By Richard Thomas
Because Rye was the neglected stepchild of American whiskey for decades, whereas a 10 year old Bourbon is still a fairly affordable item, a 10 year old Rye is rarer and dearer. Add single barrel to the titles on the label, and you’ve got yourself something special. WhistlePig, for example, has a single barrel version of their flagship 10 year old, 100% Alberta-sourced Rye available via their private barrel program. Only select retailers can get it, and those go for $90 to $100 a bottle.
There are some 10 year old Ryes, and there are some single barrel Ryes (including the junior NAS sibling of this expression), but only a few brands carry both designations. So, it should come as no surprise that the Michter’s Single Barrel 10 Year Old, the annual limited release of its category, should be both somewhat pricier and a good deal harder to get. The thing is, the quality of what is in the bottle routinely justifies the status of Michter’s 10 Year Old Rye.
This being Pam Heilmann’s first 10 Year Old Rye release as Master Distiller, the question of “how does it differ from past years?” is perhaps a little more emphasized than it ordinarily would be. For starters, three features are the same as ever, or nearly: it’s bottled at 92.8 proof (46.4 % ABV), just a few tenths of a point up from 2014’s; it’s still run through Michter’s own proprietary filtration; and it’s still got that middling amber, reddened copper look so common to even aged Ryes.
The scent was brown sugar and vanilla and baking spices, but there was also a current of dryness, moreso than I recollected from past installments of this expression. A little more nosing gave me the impression of a toasty aspect, not entirely unlike “barrel char” meeting up with a larger helping of wood-driven spice.
That followed into the palate. A smooth, creamy liquid, the whiskey was a full step over toward warmer and drier than I thought it had been in the past. That isn’t different, and indeed it might not even be indicative of the entire batch of 2017, but it certainly was so for the bottle in this single barrel release that I got to. Brown sugar and vanilla, met in the middle by spices that are equal measure grain- and wood-driven, accented by a little toastiness and a little tobacco leaf.
I found my bottle a little drier than I would want in an ideal world, but that is just the way the ball bounces with single barrels. It still makes for a home run of a pour.
Officially, Michter’s 10 Year Old Rye goes for $150 a bottle. Unofficially, expect to pay double that if you don’t know your liquor store owner real well.