As a spirits reviewer, I'm constantly inundated by creation myths, marketing smoke-and-mirrors that make a bottle sound extra-enticing. (Nothing is more in vogue these days than Antarctic Scotch, right?) The recently released Michter's Original Sour Mash Whiskey is supposedly the resurrection of a long defunct formulation of Sour Mash Whiskey from the original Michter's distillery in Schaefferstown, PA. My guess is that it's more likely an attempt at a new whiskey expression to round out their current offerings.
After the original distillery declared bankruptcy in 1989, the brand was eventually bought out, and Michter's whiskey these days has been coming from the Kentucky Bourbon Distiller's bottling facility. (You can read the whole sordid tale at Chuck Cowdery's excellent website.) The original source of the juice has not been disclosed, but their offerings have won high marks from critics and aficionados alike. This latest release is labeled simply as a "Sour Mash Whiskey," but the mash bill has not been declared, so it's a bit of a mystery what's in the bottle. But while there may well be more marketing than fact on the label, as always, it's what's in the bottle that counts. And with the Original Sour Mash, it's an interesting whiskey indeed.
Bottled at 86 proof, it pours a mild copper color. It smells like wild rye spices, dark cherry, and vanilla. The flavor is aggressive and immediate, adding barrel spices and only a little corn sweetness, but it's quite thin-bodied. Finishing relatively mild and mellow, it left me quite confused at first: this whiskey can't decide if it wants to be a rye or a bourbon! (though it's not labeled as either, so technically it's unlikely to actually be either). The same profile persisted through repeat tastings, and ultimately I was won over by the spicy-yet-sweet, thin-yet-wild nature of this spirit. Listing at a suggested $44 per 750mL bottle, this could easily become a go-to whiskey when you're on the bourbon-rye fence.
Have you tried any of Michter's releases? What did you think?
About the author: Andrew Strenio is a lover of all things potable. Since sneaking his grandmother's bourbon balls, he's moved on to touring distilleries and sipping snifters. He works by day making documentary television and films for an independent production company in Brooklyn.
Whiskey sample provided for review consideration.