July 29, 2014

Michter's 10-Year Rye Vertical

Zen & The Art of Light Bulb Maintenance  

"How many whiskey snobs does it take to change a light bulb?" 
"One hundred.  One to screw in the new bulb, and ninety-nine to explain why the old one was better."

Back in October, 2013, SmokyBeast tested a hypothesis.  Michter's had been releasing different batches of their 10-Year Bourbon over a number of years from 2007 to 2013.  The common wisdom in the whiskey community was that the old batches put the new stuff to shame.  There were even murmurings that the original barrels had been sourced from Stitzel-Weller, the legendary stomping grounds of Julian "Pappy" Van Winkle, Sr.  Anyone professing to enjoy the new Michter's bourbon (for which they had just shelled out almost a hundred bucks) was quickly chastised and corrected by the nearest available whiskey snob, who would point out that they'd thrown away their money on crap that was unfit to water their flowers.

Well we happened to like the new Michter's 10-Year, as a matter of fact it was one of our current favorites.  We'd never tried the mythical original releases, so we set out to obtain all the various batches and taste them blind.  We would see if there was any substance to the social media vitriol, or if this was simply a case of smarmy light bulb changers.  You can see the results here.  In a nutshell, while there were noticeable differences in the old batches versus the new one (old was more woody, new was sweeter) we felt the high quality had carried through to the new product.

As regular readers know, we're huge rye whiskey fans.  And sadly during the first two years of SmokyBeast's existence, Michter's had ceased to produce a 10-Year Rye.  We heard some rumblings that a new Michter's 10-Year Rye would be coming out this summer, and lo-and-behold we were able to score a bottle.  But could the new rye hold up to the old stuff as well as the bourbon did?  Was there a reason that they stopped producing it for four years?  Well, once more unto the breach dear friends, we have assembled all the known bottlings and are ready to get to the bottom of...

Going Vertical Part 2: Michter's 10-Year Rye!

First of all we need to thank our man in Tennessee, Eric Jorgensen, for being as obsessive about this stuff as we are and graciously packaging up samples of not one but all three old M10 Rye batches for us!  It's good to have friends in high places!

2007, 2008, 2011 Michter's 10-Year Ryes being packed up for the Beast Tasting!

Off To The Races...

Our special guest for this round was Jason Laschewer, father-to-be (congrats J!!!), Brooklynite, brown liquor lover.  Armed with our trusty Glencairn crystal, four ample pours of Michter's, and a good old fashioned NYC sausage & peppers pizza, we set to work.

Michter's 10-Year Rye 7B-2 (First Release, 2007)

First Release: 7B-2 (2007)

Mrs. B.: Michter's always gives me a maple syrup, earthy, sweet but mellow taste.  That shiz is good!

Mr B.:  Ok right out of the gate this stuff just oozes good rich rye on the nose.  Brown butter, molasses, big spice, cloves, and nutmeg.  This is just how we remembered it - wood, sweet, spice, it's all there.  On the palate it's very smooth, warm sweet, hefty dose of char, loving this stuff!

J.L.:  Burnt caramel, buttery, syrup - a heavy, rich flavor but smooth and sweet all the way.

2nd Release: 8L-1 (2008)

J.L.: Sharper on the nose.  On the palate, full flavor up front which finishes flatter than the 2007.  It's not as smooth or complex as the 2007, but still tasty, with bit of heat.

Mr. B.:  Less sweet, more bbq, not as much butter/molasses, more spice and heat.  Much sharper than the '07 on the tongue, little sour note at the end.  It's still mighty good, but not quite as great as the 7.

Mrs. B.:  Not as smooth as the '07.  A little bit sweeter with cotton candy but much more of a burn to it.  Deceiving because the color is a bit darker, but the 2007 was richer.

3rd Release: 11DR-4 (2011)

Note: We all noticed immediately that this was by far the darkest of the four.

J.L.:  Sweet but subtle corn flavor up front, cherry/woody finish with a bit of undefined fruitiness. Apricot? Delicious!  Leaps and bounds ahead of 2008 but a few steps behind 2007.

Mrs. B.:  A combination of the two.  The mellow sweetness with a little of the burn.  Really good!  Crisper, flavors are a little more defined, come together more.  The 2007 is still my favorite with the 2011 coming in second.

Mr. B.:  Deep dark and delicious on both the color and the nose.  It's the richest and most complex by a wide margin.  Lots of different wood flavors coming out, it's still got all the sweets and spices, and everything marries together brilliantly.  On the tongue - yup, it's the sweetest and the spiciest.  As it opens up I get black licorice, barbecue sauce, smoked meat...  It's a close call between the '07 and the '11, but in the end, the 11 is my pony!  Very rich and beautiful dram!

