2015 Michter’s 10yr Single Barrel Bourbon Review

At a time when the rest of the world is losing it’s mind over the BTAC and Pappy-hysteria that’s more akin to a scene from the Walking Dead (where the living character is stuck on top of a delivery van and the walkers are swarming en mass, clawing away , trying to get their Pappy)…I try to rest myself in the knowledge that there are other great bottles to come.  Other great bourbons to drink.  Within those, you have the pure breeds, like the senselessly overlooked 2015 Four Roses Small Batch Limited Edition, which I thought was fantastic, and the recent Old Forester Birthday Bourbon.  And now the 2015 Michter’s 10 year old single barrel bourbon.

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I must say the 2015 M10 was one of my more anticipated pours this year. Would it live up to the past releases that have been so vaunted and sought after?  Would it fall flat on its face and leave me utterly disappointed, asking what went wrong?  It’s contract-distilled bourbon, and Michter’s keeps the secrets about the origins of their juice locked up tighter than the original architectural blueprints for the Great Pyramids of Giza.  Even so, the marque has been known for its consistent taste and quality over the years….even as other NDP’s fall by the wayside with lackluster offerings.  Need I remind anyone of the Black Maple Hill Oregon bourbon?  No.

That being said, despite it’s past reputation, I gave the 2015 M10 a more thorough tasting than any recent bourbon I’ve had.  The test consisted of two pours in the evening, leaving the spent glasses to sit overnight for the purpose of post-nosing in the morning.  I also had two pours the next morning, at 10:00AM, in two different variants of glencairn (one standard, and one with a smaller rim to contain more of the aroma.)  The results were very consistent, though I felt like the small rim glencairn did help bring out some of the more obscure underlying components.  I compiled all of my thoughts into the review.

So here we go…..

Let me start off by saying: Man that’s some heavy wax on that bottle!

I poured the 2015 M10 into a glencairn and gave it a good swirl, let the juice cool for a second, moved the rim around my nose to find that sweet spot (which is different for every bourbon and every pour) and….zang.  Cocoa bomb.  It was like the poof of cocoa dust that rises out of the Quick container at 6:00 in the morning when I’m mixing up chocolate milk for my kids.

But the nose kept evolving.  That’s something I really like in a bourbon, one of the things that makes a pour special, it’s ability to stretch its legs and be everything that it can be.  The cocoa eventually subsides and is replaced by a hive of hardworking honey bees cranking out copious amounts of sticky, gooey, sweet translucent golden liquid.  Honey.  Honey.  More honey.  The honey is almost everlasting.  Within that is a nice blast of honeysuckle.  It reminds me of the rickety, rusty barbed wire fence row that ran down the long side of the pasture at Mom and Dad’s house.  In the summers it would burst forth with a rainbow of honeysuckle blooms that I could smell from across the field.  Plucking the blooms, pulling the tassels, savoring that little droplet of sugar dew.  There is an element of summertime berry.  It’s not overwhelming, just something I picked up, in the realm of summer currants.  Add to that a distinct layer of nuttiness, walnuts.

Interestingly, I detected an earthy component that lies far beneath everything else.  It’s a component similar to the blast of air that rushed out of the caverns we played in as kids, damp, dank and cool….maybe this barrel came out of the bottom of the warehouse.  There is also a hint of fresh leather, like belts hanging in a leather shop.

The flavor is pretty straight forward, not at all complex.  But it doesn’t need to be, because what it does, it does right.  The honey is still there, specifically clover honey.  It’s sweet but not cloying.  There is also some black pepper, and a nice amount of oak.  The mouth-feel is not rich, and it’s not thick.  But its also not astringent. What it delivers is simple, smooth, enjoyable flavor. I noticed during the sip that something became familiar, almost friendly.  I couldn’t exactly put my finger on it, but it was a pleasureful moment I had experienced before.  That’s the mystery of this bourbon.

The finish came out of nowhere.  I am a self-admitted fan of high proof bourbon (120 and above), and I look for that immediate burn after the flavor.  For a moment I didn’t think there would be any finish at all, and was prepared to pan this juice.  But the finish came up like a sunrise on the Atlantic, slowly blossoming from nothing into a radiant warmth that hovered right at the back of my throat, fading into long lasting embers on the sides of my tongue.  Very pleasant.

