Rosemary has a very inquisitive mind and she loves Michter’s Rye. She decided that she wanted to do a tasting of all of the products in the Michter’s Rye portfolio to see how they were alike as well as different. We have bottles of all of the products except the 25 year old Rye, so I told her I would see if I could get Michter’s to send me a small sample of the Rye and I would write a blog about her study. Michter’s did us one better and invited us out to the distillery to do the study with Master Distiller Pam Heilmann. Of course, we accepted the invitation.

It was a cold December afternoon when we went – the perfect day to taste whiskey in my opinion. Andrea Wilson had set this up for us but she could not join us in the tasting because of other duties. We were joined by Vicky Fugitte who recently joined the Michter’s team as their Visitor Experience Manager. We all let Rosemary form her own opinions but all three of us were willing to talk her way through her thoughts when she was having problem expressing her experience with the taste.

After some discussion it was decided that we would start with the US1 Rye as the baseline product. Normally, we would taste by proof but in this case it was decided that with what Rosemary wanted to learn we would taste the US1 Rye, the Barrel Strength Rye, The 10 year old Rye, the Toasted Oak Rye and then the 25 year old Rye. This order was chosen for a number of reasons. The 25 year old was picked to be last because it was a sourced whiskey and not contract distilled so it was a different mash bill and yeast. Michter’s started contract distilling around the year 2002 and depended upon sourced barrels available on the market for their Rye before that contract whiskey was ready. With what Rosemary wanted to learn it was important to treat the 25 year old differently. This was the style of Rye Michter’s wanted to create with their recipe and the other four whiskeys are the result of that duplication.

The first tasting was the standard US1 Rye. This is the company’s flagship brand. Rosemary’s notes are as follows:

Nose: Rich caramel and butterscotch, Rye grassiness and pepper with a freshness that could be citrus. Rosemary finds that she has a hard time detecting citrus and even though Pam and I were getting strong citrus, Rosemary was not finding it.

Taste: Caramel with a great mouth-feel, not tannic but with oak flavor. Pepper and Rye grassiness were interwoven in the flavor. Rosemary thinks that what I detect as Rye grass she detects more as pepper.

Finish: Medium long finish with a little oak without the tannic bitterness flavored with some pepper or Rye grassiness.

Rosemary now has her baseline for looking at the rest of the Rye whiskey lineup.

She moved on to the barrel strength Rye. She believes that this is her favorite Rye whiskey of all time and I am curious how it ends up at the end of the tasting. Here are her notes:

Nose: Toffee and rich vanilla, spices that are cinnamon and pepper with a nuttiness that she identifies as almonds after a little prodding by me.

Taste: A richer mouth-feel than the US1 with butterscotch and toffee and dark stone fruit – cherries or dates.

Finish: Long and dry with some pepper but not any bitter tannins.

She is beginning to identify the common thread as rich toffee or caramel with some pepper spice in the nose and taste.

The 10 year old Rye impressed her with the bottle. She loves the look and describes it as having “sexy shoulders”. She was also impressed with the liquid in the bottle. Here are her notes:

Nose:  Toffee, rich vanilla with some light orange and a bit cinnamon. There was also a hint of grassy pepper spice.

Taste: Toffee and vanilla with orange and cinnamon spice.

Finish: Oak dryness that had a little smokiness to it.

Once again there was that toffee and pepper reinforcing her belief that this is a common thread in all of the Michter’s Rye whiskeys.

The newest Michter’s Rye is the Toasted Barrel Finish, Single Barrel Rye. What impressed us both was when Pam told us that it is a very labor intensive product because the whiskey goes from the original barrel to the toasted barrel directly. Many of the finished products are made by dumping the whiskey into a tank and then filling the finishing barrels that can then be bottled one barrel at a time as a single barrel. Michter’s by doing it as a single barrel going into a new barrel adds a level of difficulty that makes it more expensive to produce. It also means that these toasted barrels are going to have more air space in them as the original barrel may only be 60% or 70% full as the angel’s share of 6 – 7 years of aging has taken its toll. It would be interesting to see how this affects the process by aging a barrel that was completely full along side of these barrels. Here are Rosemary’s notes:

Nose: Deeper caramel or dark brown sugar, vanilla and nuttiness.

Taste: Very complex spiciness, particularly cinnamon and pepper, brown sugar/toffee and chocolate overtones.

Finish: Hotter/spicier than the barrel proof which surprised her since this too is barrel proof. There was a chocolate/coffee flavor at the first that led into an oaky smoke and pepper dryness.

The final Rye in the flight was the 25 year old Rye. This was not distilled to Michter’s recipe and more importantly it was not entered into the barrel at 103 proof. It is very good Rye but not as good as the 10 year old in Rosemary’s opinion. Here are her notes:

Nose: Bread dough with coffee and caramel with some pepper spice and oak wood.

Taste: Toffee and pepper that was doughy like Rye bread dough and a little oak.

Finish: The simplest finish of the day with a long dry oak.

At the end of the day Rosemary believes that the Michter’s Rye all have in common a nose and taste that are strong in toffee or caramel sweetness with a bit of pepper. They all have a rich mouth-feel that is a bit creamy in texture and a finish that is fairly long and dry but not tannic and bitter. Each expression has subtle variations in these flavors that make them unique. In the end she still likes the barrel strength Rye the most, but the toasted barrel and 10 year old have earned her respect. The 25 year old was too barrel driven in its flavor for her taste. Of course the US1 will always be her go-to Rye for her Manhattans when she can’t get her favorite barrel strength Rye.

Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller