Shenk’s Homestead Sour Mash Whiskey

Batch #17A01 (2017)

MASH BILL – Unknown high-rye mash bill(s)

PROOF – 91.2


DISTILLERY – Bottled by Michter’s

PRICE – $43 (I got it in the before times…)

BUY AGAIN? – Not likely, because $$$ hikes, not taste

In 2017 I came across three bottles of Shenk’s on the bottom shelf of a shop where I often perused but seldom purchased, their prices being a bit jacked up on average. I’d not heard of Shenk’s at that point. I gave it a bit of a Google, and sentiments tended toward favorable. It was only $40 so I gave it a go. When I uncorked it that night and shared a pour with my partner, she took one sip and said, “This has my name on it.”

I shared that anecdote with a co-worker the next day, who also enjoys bourbon. She was interested. So I went back to the shop and bought their last two bottles, one for my co-worker and the other to bunker for myself.

Now it’s three years later and that bunkered bottle has finally been uncorked. Current releases of Shenk’s now cost at least twice what I paid in 2017, making this bottle feel more precious than it once did.

Interestingly, the Michter’s name is quite de-emphasized on the Shenk’s label. It’s a legacy bottle honoring John Shenk, who in 1753 founded a distillery that 250+ years later would become Michter’s. The whiskey is not classified as either a bourbon or rye, suggesting some kind of blend or else a single mash bill that does not meet either the bourbon or rye requirements. Michter’s does share that Shenk’s is finished in toasted French oak barrels. And while there is no age statement, it tastes and looks mature.

We’ll never know what all is inside this bottle, nor where Michter’s sources their whiskeys. The lack of transparency around Michter’s stands in contrast to their well-advertised custom filtration and proofing processes. They make a significant to-do about their signature methods, and though that information is appreciated, it does not render what they withhold any less annoying given their tendency toward high prices. I understand there are contractual obligations involved when it comes to sourcing. But in an age of ever greater transparency, such obligations increasingly feel out of step.

In any case, here we are. I’m tasting this Shenk’s in a traditional Glencairn, about a week and half after the bottle’s uncorking and three pours in. Here are the notes in brief:

COLOR – burnt orange with yellow highlights

NOSE – rich and bright caramel, fresh baking spices, orange marmalade, rye florals, very well-aged pine, fresh baked pastry breads, bacon

TASTE – very true to the nose, the zingy citrus aspects outlining the darker caramel, savory, and cinnamon pastry bread dough notes

FINISH – a soft pepperiness tingling on the caramel and pastry bread notes, now with some nice autumn oak wafting into the mix, and after more time some slightly bitter oak tannins

OVERALL – very nice overall, with just a touch too bitter oak tannins in the finish for my tastes—until more time passes, that is, at which point all smooths out to a nice caramel-drizzled cinnamon breakfast roll in autumn…

I have more experience with Michter’s under my belt now than I did in 2017. I can taste that floral Michter’s bouquet in Shenk’s, suggesting the prominence of rye in the blend. Like every Michter’s product I’ve had, this too is a very impressive pour. That emphasis on soft and pretty rye florals is there, with that bright Michter’s caramel, and just enough granular roughness to add interest to the overall smooth experience.

At $40 I would say it is a no brainer, and I’m very glad to have this second bottle on hand. But those $40 days are long gone. At even $60 I’d also say it was a good buy. But at the $80 to $150 that shops now ask for it, I don’t see myself buying another bottle.

Sipping at this wonderful, over-priced whiskey, I find myself wondering if America’s mainstream distilleries are going to out-populate the national shelves with high-end offerings and burst the bubble of their own boom. Is it possible? What goes up must come town, as gravity tells us. And every skin can only stretch so far.

And there is the practical question. A whiskey boom means more barrels are needed, which means more oak trees must be felled. And we know that trees have never grown as fast as humankind’s desire for satisfaction. Likewise more grain is needed. More water. More gas to truck the goods to market. More more more. With Nature currently slapping humankind upside the head with a global pandemic to put us in our place, can even the bourbon boom expand forever?

I’m always surprised by where a whiskey takes me. Shenk’s is a pleasure. It is also a conundrum. If you find a bottle at a decent price—whatever that is for you—give it a go. If not, don’t worry about it. There are many other similarly excellent bourbons to be had at better prices.


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