One of my favorite elements in a bourbon is the post-nose. This one provided an epic post-nose, which I’ve only experienced on a few other bourbons.  There was an awesome element of oak, which gave way to a massive amount of butter and sweetness.  I kept thinking of my favorite breakfast…buttery syrup drenched over a stack of french toast.

And looking at all of that is what makes Michter’s releases such a head-scratcher.  It’s great juice, but I have no idea what the origins of this bourbon are.  It should be obvious, but it’s not.  I’ve been told it’s contract distilled. I’ve read all the rumors and speculation that it’s tanked distillate, but never seen anything definitive.  I went back through my book of tasting notes and pored through my scribblings on so many different bourbons, from the final releases of Stitzel-Weller to OFBB, to everything in between.  Could be this, could be that. It has the honey, but it’s missing the thick mouth-feel.  It has the butter, but it’s lacking the syrup. Maybe it’s this, maybe it’s not.

At the end of the day, maybe I don’t want to know.  I’ll take it for what it is, a mysterious, fine drinking, lovely bourbon that you should absolutely pour and enjoy, if you can find it.

2005 Weller 12yr (90 Proof) – The Bridge

Its late Fall, and I’m sitting here in the big leather chair, mentally preparing for the coming holiday, sipping a delightful expression of bourbon, a 2005 Weller 12yr. It’s a good pour for thinking back on some of my favorite memories, the simple fall days spent driving around the Kentucky/Indiana countryside. There are still a few leaves left on the trees, dangling from the barren branches, they loft out into the air and drift down into the spring fed creeks, making their way to the big rivers that are in full southern retreat.

Man, this old Weller 12 takes me back. There is a particular bridge over the White River, a big lacy iron structure; all function with a little bit of charming 19th century form sprinkled in. My great-great grandfathers built it, maintained it, used it. Cars hadn’t even been invented yet. The bridge was as utilitarian as it was artistic. For me it was always the bridge between the present and the past. The span that must be traveled to get from Indiana to Kentucky. The old world meeting the new. We looked forward to seeing it, letting it do its job, getting us safely from one side of the river to the other. It was like a member of the family.

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The old bridge is closed now, derelict and rusty, barricaded on both ends, standing like a lonely sentinel. Still, it’s beautiful by itself against the fall sky. Occasionally Dad will give me a call just to let me know he drove past the old river bridge, telling me that it’s still there, still standing strong, spanning the expanse of water and time when so much of the other infrastructure that replaced it is already crumbling….poorly engineered excuses, passed off as adequate replacements. You can still walk across it, and in that way it can still be enjoyed, at least for the time it has left. When I am home, I make that walk, and savor the moments.

I can’t tell you much about this pour that you don’t know by now. It’s a transition bottle, generally considered to be Stitzel-Weller stock, which means it’s everything bourbon is supposed to be. Maybe the 2005 isn’t the most perfect iteration of Stitzel-Weller juice ever created, but it’s still damn good.

The nose is filled with perky oak that slinks up and out of the glass like a genie coming out of a lamp. Give it a few good pulls. The creamy, buttery goodness wrapped around the flavor that’s packed with toasty caramel and charred oak. The rich texture that coats the palate. The mild finish that I can only describe as “easy”. It’s all there.

I’m still getting acquainted with Stitzel-Weller, but I know enough to appreciate it for everything it is, and especially everything it isn’t.

It’s simple, and elegant. Straight up bourbon; no games. No deciphering the unnecessary myriads of fruits, sweets, candies, etc. No digging through layer upon layer of complex mystery flavors. No toe-curling pepper. No horseshit aging techniques. No punk-rock-vampires or tattooed pin-up girls on the label. No clever Swedish packaging. No corporate marketing. It takes everything that’s good and true about bourbon, strips out the excess to the bare bones, and leaves you with everything you really need. That’s what happens when a distillery puts the emphasis on quality and love of the craft. It’s a true rarity now.

