By Richard Thomas
“Small batch” is a frequently ridiculed concept in the whiskey blogosphere, derided as marketing buzz, and there is some reason for that. Unlike “single barrel,” which has a clear definition inherent in the term, “small batch” is open to abuse and has been abused.
Yet forgotten in all the croaking is why the term small batch used to count for something. Crafting consistent whiskeys from small barrel dumps is harder than from large ones, which is why so many major products are made from dumps of several hundred to a few thousand barrels at a time. The pioneers of the small batch concept, Maker’s Mark and Elijah Craig, worked in batches in a range from a few dozen to around a hundred barrels. The pickiness that goes into choosing those barrels shows in the final product, or else there would not have been so much howling about Elijah Craig going no age statement (NAS) last week.
This is part of what Michter’s did for its staple product, their US*1 Bourbon. They went small batch, never drawing from more than two dozen barrels for a bottling run, that done at 91.4 proof (45.7% abv) and with the company’s selected filtration.
The way I look at this no age statement (NAS) bourbon is that it’s presumably on the youngish side, but everything that can be done to take it a step up—small batch, 90ish proof, clever filtration—was done. That shows in the glass from the get-go, because the coloring is in the light-to-middle amber range, basically full-on copper, indicative of a whiskey of average age.
The nose is classic bourbon territory: sweet and a touch floral; a dollop of vanilla and a spoonful of butterscotch; a punch of barrel char. The flavor is quite creamy and thickly sweet, almost to syrupy with the corn sweetness. To match that, a bourbon needs a strong caramel current, and this one has it, rounded out with a dab of rye spice and a little dry wood note.
This isn’t a complex bourbon, demanding an hour’s worth of study per dram. Instead, it’s pleasant, easy-drinking, and thoroughly approachable. I like it neat, but wouldn’t feel guilty pouring it over four or five ice cubes either.
Officially priced at $40, you can sometimes find it at $35. That is the sole problem with Michter’s US*1 Bourbon, because at the official price it’s in competing with Knob Creek and the like, and most would prefer stronger, bigger bodied whiskey at that price point.