizing these are actually pretty close - only perhaps a shade away from each other, and probably in the same score on my scale. Much like the 2023 this ends up with a bunch of baking spice, a touch of herbal notes, and plenty of oak.
Palate: Oh yeah - I didn't know how good I had it with this sitting on my shelf still. That's wonderful whiskey with marshmallow, graham cracker and lemon zest dominating my first sip. Mmm. Much like the nose I find a good punch of cherry and cinnamon on this one. It's quite funky with plenty of oak, much like the 2023 release. If I thought the 2023 had all the fruits.. I was wrong. The 2020 also has them and even some more subtleties in between those. I am now realizing just how close these two bottles are though, with most of the difference likely coming from a lot of air time. Sipping through this I find a tingling dichotomy between what I know is true and what I painfully want to enjoy more. I still think this is a fickle pour. I like it one moment and I don't the next. If I were in a more susceptible to bias headspace, I can see myself being wooed by this. In my analytical setting, I have to trust my process. These just aren't my favorite release that Michter's puts out, and that's okay. They have a wonderful team that is putting out great product after great product. I am sure they won't change any recipe or process on my account given the glowing feedback this release gets whenever I post about it.
Overall I think I enjoyed the 2020 just a touch more.