4th Release: 14C168 (2014)

Note: By far the lightest of the four, this stuff looks about 40% less dark and lovely than the older batches.

Mrs. B.:  <shaking head> No comment.

Mr. B.: Wow you can just tell right from the nose that this is not in the same league.  It has none of the richness and depth of the others, smells hot and sort of watery at the same time.  On the tongue my disappointment continues, it's got an apple juice quality, like that of a much younger spirit that suffers from lack of flavor and too much heat at the same time.

J.L.: There are hints of vanilla, but it's a one-note flavor, one-trick pony if you will.  There's a clear lack of complexity and definition in the flavor.  Not in the same ballpark, or even the same league as the others.


I guess now we're the snobs yelling about the old light bulb!

We had some difference of opinion on which old bottle was most awesome.  JL & Mrs. Beast both went with the 2007 as their favorite, which was the sweetest, and the purest of the three.  Mr. Beast went with the 2011, the most complex one that opened up with layer after layer of flavor.  All were great ryes, deep and rich and flavorful.  Perhaps more than the stated 10 years of age?  They stand up to much older ryes that we've tasted in the past.  But there was no doubt that the 2014 completely paled in comparison to all of these original bad boys.  It was totally lacking that richness, that flavor, that eye-opening rye beauty.  Sad.

Battle 2014

Ok, so the new batch ain't so sweet compared to the old stuff. But, you may be thinking, "Back in 2007 I could walk out to the neighborhood liquor store and buy Pappy Van Winkle, Black Maple Hill, and basically any incredible American whiskey my little heart desired.  Thanks Beasts for ruining a perfectly good new rye that I was hoping to enjoy!  How, may I ask, does it hold up to anything I might be able to actually get my hands on in the present tense?"

Good question!  Rather than just bashing it with old glories, we figured we'd do a fair test next to a contemporary choice.  Since the new M10 Rye comes in at over $100, it actually wasn't easy to find anything to compare it to.  We ended up with our big hit from a couple of weeks ago, Smooth Ambler Single Barrel 8-Year Rye.  It's cask strength, so it's maybe not a totally fair comparison.  But at the same time it's $50 less expensive, so who's fault is it that the Michter's ain't cask strength too???  Let's line 'em up!

J.L.:  "To use a beer analogy, the Michters 10yr 2014 tastes like Miller Genuine Draft compared to Smooth Ambler's Dogfish 90 Minute IPA."  The nose on the Smooth Ambler has a funky spice - almost like tumeric/indian food/curry.  There's a bit of heat, bit of cherry/stone fruit, but overall it's surprisingly drinkable for 63.4%!  Really no comparison here.

All our notes were similar, so we'll stick with J.L.'s awesome beer analogy.  Basically the word "trounced" comes to mind.
verb past tense: trounced; past participle of: trounce  - to defeat heavily in a contest.
"the Knicks trounced the Rockets on Sunday"
(Clearly THAT definition was written 20 years ago...)

How Good is Good?

Ok we're done panning the new Michter's.  Next question, is the old stuff really that good?  Let's take our favorite of the old Michter's and put it against one of our current favorites: Willett Family Estate 25-Year Rye.

J.L. on Michter's 2007 vs. Willett 25

"Wow the Willett is so rich, just so huge in flavor.  It's a full two shades darker than the darkest of the Michters'.  It's almost syrupy, so thick and the mouthfeel is amazing.  However, I still think the Michter's 2007 is the best thing I've tasted tonight."

Mrs. B. on Michter's 2007 vs. Willett 25

"I was thinking in my head 'Oh this is no competition, I'm going to like the Willett.'  I love me some Willett and I've never had one that I didn't take to immediately.  However the Michter's surpasses it.  It's smoother, it has a lot of sweetness, but not too much.  Let's just say I wouldn't kick the Willett out of bed, but the Michter's '07 is insane."

Mr. B. On Michter's 2011 vs. Willett 25

"The noses could be sisters.  Is it remotely possible they were from the same source?  Really close, but the Willett takes the prize for amazing stand-out aroma.  They both are so tasty, this is one of the most difficult head-to-heads in recent memory.  At the end of the day, the Willett is just a little sour on the finish.  Perhaps tasting the Michter's points out that the Willett is a bit over-wooded, maybe just a tad past it's prime.  As much as I love Willett, I have to admit that the Michter's 11 just inches it out with a little more freshness and livelihood.  They're both spectacular, but I agree that the old Michter's wins.  But I bet that some of the Willett rye private barrels are better!"

