March 15, 2013

Review: Michter's Single Barrel US*1 Straight Rye - The Founding Fathers' Favorite Hooch



Triangle Hats & Muskets

Given its current resurgence in popularity, it seems kind of unlikely that rye would have such a contentious past.  But throughout history, it has been in favor, then out of favor, then in favor again, kind of like Mickey Rourke. Or cargo pants (assuming you feel like they were ever actually in style).  Back in the day – we're talking the 1700s – rye used to be the booze of choice in the U.S.  Knowledge of fermentation and distillation was brought over by European settlers who tended towards rum and beer.  When they glimpsed the abundance of rye in the fertile plains of the US, they quickly set their sites on whiskey.  As a matter of fact, when George W. (that’s Washington) bought supplies for his troops at Valley Forge, it is rumored that he purchased ample supplies of rye to keep them warm through the long winter.  And it's a well-known fact that when he retired from the presidency, he created his own distillery at his place in Mount Vernon, where rye is still made to this day.  Martha Washington, that clever gal, was famous for her boozy punch.  And why not?

But prohibition took everything good in life off the market, and at that point, people just turned to whatever they could get their hands on – bootleg alcohol, bad rum and yes, even Canadian whiskey.  By the 1930s, people were too interested in their martinis and Tom Collins' to care about an antiquated drink like rye.  But everything old is new again, and rye is again as hip as a pair of skinny jeans.  We couldn't be happier.  It's an excellent sipping beverage, as well as a terrific alternative to whiskey in cocktails like manhattans and old-fashioned's.  And there are some fantastic beasts to explore in the rye family.

Red Tape

The government is pretty strict about what we consider rye.  It has to be:

  • Made from a grain mixture that’s at least 51% rye
  • Aged in new charred-oak barrels
  • Distilled to no more than 160 proof, or 80% alcohol by volume (ABV)
  • Put in said barrels at not more than 125 proof (62.5% ABV)
  • If it’s aged for at least 2 years, it can also be further designated as ‘sraight rye whiskey’.

US*1 Single Barrel Rye

Which leads us to our review: Michter’s Straight Rye Whiskey.  Michter's represents all things cool about the history of rye.  It’s got the ‘straight rye’ designation.  It was established in 1753, and was the first commercial whiskey distillery in America.  Short of an outright claim, their website strongly implies that it was in fact Michter's that The Father of Our Country used to fortify his soldiers, hence the tagline ‘The Whiskey That Warmed The American Revolution’.  Hey, what’s good enough for GW is good enough for us.

While Michter’s has been around for years, it wasn’t until the 1990s when the brand was brought into the spotlight by Dick Newman, of Wild Turkey fame, who recognized something great in Michter’s and aimed to take it to the next level.  Lucky for them, their bets paid off and rye is now a staple of today's cocktail frenzy.

Michter's entire line is seriously enjoyable.  The Small Batch Bourbon is awesome.  They also make a Sour Mash Whiskey, and Unblended American Whiskey.  You can't go wrong with any of these.  Then they go up into the $100 range with 10-Year Rye and 10-Year Bourbon.  We'll save our opinions on those for future reviews.  Then we really start to see some boutique bottlings (which we haven't been lucky enough to sample) with 20 and 25 year runs heading up into the three or four hundred dollar range.  

US*1 SINGLE BARREL RYE is the original product that Michter’s produced in 1753.  There's a long history here with the original Bomberber's Distillery in Pennsylvania being renamed Michter's, closing through Prohibition, and today being distilled out of Bardstown.  But the important part is that the original recipe, taste, and tradition have survived.  It’s a classic, it’s moderately priced, and it’s easily found despite a sometimes Michter’s shortage (so far, it’s been nothing like the Pappy issue though).


Wifey's Tasting Notes

This is my favorite rye.  Michter’s website advertises “hints of light spice, black pepper, marmalade and plum, spicy grain and light caramel.”  But I will politely disagree.  I get citrus, almonds and baked goods, and a rich, almost molasses nose with almost no burn, which just foreshadows the smoothness to come.  The body admittedly gives me a little of the pre-defined marmalade and light caramel,  but also a bit of an herbal note, which also really lends itself to being a great rye for mixing.


