“There is no royal flower strewn path to success. And if there is, I have not found it, for whatever success I have attained has been the result of much hard work and many sleepless nights.” – Madame C.J. Walker
It goes without saying that an induction into the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame is a distinct honor. It’s one that recognizes a lifetime of achievement, and what is achievement but the byproduct of talent and hard work? It’s that triumvirate of qualities that define the career of Andrea Wilson. In her role as Michter’s Master of Maturation it is her job to procure and ensure the quality of the barrels used for the brand’s distillate. It is also in that role that she has made one of her most lasting marks on the American whiskey world; I’m talking here about her influence on popularizing the use of toasted barrels.
Look around: there’s a proliferation of toasted barrel products on the market today, and yet the ones that generate the most feverish following – and typically the most profound praise – are those that come from Michter’s Distillery. They’ve released a Toasted Barrel Finish Rye and a Toasted Barrel Finish Bourbon in addition to the expression I will be considering today. Initially released in 2019 to glowing reviews, this expression has been on a three-year hiatus but – after an all-too-long wait – Michter’s has finally released their second offering of US*1 Toasted Barrel Finish Sour Mash Whiskey.
I recently had the opportunity to speak to Andrea Wilson about her Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame induction. When the topic of her proudest achievement at Michter’s came up she had this to say, “I have a special fondness for the toasted series of products that we make. We were the first company to release a toasted barrel finished product. It’s really special to me because it helps people understand the power of a toasted barrel. I love to educate, I love to share with people, and sharing what the influence of the toast profile does to the end product is what makes those whiskeys really fun to experience.” She continued by saying, “What I’m particularly proud of is that, with the Michter’s Toasted Barrel Finish Series, I do feel like people have started to ask more questions about this art of toasting.”
Indeed, we’re now in a world where consumers are savvier than ever, and a great deal of credit for that belongs to producers who not only innovate but take the time to educate people on the impact of their innovation. Of course Andrea doesn’t claim all the credit, as she’s quick to note that Michter’s has an incredible team that assists her and Master Distiller Dan McKee on the creation of their products. That said, she deserves a ton of praise for utilizing her understanding of oak to transform the modern face of bourbon. Certainly those who elect members to the Kentucky Hall of Fame would agree.
So, armed with a better understanding of just how innovative Michter’s take on a toasted barrel finish is, shall we discuss the specifics of this expression? This limited release offering is 86 proof (43% ABV) and undergoes Michter’s signature filtration process, which they alter for every expression in their portfolio. The finishing barrel is custom made to Andrea’s specifications with 18-month air dried staves and while the toast level is undisclosed, Andrea did have this to say about the production process:
“When we created the Toasted Sour Mash in 2019 it was a difficult process to determine the toasting level for that product because part of our goal that we try to achieve is that you can sit the base product next to the toasted barrel finish version of that product and be able to compare the impact. Well, when we did this product in 2019 and we were looking at different options for the toast it seemed like every time we did it the toast was overpowering the Michter’s Original Sour Mash whiskey. We ended up selecting one that was a milder toast, and it turned out lovely.”
“I’m particularly enchanted with this year’s release of the Toasted Sour Mash because I think we’ve identified the toast profile that brings forward this smoked honey component, but it also brings a little bit of that campfire experience that people have come to enjoy in our toasted barrel finished products. I’m very proud of it. Every time we do a toasted product we spend time to really go through the process of determining what’s the right toast profile? What’s the right air drying of wood profile? How many days are we going to actually keep it in that toasted barrel? There’s a real work ethic that goes into defining these products each time we release it and that’s part of the joy in having the opportunity to do that product, it really is experiential.”
Finally, with regard to Malt’s price sensitive scoring system, it should be noted that Michter’s US*1 Toasted Barrel Finish Sour Mash retails for $99. The bottle for this review was provided at no cost by the distillery, but it will be considered and scored as though I spent a century note on it. Let’s go!
Michter’s US*1 Toasted Barrel Finish Sour Mash Whiskey – Review
On the nose: Apricot, marshmallow, and cinnamon jump out at me at first. Floral notes and some faint milk chocolate emerge next forming an alluring mélange. Over time more of that smoky marshmallow note becomes prominent in concert with a gentle fruit-forwardness that works really well together. It’s an elegant nose that has a lot to offer despite the low proof point. I’m ready for more.
In the mouth: Immediately there are gobs of s’more-like goodness on the palate as the chocolate – which was a tad restrained on the nose – is accentuated on the palate, along with that rich roasted marshmallow note and a bit of graham cracker or oatmeal cookie. On a second sip the spice is more prominent as is the fruitiness from the nose. I’m often impressed with how Michter’s whiskeys perform at a lower proof, and this pour exemplifies that refinement in the form of mellow yet well developed flavor and a lithe mouthfeel paired with an almost sumptuous finish. There isn’t so much smoke on the palate as there is the remnant of smoke; again, think of that slightly singed marshmallow over a campfire. It is delicious.
A lower price would bump this up in my book, but as it stands, I’m comfortable considering this head and shoulders above most releases of the year. Frankly, as it opens up, I may feel obliged to give it that bump. I was also a fan of their recent toasted bourbon release, but this just has so much more nuance while maintaining all of the balance and enjoyability of that earlier expression. I can understand the quibbles of those who wish this were a higher proof and I have my own about the price point (though the painstaking production process surely accounts for some of that) but all things considered this is an elegant Michter’s expression that is well worth your attention as well as your Benjamin Franklin.