Shenk's is a release that Michter's Distillery uses to honor the rich history of the origin of their brand name. A once-per-year batched product that utilizes Kentucky whiskey today, though the true 'traditional' process would have originated from the Pennsylvania region, also where Michter's was first released by the Pennco conglomerate. While the brand dances around the true history with notes and flavors that are more serving to the popularity of the modern releases, I do thoroughly appreciate the preservation and honoring of a prominent piece of American whiskey history.
Michter's describes the Shenk's story on their website, saying:
Shenk's Homestead Distillery Sour Mash Whiskey honors the legacy of historic American whiskey figure John Shenk, who in 1753 founded a distillery that was to become known as Michter’s in the 20th Century. It is made in Kentucky according to the traditional Sour Mash process whereby a portion of the previously distilled whiskey mash (referred to as “setback”) is added into the next batch. This full-bodied small batch whiskey is 91.2 proof.
Shenk’s is a Kentucky Sour Mash Whiskey made with a substantial amount of rye. The unique character of this 2023 offering results from its being produced with malted rye in the recipe. Additionally, for its maturation we utilized two different and quite special barrel profiles: a portion of it was aged in 18-month naturally air-dried and seasoned wood with our signature toast and char profile and a portion of it was aged in special toasted French oak barrels that were made from 24-month air-dried wood sourced from the Vosges region of France.
They continue the legacy discussion further down, noting:
In 1753, Swiss Mennonite farmer John Shenk founded Shenk’s distillery, which was later renamed Bomberger’s Distillery in the 1800s before having its name changed once again to Michter’s Distillery in the mid-20th Century. It is this great heritage that we honor with the release of Bomberger’s Declaration and Shenk’s Homestead which comprise our Michter’s Legacy Series.
Notably this doesn't have any mention of the multiple other hands the distillery was passed through like Pennco or Schenley, but it is true that the Michter's name originated some time in the 1940-1950 era out of the same hallowed grounds in Schaefferstown, Pennsylvania.
While the history of the famed brand is incredibly interesting, the pertinent work at hand is finding out if you should be chasing down this 2023 release of Shenk's sour mash whiskey. Let's dive into the modern release I have before me!
Company on Label: Michter's Distillery
Whiskey Type: Kentucky Whiskey
Mash Bill Percentages: Undisclosed
Further identification: This is bottle 1726 of 2485 from batch # 23E1505; this years release continues to carry the "Bottled by Michter's Distillery" statement suggesting the whiskey is either sourced or contract distilled
Nose: Leather up front as I lift the glass to my nose, followed by tingling marshmallow and uncharred oak. The punchy oak characteristics make this feel like a young whiskey, for those who have tasted some craft distillery releases. I know it's likely not a young whiskey given the color and pedigree of the team behind the scenes, but I do find that parallel a bit on the nose. Diving deeper I find red berries trying to come up from under a vanilla blanket but not quite materializing. Hints of white pepper and cream give this nice depth. Touches of clay and linen amongst the oak and leather give this a vintage feel. Overall the nose is light and easy to enjoy. Let's dive into a sip.
Coming back from a few sips reveals a glass now touched with raisin bread, deep barrel funk (all that "youth" from the start is gone), and molasses notes. I'm enjoying it quite a bit more now. As I sip through to the bottom of the glass I find dry earth, bright hay fields and the aroma of a distant wood stove burning has been left behind.
Palate: My first sip is oily and sweet; tracts of vanilla and raisin cream pie extend in every direction. Another sip shows off tannic oak, cherry skins, cacao powder and confectioners sugar. I'm impressed with how this evolved drastically between two short sips. The mouthfeel is light and creamy throughout with a long linger of dry marshmallow. Sipping deeper into the glass produces a nice array of milk chocolate, coffee grounds and éclair custard. Chewing on this release reveals all of that tannic oak coming from those special barrel finishes that was being held back by the sweeter flavors. My last sip is hallmarked by raspberry compote, mocha tones and sweet shimmering finish of tobacco.
TL;DR: Creamy custard and prevalent oak show up on a deep, fun whiskey
I'm definitely a fan of the proper handling of oak that clearly went on here. Fans of any of the Michter's toasted releases will find this to be right up their alley.