By Father John Rayls
Michter’s sets their founding year as 1753 in Schaefferstown, Pennsylvania, and their founder as John Shenk, a Swiss Mennonite farmer. Having married a Swiss Mennonite 43 years ago, I can really relate to this part of the story! It’s rumored that General George Washington stopped at the farm and purchased sufficient barrels of whiskey to help his troops survive the long, infamous winter spent at Valley Forge.
A commercial distillery was built on these legendary foundations, but Prohibition placed that distillery on a very shaky foundation, and later bankruptcy left the facilities abandoned. However, the brand name was still worth something. The current ownership secured the Michter’s name in the 1990s, picking it up with a sincere commitment to “honor the Michter’s legacy by producing the best whiskey possible, cost be damned.” It was a tall order, but if you have ever sampled any of the Michter products, you know that order was fulfilled.
A couple of years ago, I had the privilege of taking an intimate, private tour led by Pamela Heilman, recently named Michter’s Master Distiller. It was her day off, but she volunteered to take me and a few friends through the distillery and explain the operation and the balance between art and science in distilling great whiskey. She was funny, gracious and patient, but it was her personal knowledge of all things whiskey that was truly golden. I walked away knowing I would be a life-long fan of Michter’s.
As a result, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the 2017 version of Michter’s Single Barrel 10 Year Old Bourbon Whiskey. Willie Pratt, the former and founding Master Distiller, became (in)famous as “Dr. No,” delaying release schedules by insisting on waiting until what was in his acquired barrels reached their sweet spots. I’m sure Pamela will come to fill his shoes very nicely.
In both the bottle and glass, the Bourbon is a mid-to-dark brown with copper highlights. The legs are long and persistent and thick in appearance. It’s not an appearance of molasses, but more like a thinner maple syrup.
The nose is a medium and offers an inviting experience, reminding me of walking through the older, wooden style of rickhouses. It’s filled with age, oak, old and mellow leather, and light cloves mixed with sweet cream corn.
The mouthfeel is almost perfect (sidenote: this was bottled at 94.4 proof): it’s creamy, smooth and luxurious with some light heat. On the palate, there is sweet caramel, vanilla and oak that is nicely balanced. However, it doesn’t last long, and is quickly replaced with a cinnamon and allspice. The experience is all on the mid-tongue area, while the spice is all at the back of the mouth even in the throat area. The finish is long and transitions from sweet spicy to all pepper.
This is a whiskey that begs to be consumed neat. It’s just that good, so don’t mess with it.
The official retail price for Michter’s 10 Year Old Bourbon 2017 is $120. Don’t be surprised to see at least some retailers and everyone on the secondary market asking for at least double that.