MICHTER’S BARREL STRENGTH RYE
Barrel No. 19C467 (2019)
MASH BILL – Unstated
PROOF – 112
AGE – NAS
DISTILLERY – Michter’s Distillery
PRICE – $98
WORTH BUYING? – Possibly… Ok yes, at $$ but not $$$+
My journey with Michter’s has been a curious one. Now several bottles in, I’m still not fully sold. And given their pricing, I haven’t imagined myself buying into the journey they’re offering much further.
You see, what I find consistently befuddling about Michter’s whiskeys is how good most of them have tasted to me, and yet how forgettable they’ve been. The experience never seems to stick.
The color of any Michter’s whiskey is inevitably gorgeous. The nose will similarly be very fragrant, leaping from the glass. The taste tends to make good on the promise of the nose. Then the finish either fades quickly or lingers but without much oomph… I believe it’s this tendency of the finish that accounts for why I don’t find Michter’s whiskeys memorable. But whatever the explanation, if I’m going to pay Michter’s prices then I want a memorable experience.
So on the table tonight we have that sought-after, annual limited release, Michter’s Barrel Strength Rye. Their Toasted Barrel Finish Rye was off putting enough that I eventually traded it to a friend for something else. I’m glad to say the present bottle of rye makes it very clear that it was the toasted barrel finish that didn’t do it for me. I won’t be trading this bottle away, for sure! But will it compel me toward future outings with Michter’s…?
Here are some notes in brief, taken four weeks after uncorking and three pours into the bottle, tasted in both Canadian and traditional Glencairns.
COLOR – deep rich copper-orange with glints of antique amber
NOSE – a very pleasant bouquet of rye grasses and florals over a subtle but rich layer of caramel, some red fruit hard candies, a bright cherry note, faint graham cracker
TASTE – rich, with the caramel and fruit candies more in balance with the rye bouquet, then black pepper, the graham cracker, some chocolate-caramel fudge, a granular texture surrounding a core thick syrupy texture
FINISH – like the taste, the caramels in balance with the rye aspects, that granular texture lingering at the edges, an almost minty coolness to the heat, and all lingering for a nice long while…
OVERALL – a rich rye experience, from the bloom of the nose through the long finish…
Less expressive in the traditional Glencairn, with a more subdued nose and tighter flavors on the palate and finish, the complexity of this rye really reveals itself in the Canadian Glencairn. I always taste ryes in both glasses for this reason. Something about the Canadian Glencairn, made for Canadian whiskeys where rye is the favored grain, tends to showcase ryes well. It’s not a guarantee. But the more focused traditional Glencairn seems not to allow certain ryes their full range, rye being a rambunctious grain with a lot to offer in the way of spice.
Glasses aside, this may indeed be my most satisfying experience with a Michter’s whiskey to date. The difference is in the finish, which lingers longer and with greater complexity than most other Michter’s experiences I’ve had, allowing me the time to sit with the experience rather than looking about suddenly, wondering where it ran off to…
This underlines for me the key importance of a whiskey’s finish to the overall experience of it. In singing, some people say that as long as you hit that last note well, people will go away impressed. And in speaking, how one verbally punctuates a thought often does much to determine how it is heard. So too with whiskey does the finish influence how things land, and whether they make a memorable impact or just fade away.
At uncorking, my expectations were admittedly low, for the reasons explained above. I’d enjoyed Shenk’s Homestead and Bomberger’s Declaration, the two annual special releases that deemphasize the Michter’s name in favor of honoring their respective historical namesakes. But the recent price surge on those two bottles was mighty off-putting. The Michter’s Toasted Barrel Rye I’ve already mentioned trading away—for a friend’s Smoke Wagon SiB that he didn’t care for. The 10 Year Rye and 10 Year Bourbon are both nice, but the price/experience ratio is meh.
So when I halfheartedly poured my first sip from this bottle four weeks ago, nosed it, tasted it, and then sat in the wake of the lingering finish, my eyebrows made a slow rise of dawning surprise. The sparkly pepperiness, floral rye herbs and breakfast pastry notes I got on the palate that night stuck around. There was a fragrant dried flower aspect to it that risked going saccharine or cloying. But this note was balanced against a pleasant toasted honey on rye bread note that I quite liked.
A week later I tried it again. Same experience. And now here we are another three weeks into the bottle, and though some of the notes have evolved and opened further, that long finish seems here to stay.
Okay then! So to the question: Is this experience worth the price?
I hesitate to simply cry “YES!” because of all those other disappointing Michter’s finishes. So I’m inclined to see the full bottle through before drawing any conclusions.
A related question: Does this bottle mean I might be more open to buying future Michter’s releases despite my other past experiences?
Here I also say possibly. Priced at nearly three digits—if one is lucky to find it at that price—I want more assurance of a complete experience. Knowing myself, if I do find a future release of the Barrel Strength Rye at a good price, based on this 19C467 release I would likely indeed give it another go.
The imagined future aside, at present there is an open bottle of excellent rye whiskey on the table before me. I’m going to stay in the moment with it for now. Even as I write this, that finish is still lingering…