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Monday, April 17, 2023

Don’t Judge a Book By Its Alcohol Content

There’s an arc-shaped passage found on every bottle of Michter’s:

Distilled in small batches according to the Michter’s pre-Revolutionary War quality standards dating back to 1753.

In 1753, the Shenk family owned a small gristmill in rural Pennsylvania.  They, like so many others in the colony, also made rye.  According to the Michter’s marketing team, Shenk’s whiskey helped Washington’s Continental Army get through the, “Long, brutal winter at Valley Forge.”  It wasn’t the cold that made Valley Forge “brutal,” it was the lack of food.  Starvation killed over a thousand soldiers that winter.  As for the whiskey, it was making Washington’s cold, poorly dressed troops even colder.  Unbeknownst to them, every shot they took lowered their core body temperature.  Shenk’s became Bomberger’s in the 1860s.  It was bought by a man whose last name I’m pretty sure you’ve figured out by now.

The Michter’s origin story is rather interesting.  Lou Forman, the company’s president/owner, had 2 sons named Michael and Peter.  Not wanting to play favourites, he fused their names together.  Mich-ter’s.  He also liked how the name sounded “German.”  Michter’s was made in Pennsylvania at the time, a state with a sizeable German-American population.  The distillery fell on hard times in the 1980s, and filed for bankruptcy in ‘83.  Seven years later, on Valentine’s Day, Michter’s closed its doors for good, leaving its employees heartbroken (sorry, couldn’t resist).  Manhattan-based Chatham Imports bought the brand and all its “history” (see arc-shaped passage above) in 1997 for a couple hundred bucks, which amounts to about $500 (or 2 bottles of Michter’s 10) today.

Michter’s Unblended American Whiskey.  What does that even mean?  Well, let me start by telling you what Michter’s Unblended American Whiskey isn’t, a bourbon.  Bourbon must be matured in virgin (new) oak.  Michter’s Unblended is aged in, as they put it, “Whiskey-soaked barrels.”  Whiskey-soaked barrels are also used by Scotch, Irish, and Japanese distillers (among others).  They call them ex-bourbon casks.  Unlike most American blends, you won’t find neutral grain spirit in Michter’s Unblended.  Neutral spirits are like a twenty-something invited to a high school house party, they’re just there to bring the booze.  They’re flavourless and taste, well, neutral.  Only whiskey is used to make Michter’s Unblended.  It’s a non-bourbon bourbon matured in ex-bourbon.

I’m generally not a fan of whiskies under 43%.  They tend to be, well, underwhelming.  Michter’s Unblended reminds me of the broken escalator phenomenon.  We’re “programmed” to see escalators as something always in motion.  Whenever we come across one not moving, we act as though it still is.  Michter’s Unblended is 41.7%.  It should be underwhelming, but it isn’t.  How’s that possible?  The nose is deliciously sweet.  Butterscotch, a hint of cinnamon, creamy vanilla.  Slightly grassy.  Well behaved oak.  The palate has this lovely tannic undercurrent, giving it weight and structure.  One of the better sub-43% whiskies I’ve tasted in a long, long time.

Happy dramming,


Instead of dying she shall merely fall into a profound slumber that will last a hundred years. -  Charles Perrault,  The Sleeping Beauty in ...