Producer: Chatham Imports/Michter’s. Distiller: undisclosed. 43% ABV. Mashbill: undisclosed (sub-50% corn, sub-50% rye). Price: $40-45.
Michter’s is a brand of NY-based Chatham Imports, which bought the rights to the old storied brand name several years ago. The original Michter’s distillery in Pennsylvania, which produced the legendary A.H. Hirsch bourbon that Chuck Cowdery devoted an entire book to, closed in 1990. The “new Michter’s” straddles the distiller/non-distiller producer line, distributing a line of sourced whiskey and various limited releases while opening their own distillery — in Kentucky, interestingly, rather than Pennsylvania.
The debates around the new Michter’s provide a kind of Rorshach test for this overheated industry moment. Some praise the new Michter’s for quality and seriousness. Others rage over Chatham’s fast and loose treatment of the original Michter’s legacy (and poor Photoshop work). Regardless, the new brand has achieved excellent national distribution in a short time, and shows no signs of slowing down.
While you’re deciding where you land on the controversy, let’s have a drink. First thing to know about the Michter’s Sour Mash Whiskey: sour mash isn’t a style, but a distilling method used by nearly all modern makers of whiskey. The “old Michter’s” made a whiskey it called Original Sour Mash, with a mashbill of 50% corn, 38% rye and 12% malted barley. (Being below 51% corn, it couldn’t be called bourbon, and being below 51% rye, it couldn’t be called rye.) The mashbill on the “new Michter’s” Sour Mash, though undisclosed, is likely close to the original.
The current Sour Mash has some of the flavor of a straight bourbon-rye mix like High West’s fine Bourye, but with a character all its own. The nose has a lot of spicy heat mixed with floral and pine-forest notes. Like a hot afternoon in the woods in early spring. On the light-bodied palate the rye mixes nicely with sweet corn, vanilla, and leather. There are notes of sweet orchard fruit and pepper. The heat and spice continue on the medium finish. Overall, the Sour Mash is a good choice when you can’t quite decide whether you want a rye or a bourbon.
Michter’s is one of the few high-profile NDPs to have stayed mum about where their juice is coming from. Their move toward distilling themselves will gradually change the equation–as will be the case with other NDPs, like High West and Smooth Ambler, who are distilling but haven’t yet released their own juice, or only at a very small scale. In any event, it’s cleat we’ll be hearing much more from Michter’s in the years to come. – BO & JTR