By Richard Thomas
For whisk(e)y enthusiasts who aren’t collectors-for-profit, acquiring a pricey and rare bottle usually produces one of two reactions: crack it open at the earliest opportunity, like a kid with his prized Christmas gift; or put it away to save for a special occasion. When I got my hands on a bottle of 2015’s Michter’s 20 Year Old Single Barrel Bourbon, my instinct was to put it away.
However, I have the extra reaction in the mix of wanting to eventually write up everything I get my hands on. With the 2016 Michter’s 20 Year Old likely to be released in the near future, I felt a professional special occasion had arisen. If you can’t write a limited edition whiskey up right around the time of its release, what better time to do it that right before its successor comes out, as a preview of things to come?
Michter’s doesn’t disclose it’s sourcing, but everything else you need to know is on the label: a single barrel drawn from a cask 20 years of age or older, bottled at 114.2 proof (57.1% ABV). This puts the 20 year old in the same high octane, ultra-aged category as the Pappy Van Winkles and George T. Stagg. The 2015 run produced 267 bottles, of which mine was number 200.
In the glass, the liquid has a lovely, clear and deep amber appearance, a brown core with currents of light catching red. A coat of the glass leaves a torrent of thick, runny legs.
The nose is a stew of fruitiness, with citrus blossoms mingling with a syrup of orange zest, cream and caramel. A trace of old leather lies behind the sweet creaminess, just within reach. Michter’s 20 Year Old also presents an absolutely smooth nose, without even the hint of burn one might expect from 114 proof bourbon.
A wave of rye and woody spices crash first on the palate, that being the only real surprise in the flavor. This initial spice current doesn’t recede so much as is joined in full force by a bold surge of creamy vanilla and a candied, citrus and honeyed sweetness. While full of boisterous character, the flavor profile isn’t in any way overpowering, and makes for a smooth and easy sipper without a single drop of water.
The finish winds down on a modest spicy tingle, which fades rapidly to leave a light presence of vanilla that lingers on and on. The warmth is surprisingly mild, a closing statement of smoothness in a bourbon clocking over 110 proof.
Although my rule of thumb is not to add water when I find a whiskey doesn’t need it, I broke with form and added a splash to this one. I found Michter’s 20 Year Old wasn’t improved in any way. The creaminess turned silky, the leathery traces became more oaky, but otherwise it was unchanged. I won’t do it again.
Michter’s 20 Year Old is a personable, bold and flavorful high proof bourbon. There is nothing subtle about it, but instead is akin to what the best of Booker’s would be, were it taken up a full notch.
This 2015 installment was listed at $600, but anyone who actually paid that price was extremely lucky. A sampling of retail listings revealed that double that, or $1,200, is more realistic.