Michter’s US-1 Barrel Strength Rye
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Since the 1990’s, the Michter’s team has been doing pioneering work to re-establish the high quality American Rye whiskey category. The May 2015 inaugural release of Michter’s US 1 Barrel Strength Rye marks yet another milestone in that quest. For maturation, the Rye distillate is entered into the barrel at 103 proof, rather than a more industry standard higher proof. Barrel entry at a lower proof of 103 rather than a higher proof costs Michter’s more money in terms of barrels and warehousing, but we believe it yields a richer, smoother, more full-bodied whiskey after proper maturation. A single barrel product, each barrel of Michter’s US 1 Barrel Strength Kentucky Straight Rye is bottled at its particular alcohol level at the time of bottling. The majority of barrels in the inaugural release range from 108 to 110.8 proof. To savor it is a unique experience for anyone who enjoys Rye whiskey.
Barrel Strength Rye is a fan favorite; indeed, it’s something my Deputy Editor, Kurt Maitland, continues to speak glowingly of, often citing it as a perfect example of how higher proof is better. For a while, it looked like this expression was going to become a periodic release, like the brand’s Toasted Barrel Bourbon. We saw one in 2018, but then the expression skipped 2019 and 2020. It came out last year, though, and now here it is again for 2022. This return to normalcy takes the edge off Michter’s announcement that they would not release their 10 Year Old Bourbon this year.
We haven’t reviewed this expression since 2017, so now is as good a time as any to return to it. The bottling is said to be approximately 5 to 7 years old (albeit without formal age statement), and the labeling for 2022 indicates it is still at least partially sourced. When Michter’s will switch over fully to in-house production remains to be seen. The mash bill is also shrouded in mystery, although it is known to be a high corn, Kentucky style rye. Michter’s favors a low barrel entry proof of 103, which is why their cask strength whiskeys come out relatively low in alcohol (and often drinkable straight from the bottle). It’s also a single barrel expression, so proof varies from barrel to barrel. As opposed to a proof of 120 or higher, my sample comes in at a relatively modest 109.2, but I have read about others clocking 111.
The nose follows in the sweet Kentucky style, oozing vanilla and fruity notes of pineapple and orange zest. Lurking in the background is a note that sits astride earthy cocoa and barrel char; it’s faint enough that I can’t decide which. A sip flips the show, with the spices–the spiciness expressed itself only in a Bigelow Constant Comment kind of way in the scent–making their appearance on the palate. The pepper current is a soft one, however, well-balanced by tea tannin and brown sugar. The finish runs spice, starting as cinnamon before fading to dry wood.