Hubby's Tasting Notes

I love rye.  I love rye bread.  I love rye beer (if you're ever in Austin, TX, try a fresh draft of Real Brewing Company's Full Moon Rye Pale Ale, it's amazing).   Take one whiff of Michter's and you remember that there's nothing like a nice rye on the nose.  I smell sweet corn, maple syrup, and an old study (well-worn wood and leather).  Taken straight, I'll disagree with wifey and say that there's definitely a burn here, but it's a pleasant burn.  You KNOW you're drinking whiskey and it feels so right.  It's a very bright liquor - fiery, spicy, and sharp.  The taste opens up with rich wheat, more sweetness - like a molasses, and lots of wood.  In a finish here, you're not looking for the long lingering smokiness of a single malt.  This is more of a cowboy finish, one part bulletproofing and two parts lonesome love song.  

The Review

At around $40 at Astor, Michter's Single Barrel Rye is an awesome tool for your liquor cabinet.  It's enjoyable to drink neat, and makes a wicked cocktail.  You may have noticed that we usually recommend Michter's if you're making one or two cocktails for yourself and a loved one, and something a bit cheaper like Old Overholt if you're serving them up for a party.  Given it's multi-faceted role on your bar, it's difficult to grade Michter's.  It's an "A" cocktail rye.  It's a "B" sipping whiskey in general, but considering the price, we're giving it an overall "A-".  If you're going to buy one bottle of rye to have on hand for all occasions, you really can't do better.  Get out your triangle hat and your musket, get patriotic, get Michter's, and enjoy.

11 comments :

  1. Thanks for an excellent review. Bought a bottle of Michter's today and will be trying it this evening. First a sip, then shaken with some top shelf vermouth and a couple of shakes of bitters, and an added small and narrow orange peel.

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    1. Awesome! The Michter's makes a stellar Manhattan. A good secret sauce is to use two different bitters, Angostura makes a good base, and something like Fee Bros Cherry Bitters, Regan's Orange, or Barrel-Aged makes a great little twist on top of it. Happy drinking!

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  2. If you like it that way, continue to do it, bu it itsn't considered proper to shake a manhattan - it over dilutes, and also shaking causes higher levels of chilling that mask flavors of both your whiskey and your vermouth.

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    1. It's true, technically you only want to shake a cocktail when you're trying to infuse a fruit like in a margarita. However the same is true for martini's and in most bars they shake the crap out of them because that's how people like them. Definitely try putting the liquors in the ice and stirring for a good minute or two and see if you like it better. But if you like 'em shaken, go nuts man it's your trip.

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  3. is this another product out of lawrenceville, or no?

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    1. Yes, it is. hey simply buy the bulk spirit already distilled, and then tweak it a little bit before bottling and selling it. Michter's products are very good, but it irritates me how they (and many, many other brands, including Willett, since we're talking about rye) try to fool people into thinking that they are the distiller. Willett finally became actual distillers and just released their first in-house rye whiskey in 2014 (a 2-year-old expression) and last I heard Michter's was set to finally start doing their own distilling sometime here in 2015.

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  4. This is a wild good whisky in a Manhattan. One sip was enough to permanently cure my loyalist tendencies

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  5. As a bartender for 20 years, don't step in the way of a shaken drink! I have actually been told my Manhattan wasn't right bc it was stirred. I say, give the people what they want!

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    1. Haha. Right on Roark! Personally I only want margharitas and stuff shaken, I don't like it when they shake up a martini or manhattan.

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  6. I went into a bar and they gave me a counter menu (I was without my reading glasses). I had escaped a traffic jam and wanted "whatever you like...make it a double, with some ice.) $21 dollars later I was sipping something much better than my usual bourbon, and I had to ask the waitress for the name of my whiskey. After all, Michter and me had become such good friends and so quickly!

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  7. I went into a bar and they gave me a counter menu (I was without my reading glasses). I had escaped a traffic jam and wanted "whatever you like...make it a double, with some ice.) $21 dollars later I was sipping something much better than my usual bourbon, and I had to ask the waitress for the name of my whiskey. After all, Michter and me had become such good friends and so quickly!

    ReplyDelete