By Richard Thomas
Michter’s keeps their sourcing cards very close to their chest, and nowhere more so than with their Unblended American Whiskey. Some websites state that this is basically bourbon aged in used barrels, similar to Early Times, but one only needs to take one sip of it to know that this whiskey is in a whole different ballpark. Also, when I asked about even the most general mashbill details at the Michter’s distillery, mum was the word. So what can we read from the hints provided?
The label itself refers to “bourbon-soaked barrels,” a clear reference to the use of ex-bourbon barrels. Because there is no neutral grain spirits in the mix, the whiskey is “unblended.” What has gone unremarked in the many descriptions of this product is that both of those stipulations point straight to Federal regulations regarding unqualified whiskey (i.e. whiskey that isn’t bourbon, rye, corn, wheat, malt, etc.), and what that means.
First, it means the spirit can be distilled to higher level than with “qualified” American whiskeys, but I must question if this was done with the source juice behind the Unblended American Whiskey. Compared to other whiskeys in its class, it is dramatically more flavorful, and that flavor can’t come entirely from the ex-bourbon barrels. Second, because this isn’t a straight whiskey, it 1) may or may not have a single grain comprising half or more of the mash; 2) may have a relatively high proportion of flavorings added, akin to Templeton Rye.
My exercise hasn’t really cleared anything up, but that was never the point. Instead, the intent was to look at what we know and what the regulations actually say, and with that done one realizes that Michter’s Unblended American Whiskey really is a mystery drink. A mystery, but like so much else Michter’s does, a tasty one.
The liquid has a dark cast in the bottle, and retains it in the glass. It’s amber runs far into the brown end of that spectrum, like a reflective and viscous iced tea.
Bottled at an easy-drinking 83.4 proof (41.7% abv), the nose is a molasses and caramel bomb. The scent almost physically sticks to your nostrils, it’s that thick. Brushed on the top is a thin coat of timber and just a trace of ginger.
The flavor is just as sweet, a candy made with buckets of butterscotch and caramel and a handful of dried fruits thrown in. The spice evolves on the tongue, starting soft, but more prominent than in the nose, and growing peppery over time. A current of toasty wood throughout keeps things from becoming too sugary. The finish is defined by its lingering vanilla aftertaste and mildly prickly afterglow.
With so much caramel, one might wonder about that “bourbon-soaked” barrel reference, and just what that might imply beyond ex-bourbon barrels. Certainly this whiskey has a caramel candy aspect beyond what one expects from even the sweetest, most vanilla-impregnated bourbon, and is therefore a big flavor whiskey that somehow is also not a bold one.
Michter’s Unblended American Whiskey is typically available for $40 in the U.S. In Britain it is substantially more expensive, and expect to pay around £50.