By Father John Rayls
Michter’s sets their founding year as 1753 in Schaefferstown, Pennsylvania, by John Shenk, a Swiss Mennonite farmer. Having married a Swiss Mennonite 43 years ago, I can really relate to this history. It’s rumored that General George Washington stopped at the farm and purchased sufficient barrels of whiskey to help his troops survive the long winter spent at Valley Forge. Several generations later, Prohibition placed the distillery on a very shaky foundation until bankruptcy left the facilities abandoned and in shambles. However, the name was still shining; although, not very brightly. The current ownership secured the Michter name in the 1990’s with a sincere commitment to “honor the Michter’s legacy by producing the best whiskey possible, cost be damned”. It’s a tall order, but if you have ever sampled any of the Michter products, you know they are succeeding wildly.
A few 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 overwhelming. 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, former Master Distiller, was a legend at the distillery and in the industry. However, Pamela will eventually fill his shoes very nicely.
This bourbon is in a beautiful bottle that is taller rather than squat and has rounded edges. I like the feel in my hands. The label reflects its history with an antique look that reminds the bottle owner that it’s the whiskey that “warmed the American Revolution”. In both the bottle and glass, the bourbon is a darker medium 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 inviting experience. It reminds me of walking through the old wooden Rick Houses. It’s filled with age, oak, leather (mellow – not fresh), light cloves mixed with sweet cream corn.
The mouthfeel is almost perfect. This bourbon is bottled at 94.4 proof, but it’s creamy and 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 because it is quickly replaced with a cinnamon and allspice experience. The palate 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 spicey to all pepper. This is a whiskey that begs to be consumed neat. It’s just that good.
Michter’s Single Barrel 10 Year Old Bourbon is released around once a year. Willie Pratt was known for selecting 10 year old barrels for bottling when he believed they were ready and throwing out others. Once again Michter’s has hit a home run with this 2017 offering. The retail price tag is set at $120.00, but the secondary market is already pushing the price line significantly. This is a great example of what a really good bourbon should be.