Cocktail consultant, Liquid Productions
Co-owner, Pacific Standard
Co-owner, Clover Club, Leyenda, and Milady’s
An accessible offering from a label that’s often known for costly age statement whiskeys, Michter’s non-age-statement straight bourbon is an excellent choice for straight pours or mixing into cocktails. Our tasting panel particularly noted the whiskey’s oak-forward complexity, which is speculated to come from Michter’s practice of seasoning its barrels for 18 to 48 months.
However, despite being an entry-level offering from the producer, this bottle is still relatively high-priced for a bourbon, and our reviewers’ impressions of its overall value differ.
Classification: Straight bourbon
Company: Chatham Imports
Producer: Michter’s Distillery
Expression: US*1 Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon
Cask: Charred American new white oak barrels
Still Type: Copper column pot still and copper pot doubler, both made by Vendome Copper & Brass Works
Aged: No age statement (at least two years)
Works well for both sipping and mixing into cocktails
Shows an oak-forward complexity on the nose, palate, and finish
More affordable than Michter’s more costly age-statement whiskeys
Relatively expensive for an entry-level line
May strike some as too spicy on the palate
Availability may be limited
Color: Deep amber
Nose: Corn, grain, oak, spice, caramel, dill, black cherry, vanilla, burnt orange, peanuts, slight smoke
Palate: Vanilla, rye, baking spices, caramel, dark chocolate, hint of orange oils
Finish: Long and slightly hot, with notes of oak, corn, and spice
Similar bottles: Angel’s Envy, Eagle Rare, Elijah Craig, Knob Creek, Wild Turkey Bourbon
Suggested uses: Sipped neat or on the rocks; cocktails like the Old Fashioned, Manhattan, Mint Julep, New York Sour, and Vieux Carré
Our reviewers are unanimous in recommending Michter’s US*1 Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon for sipping or mixing. However, their impressions differ on its overall value.
“This is a great whiskey without too many drawbacks once you get past the elevated price tag,” says Jeffrey Morgenthaler.
Our tasting panel detected a strong barrel presence on the nose, palate, and finish. “The nose is such a brilliant expression of barrel quality that it’s hard to find much else to say about it,” says Morgenthaler.
“The most noticeable thing about the palate is how dry it is, [with] much less residual barrel sugar than other bourbons in the same class,” he adds. “Beautiful baking spices and rich, velvety caramel also come out to play on further explorations.”
Jacques Bezuidenhout says the whiskey has a “balanced finish between [the] heat of the spirit and the richness of the oak.”
“It is quite spicy for a bourbon,” says Julie Reiner. “I generally expect more fruit on the palate, but did not get it with this whiskey.” She also found the whiskey to be slightly hot on the finish and noted that it tastes young.
Bezuidenhout recommends sipping this bourbon neat or on the rocks, as well as mixing it into cocktails. “[It] will stand up to other spirits or liqueurs and still deliver its flavor,” he says. He adds that it “may even deliver a little more [in quality] than higher-priced whiskeys on the shelf.”
Reiner prefers this bourbon for use in cocktails. “There are a lot of other whiskeys at this price point that I would rather drink neat or over ice,” she says. She notes, however, that it will make a great Manhattan, Old Fashioned, Mint Julep, or New York Sour.
“I would take the opportunity to explore how this bourbon performs in an Old Fashioned with just the right amount of sugar,” says Morgenthaler. “My guess is that it will transform into a different drink with a whole new level of appreciable spices and other complex flavor.”
Both Bezuidenhout and Morgenthaler recommend this bottle for whiskey drinkers who are beginning to expand beyond entry-level bourbons.
“This is a bourbon drinker’s bourbon,” says Bezuidenhout.
Michter’s doesn’t make public its mash bill for US*1 Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon, but as with any bourbon it contains at least 51% corn. It is distilled at facilities in Shiveley and Louisville, Kentucky using copper pot stills, including a 100% copper column still that is 46 feet tall and 32 inches in diameter, and a 250-gallon copper pot still doubler. Both are custom-made by Vendome Copper & Brass Works in Louisville.
The whiskey is aged in new American charred white oak barrels that are dried for 18 to 48 months. Notably, Michter’s barrel entry proof of 103 is lower than that of most bourbons, which the distillery says is costly but intended to result in a smoother flavor and richer mouthfeel. The barrels are heat-cycled during aging, and though the whiskey bears no age statement, regulations dictate that it must age at least two years to be labeled straight bourbon. The whiskey is chill-filtered before bottling.
The history of Michter’s dates to 1753, when brothers John and Michael Shenk opened the United States’s first distillery in Schaefferstown, Pennsylvania to profit off surplus crops like corn, rye, and barley. The brothers supplied Revolutionary War soldiers with their whiskey, leading the producer to once tout its product as “the whiskey that warmed the American Revolution.” It has been said that George Washington himself procured some for his troops on his way to Valley Forge.
In 1861, the distillery was purchased by Abe Bomberger, who renamed it Bomberger’s Distillery and oversaw operations until Prohibition. Post-Repeal, the distillery changed hands several times, and in 1975, it was purchased by local businessmen including then-president Lou Forman, who renamed the distillery Michter’s, combining the names of his sons, Michael and Peter. (The Dutch-sounding name was also a nod to the area’s Dutch history.)
Forman and his associates employed the original sour-mash recipe that the Shenks had perfected, and the distillery became famous for its rye whiskey and historic origins. However, as clear spirits rose in popularity and big-brand whiskey dominated retail shelves, Michter’s success waned, and the distillery officially closed its doors in 1990.
The modern history of Michter’s began in the mid-1990s, when the owner of Chatham Imports, Joseph Magliocco, sought to add a rye whiskey to his portfolio. Finding that Michter’s had been legally abandoned, Magliocco acquired the brand for $245. Along with head of sales Steve Ziegler and distiller Richard “Dick” Newman, Magliocco began sourcing age statement rye whiskeys and bourbons (many of which had aged for more than 10 years) and developed a new process for Michter’s, which included a proprietary yeast strain and filling barrels at a low entry proof. In 2004, the first Michter’s barrels of this new era were filled at an undisclosed distillery in Kentucky.
The legendary late Willie Pratt became the first full-time distiller for the revived Michter’s in 2007, and Michter’s officially began distilling its own whiskey in 2015. Today it is made in two locations: the suburb of Shiveley, Kentucky and the restored Fort Nelson building in downtown Louisville, which was part of the city’s Whiskey Row before Prohibition and which houses original copper stills from the Pennsylvania distillery. In 2016, Pam Heilmann became the first female master distiller of a Kentucky Distillers’ Association distillery since Prohibition. Dan McKee took over the position in 2019.
–Written and edited by Audrey Morgan
At Michter’s Fort Nelson distillery, a piece of the brand’s Pennsylvania history remains. When the historic Schaeffersville, Pennsylvania distillery was abandoned, retired Jim Beam master distiller David Beam bought the copper stills and kept them in his garage, with hopes of one day using them for his own whiskey.
Years later, when they were put up for sale, Michter’s president Joseph Magliocco contacted Beam, but they had just been sold to an Ohio distiller, Tom Herbruck. Several years later, Michter’s reached out to Herbruck with an offer, and the stills were returned to Michter’s in advance of the Fort Nelson distillery’s opening in 2019.
The Bottom Line
This complex and oak-forward bourbon from the Kentucky revival of a historic Pennsylvania distillery works well for sipping or mixing, according to our reviewers. However, despite being an entry-level offering from Michter’s, which is often known for costly collector’s whiskeys, this bottle is still relatively high-priced compared to many bourbons on the market. As such, our reviewers were divided on its overall value.