Corrected November 22, 2017
By Richard Thomas
An unexpected item in the Fall 2017 Bourbon season, that time of year when all the hot button limited releases come out, was Michter’s 25 Year Old Bourbon. If anyone outside the company knew it was coming out (until the week before the official press release went around), then that person did a good job of keep his mouth shut. The appearance of this 360-bottle run came as a surprise to all or nearly all observers.
This ultra-aged Michter’s Bourbon went unlisted on release calendars; unanticipated in forums; uncommented upon in blogs. The company released a 25 Year Old Rye last year, but the last time a 25 Year Old Bourbon was bottled by them was almost a decade ago, in 2008. To think back on that, the previous installment came out before the Bourbon Boom had truly taken off, when George W. Bush was in the last months of his failed presidency, and when a junior Senator from Illinois was marching inexorably towards becoming America’s first black President.
One of the few brands that really competes with Pappy Van Winkle in terms of market value, scarcity and reputation is Michter’s, at least when it comes to their very old, ultra-premium expressions. The most objective reason why is because Pappy comes out every year and sometimes in larger allotments, whereas the ultra-aged Michter’s releases are periodic and therefore far rarer. More subjective is that their ultra-aged whiskeys are better than the equivalent Van Winkle, especially if you prefer your whiskey to not be exceptionally oaky.
My bottle was number 358 out of 360. This bottling came out at 116.2 proof (58.1% ABV).
My pour revealed a clear, but deeply amber liquid. Given I was sipping outdoors on a crisp, late autumn day, I take that as a telltale sign of Michter’s particular filtration method. The coating of my glass developed a crown of thick beads and ran with a few thin legs.
Lately, I’ve been adding at least a few drops of water to any whiskey that is pushing or exceeding 60% ABV by default, and I did the same here. The nose was potent with vanilla, accented by Christmas Cake spices and a little orange zest. Tiny notes of wet clay, evergreen and mint peek out from behind this very hefty, solidly Bourbon sweet, wood-driven scent. In terms of alcohol strength, I’ve had 100 proof whiskeys that nosed hotter than this one.
The flavor puts a very wood-driven combination of oaky tannins and wood spices into one scale, while sweet, syrupy vanilla-maple sits in the other, creating a better balance than was the case with the nose. Notes of currant and trail mix nuts come out at the end, with just enough of a presence to show off some sophistication.
The finish is the first place where the heat really shows itself, because it runs long and warm. The wind-down starts off quite spicy, which fades down to by subsumed by the underlying nuttiness, with this last aspect slowly dropping away.
Michter’s 25 Year Old Bourbon 2017 is in no way a subtle sipper, but it’s not exactly what I would call bold and ballsy either. At 116.2 proof, it packs big, well-balanced flavors garnished by sometimes unusual, always modest notes, and those manages to show some sophistication in that big-but-understated personality. I spent a whole evening on the fence about whether this was an A or an A+ whiskey, and usually if I’m on the fence that means I default to the lower grade. In this instance I didn’t, simply because it was the most enjoyable Bourbon I’ve had all year.
The official retail price is $800, and it is certainly worth it if you have the budget for it. However, the only bottle of the 2008 release that was listed online was priced at $6,900. It has now been joined by three examples of the 2017 release, two priced at $6,000 and one at $8,000. Good luck getting it for $800!