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Michter's US*1 Toasted Barrel Finish Bourbon

Michter's US*1
Toasted Barrel Finish


By Robert Plotkin

The watchword in the spirits world is innovation. In fact, the world rushes past a company that doesn't keep an eye to the future and a thumb firmly pressed on the pulse of the marketplace. Without innovation, a distiller's portfolio will slowly wither in the barrel. One distiller you needn't worry about is Michter's. Case in point is the 2015 release of Michter's US*1 Toasted Barrel Finish Bourbon, a sublime whiskey finished in custom-made toasted barrels.

As this country's first whiskey company, Michter's can trace its lineage back to 1753, making it older than The Republic itself. The distillery employs practices that other whiskey makers abandoned long ago as too costly or labor-intensive. For example, Michter's fire-chars their oak barrels for better concentration of the sugars in the wood. It then often air-dries barrel staves for up to 36 months, and rick their barrels in heated warehouses. All of which are expensive practices, yet they hasten and improve the whiskeys' maturation.

This new expression begins with Michter's US*1 Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, a handcrafted whiskey made in small batches consisting of no more than 2-dozen barrels. Once the whiskey is deemed to have reach maturity, it is removed from the charred barrels and transferred to lightly toasted casks for further aging. After several months, Michter's Master Distiller Willie Pratt and Distiller Pamela Heilmann will determine when the new expression has fully matured. It is then chill-filtered and bottled at 45.7% alcohol (91.4 proof).

Guaranteed, there's a lot going on in this limited edition offering. The whiskey has a burnished copper hue and a lushly textured, medium-weight body. The first sign that you're in the presence of greatness is the huge nose, a lively mix of cacao, butterscotch, caramel, spice and honey. Its brilliant aromatics greatly enhance the experience. The spicy entry gives way to an impressive array of flavors that includes honey, vanilla, anise, and ripe plums. The long, lingering fade is slightly spicy and thoroughly enjoyable.

One of the secrets behind this expression has to do with its alcohol content when barreled. Whiskeys are usually put in the cask at 125-proof. However, barreling at 103-proof allows for the concentrated sugars in the toasted and charred wood to dissolve more readily into the whiskey as it cycles in and out of the staves. Even though the lower entry proof yields fewer bottles per barrel, Pratt and Heilmann believe the richer flavor makes it worth it.

The Louisville-based distillery also produces Michter's Single Barrel Straight Rye. Produced in limited quantities, it is matured a minimum of 4 years in fire-charred, American white oak barrels. After it reaches peak maturity, the whiskey is chill-filtered and then bottled at 42.4% alcohol (84.8 proof).

Michter's Small Batch Unblended American Whiskey is a classic sipper with an abundance of charm and appeal. While the exact composition of its mash bill isn't divulged, one can reasonably presume it's made with corn, rye and malted barley. The whiskey is matured for 4 years in ex-bourbon white oak barrels, chill-filtered and bottled at 41.7% alcohol (83.4 proof).

Last but not least is Michter's Original Sour Mash Whiskey, a traditional style of American whiskey. The term "sour mash" refers to the whiskey-making process in which a portion of the previously fermented mash is used as the starter for the next mash to be fermented. It's much like making sourdough bread. The intent is to create continuity between the batches and consistency between the finished whiskeys.

"We work hard to make the finest American whiskey possible," says Michter's President Joe Magliocco. "We've taken to heart the Michter's motto, ‘Cost Be Damned,' and spare no expense in our production of the finest rye, bourbon and American whiskeys."