Michter’s master distiller Pam Heilmann calls this, “my favorite Michter’s whiskey.” She’s a real and regular whiskey lady, so it was believable high praise when she said that to me—unsolicited and on multiple occasions—which put me on the hunt for it. Did I mention kicking myself for not buying all three bottles on the shelf when I found it 230 miles from home? I’m a fan of Michter’s Straight Rye Whiskey, but at just 84.8 proof, it’s a minor leaguer compared to its Barrel Strength sibling.
There’s a plethora of two-year-old Ryes hitting the market, with some commanding amazingly high price tags. As this market gets more crowded, distillers must distinguish themselves from the competition.
Being a local, I was excited when Wollersheim, who has run a successful winery for several years, opened its distillery and announced it would create whiskeys. I’ve been curiously waiting ever since for something to be released, with my fingers crossed that they’d distill and age something of at least decent quality, as they’ve done a great job creating wines.
Last summer I had the opportunity to attend a Sagamore Spirit Rye tasting. I like their regular rye offering, but at 83 proof, it is a nice rye but not great. The Cask Strength Rye, however, is excellent. It has finally arrived here in Virginia and I purchased a bottle when I saw it.
Five years into Joe Beatrice’s foray into the independent bottling business, his Barrell brand has not taken its foot off the creative pedal. Famous for its unique and truly limited batch releases, each new bottling is markedly different from the rest. Sourcing from distilleries in Indiana and Kentucky, Barrell augmented its sequential Bourbon batch releases with private picks as well. Now, Barrell has gotten into the Rye game, and this second batch is anything but traditional. 5 year-old MGP Rye aged in Indiana and Kentucky joins a 5 year-old 100% Polish Rye aged in new charred barrels.
The ladies were right on this one. By that I mean this: During the first group tasting of this spirit in 2017, Michter’s president Joe Magliocco gave this whiskey a thumbs down, believing the brand’s fans wouldn’t like it. Michter’s master distiller, Pam Heilmann, and its master of maturation, Andrea Wilson, believed otherwise and encouraged their boss to let the whiskey rest a little longer in the toasted barrel. A short time later, he tasted it, changed his mind and agreed they were right. Similarly, anyone who’s still not convinced rye whiskey is amazing should start here. Not only is it an exceptional expression, it’s arguably Michter’s best example of Heilmann’s and Wilson’s ability to manipulate wood to wring new flavors.
The last kind of drinker I am is a rye drinker. I will drink it and I will definitely drink this, but likely with a dash of water or some ice. Rye is a complex ingredient though. Ice or water allow a sense of sweetness to blossom if added, which is what happens with this whiskey. Context sometimes is second only to product quality when it comes to spirits. This appropriate libation is hard to beat after the last American election. Cheers!
“This unique offering is produced from a collection of barrels blended and brought to proof to accentuate both the delicate profile and the full-flavored body of the whiskey. Master Blender, Dixon Dedman, crafted the small batch rye with the same passion and high quality that goes into his family’s award-winning bourbon. On the heels of a seven-market release of Kentucky Owl Bourbon Batch #7, the highly allocated Kentucky straight rye whiskey will roll out in 25 U.S. markets this September.”
The finish starts sweet, with a nice mix of orange peel and honey but quickly turns a bit hot with rye spices. It feels a little off balance, erring on the hot and spicy side instead of mixing the sweet and spicy as my taste buds were anticipating. The burn is medium to long, returning on occasion with punches of pepper and rye spice and an echo of sweetness.