...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, September 18, 2015

WTF Is This? Michter's Toasted Barrel Finish Bourbon

I've been struggling to figure out how to write this post's introduction.  This is my fourth and final attempt.  Here it goes...

I don't understand the lengths to which some new whiskey companies go and the resources they commit to deceiving customers and distorting their brand.  For instance, Michter's.

There once was a distillery near Schaefferstown, Pennsylvania, that was briefly called Michter's in the 1970s and '80s.  Distilling had been going on at the site for almost 240 years when it shut down in 1990, and had gone by other names throughout that time.  Several years after the distillery was closed and abandoned a company named Chatham Imports bought the brand, and have been a Non-Distilling Producer (NDP) ever since -- releasing whiskies distilled (and occasionally bottled) by other companies.  (As of last month, they finally do have their own Michter's distillery up and running, in Kentucky.)  But several years before they distilled anything they had given an employee the title of Master Distiller, parading him around at as many events and distillers' conferences as they could.  And from the sound of it he was out of his league as he shared stages with men who had been actually distilling for decades.  In their advertising they used images of photoshopped barrels and CGI'ed stills that didn't exist.  They created revisionist history about their distillery, keeping things blurry about what distillery they were actually referencing: the non-existent one or the closed one that didn't distill their whiskey.  No, it (whatever it was) wasn't the oldest distillery in the country nor did George Washington's army slake its thirst there.  Chatham Imports seem to be distancing their "Michter's" history as far from the original distillery's history, even suing its surviving Master Distiller into silence.

While some of this depends on the veracity of independent reports, what is clear is that a lot of effort has been spent on distortion.  And I don't understand it.  How many more bottles of bourbon is Michter's really going to sell by committing to this approach?  Why burn so many bridges so early in the game?  And (to Michter's, as well as Templeton and Whistle Pig), why hide or lie about the source of one's whiskey -- especially when it's a good source -- rather than focusing on showing pride in being a successful American small business with big dreams on the rise?

Unlike Bourbon Truth, I do not have unbridled rage over this.  But Chatham's actions do make me uncomfortable enough to avoid buying their products.  There is SO MUCH whisk(e)y on the market right now, so I'll stick to the stuff with less of the creep factor.

I'm going to end this section here and provide you with links below if you want to wade further into this:

Okay, so after all of that, what the hell is this whiskey and why the hell am I reviewing it?  Well, we don't know who distilled the stuff, though it was distilled in KY.  And it is bourbon.  In this case, Michter's takes their sourced straight bourbon (which is at least 4 years old) and finishes it for "an additional period".  They don't state the length of the finish, but do share that the barrel's staves were air-dried for 18 months.  That's a curious random detail which almost led me to think that the finish was 18 months long at first glance.  But the finish was likely not 18 months long.  I'm reviewing this whiskey because I'm curious to see how a toasted oak finish would affect a bourbon.  And I'm kind of expecting a disaster.

Brand: Michter's
Owner: Chatham Imports
Region: Kentucky
Type: Bourbon Whiskey
Age: at least 4 years old
Finish/Length: Toasted Barrels for "an additional period"
Alcohol by volume: 45.7%
Thank you to Smokypeat for the sample!

The color is dark rosy gold, almost the same shade as the 9yo Knob Creek Single Barrel.  The nose is curiously fruity.  Fresh grapefruit, lemon candy, and gummi worms.  Lots of caramel too.  After 10 minutes the oak rolls in.  More vanilla, but also some mint.  At first, there's not much going on in the palate.  Just non-descript sweets and sawdust.  But gradually some savory bits and salty cheese appear.  Then corn syrup and mint.  A mild peppery spice and a slight plasticky note.  The finish is slightly perfumy.  Then black pepper, barrel char, and distant cardboard note.

AS A HIGHBALL (1:1 ratio of whisky and club soda)
Caramel, orange candy, black pepper, and barrel char.

While I wouldn't call this great whiskey, it was much better than I had expected.  The early nose was good and the resulting highball was pleasant.  When neat, the palate doesn't do anything for me, though at least it wasn't hot.  Perhaps that's where the toasted oak came in, tempering some sharper edges, because otherwise I don't see much in the way of new stuff happening.  Usually when I find fruit notes (like those in the nose), it's related back to the original spirit.  And I don't find any spice or nuttiness that I often find in toasted oak whiskies.

But it's okay stuff.  If it were half its price, like $20-$25, and it came from a cleaner parent company then I'd consider buying it.  But it's $40-$60 and from Michter's, so no thanks.

Availability - Some US specialty retailers
Pricing - $40-$60
Rating - 78