Peanut Gallery

Alright so maybe we can't tell that joke anymore.  Sometimes the old stuff really is better, a lot, better than what's on the shelf today.  This may be particularly true for NDP's (non-distillery producers) who rely on sourcing whiskey from the market.  Seven years ago there was no market for high quality rye, so it was probably easy to get choice picks of well aged barrels.  Today, not so much.  The good news is that there are a lot of good things on the horizon.  Willett is making rye again, High West is doing a lot of cool things with barreling, Smooth Ambler is kicking out amazing private barrels left and right, so enjoy those old ryes if you get the chance and look forward to the new wave of American whiskey resurgence.

Thanks again to Jorgensen for the hook up and JL for guest judging.  Stay tuned for more fight-to-the-death showdown battles this summer!



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  2. Love your post on the Michter's 10 year rye, I've bLove your post on the Michter's 10 year rye, I've been looking forward to this read. I don't have your extensive access to all the years, and only have tasted the 2011 an 2014 up until last week. My memory is a bit hazy, but I do remember that it was more rich in rye flavor, sweeter and more spice than the 2014 bottle. What I do like about the 2014 is the mouthfeel, it has a nice thick oily texture, which is unusual given I have higher proof bottles that don't have anything like the same texture. Even compared to all my bottles of bourbon, rye and scotches. I do admit that the taste of 2014 is more bourbon like than rye whiskey. The rye flavors are much subtle and the finish has a spice that is more dry with a bit of char. Is it worth $100, probably not but I have no regrets and enjoy each pour now compared to when I first had it open.

    As luck would have it, last week I visited a local bar for lunch and saw they had the 10 year 2014 rye on their menu. I did notice two bottles open so I asked if any of the bottles has a barrel number that started with something other than 14. The bottle came to my table with a barrel number 7G1 (I believe yours might be 7G2 actually). The color is noticeably darker than the 2014, even other patrons sitting with my at the bar admired it. The nose immediately has more rye and molasses, the taste is sweeter with deep notes of brown sugar, a bit more concentrated in spice and rye followed by a nice long dry finish with charred wood. But, one thing that struck me is that I still think my 2014 has a thicker mouthfeel. Minor detail in the whole scheme of things, but I will head back there soon and have a double pour the next time since I had no idea that the bottle I have is from 2007 if I'm reading the barrel number correctly.

    1. Thanks HD, very cool that they had an old bottle available. Sounds like we agree on the differences. Hit us up on FB and let us know where we can join you for a drink!

  3. Dang. Still haven't tried this, but after falling in love with the 10Y BBN I was thrilled to. Disappointing to read of the quality drop, but, as always, a great review. On the bright side, I did just stumble across a couple of bottles of the SA BP and 99proof... I was super impressed by their 7+10 year bourbons, especially as they compare to the Michter's 10. Lesser, for certain, but to my palate a fantastic guilt-free week-night analogue. Excited to finally try their ryes.

    1. Hey Chris, yeah it was kind of a bummer. Enjoy those barrel proof smooth ambler ryes, very good stuff! Is it a private barrel? from where?

  4. Hello Mr Beast. I purchased a Michter10 YR Straight Rye750ml a while back The seller said it was very good. I spent $55. I now see that it is over $100. Good investment but I would rather consume it than leave it to my heirs. :-) I just want to know if it really is good enough for special company (due to visit soon) or should I impress with something else. You certainly know your batch numbers.. I have a #14C117 on the bottle. Can I show it off? Thanks in advance for any help. John jjd1950@gmail.com

    1. HI John, in terms of rarity there weren't very many of these 2014 10-Year ryes around. Most of the stores we know only got a handful of bottles and they sold pretty quickly. So in terms of showing it off it's probably suitable. $55 is definitely a great price for the 10 year (there's also a regular Michter's rye, so make sure it's not that one). If you read the above article you'll know that we're not totally crazy about it and there are probably better ryes out there, but it's likely that none of your guests will have had it before so go ahead and show it off!

  5. Crazy question? Rumor has it that the Michter's 10 year back in 07 was a few years older than 10. Is it possible the same juice is now what they are bottling as their 20 year?

    1. Yeah that's probably a good guess. The theory was that both the early 10-year bourbons and the '12 and '13 20-year bourbons were made at Stitzel-Weller, so wether they're the same stock or from a bunch of barrels that Michter's purchase, it's a likely guess... This is all conjecture though, as they've been very tight-lipped about it and no one knows for sure.