Ah yes, the Weller 12. It’s perfect for this moment, for reflecting on years gone by. When you think about it, it’s got a lot in common with my old iron river bridge. It’s still in existence, such that it can be enjoyed, but it’s time is fleeting. It’s been replaced by the newer version that does the job, but cannot hold a candle to the one it replaces. And when it’s gone, it’s gone……

Four Roses Single Barrel – 17yr OBSV (2012) – The Ultimate Pie Filling

There are a lot of amazing bourbons out there today, new gift shop releases from Willett Family Estate, the hysteria-inducing Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, Four Roses Small Batch and private picks, SAOS picks, on and on. There are also the bourbons that have ascended to Mount Olympus status, the vintage expressions that are so rare and amazing, their praises must be sung to the heavens by choirs of aficionados. National Distiller’s bonded butterscotch bombs. AH Hirsch’s whispy minty evergreens. The legendary Stitzel-Weller oily wheated nectar.

It’s time to focus on another one of them.

For all of the bourbon’s I’ve been fortunate enough to taste and eventually review, there are some that stand-out above the rest. There are a select few of those that have permanently shifted my paradigm altogether, and left me in their pursuit for weeks or months. For the purposes of this review I will state definitively: You’ve never had anything like this, and likely never will again. It fully deserves all the grandeur that should be thrust upon it. It’s not exactly what I would call over-hyped, certainly not to the levels of any Van Winkle release or BTAC, though it’s definitely coveted in Four Roses enthusiast circles, and by anyone who loves the contents of a bottle more than the way the bottle looks on the shelf.

These days, with the typical single barrel release barely edging over the 9yr mark, it’s hard to imagine a time (only a scant 3 years ago) that single barrel offerings could hit the shelf pushing 13, 15 or even 17 years. As a community we are told that age has nothing to do with quality, a chorus that grows louder with each season that production is strained, hoarding becomes epidemic and the bourbon shortage grows….barrels are whisked quickly out of the warehouse, each with less and less dusty patina on the staves. Demand must be met. Quotas must be filled, but quality must not waver, as brands must be protected. It’s a perpetual struggle.

Age and quality are unrelated? That may be true to a certain extent, as there are fantastic 9 and 10 year old private selection bottles. They have their own unique flavor profiles and traits that make them each wonderful to drink. The virtues of the Four Roses 2013 Single Barrel Limited Edition are well known, and its accolades are shouted from the mountain top. It’s a splendid pour, coming in at 13 years. The Four Roses 15yr OESK Gift Shop release oozes out of the glass with wafting glorious scents of toasted berry sexiness. Both of these are in the Pantheon or at least at the gates, no doubt.

But the simple fact is there is an inherent spark that comes with age, the extra magic that’s eked out of the charred wood through extra years of aging that simply cannot be duplicated, nor overlooked or understated as far as I’m concerned. And because of that, the 17yr OBSV Gift Shop tops them all. It is truly the king of the Four Roses releases.

As far as technical jargon, this particular bottle of bourbon mastery came from a barrel that had simmered and slumbered on the Southside of Warehouse Q. It’s part of the high rye family of Four Roses recipes, the OBSV. It’s not overly proofed, coming in at an easy drinking and enjoyable 55.3%.

As I nose it, I wonder aloud what Four Roses “Master Distiller for All Time” Jim Rutledge must have been thinking the first time he augured in and sampled the red berry contents of the barrel. Two words come to mind; Liquid Divinity. I actually imagine him nosing the glass with a huge inhalation of the resonant cherry and oak, his height growing 6 or more inches, his neck extending and posture straightening with the scent, then getting weak kneed and sitting down on the nearest barrel head. “Shew wee!” he exclaims. At that point he calls Sheila down in packaging and says “Hi Sheila? Jim. You still got the custom labeler? Ok, scrap everything you had goin’ and make me a special’n that just says: DRINK ME NOW. “ At this point he gives a knowing wink and nod to someone that isn’t even standing there and continues, ”We’re gonna’ go’head’n fix that right on the front of every one of these bottles, OK? Good. How’s everything else? Kids OK? Rick helping you with the dishes? Yep, he’s a coot…*chuckles*….good ole boy though. Alright then, send that label on over. Right, bye.”

The nose is in fact brilliant. No air really required, maybe just a minute to allow that heady oak and berries to shine through. It reminds me of a country kitchen I used to know so well. A wood burning stove used for cooking. White oak logs stoked to blue flame, heating up the old oak plank floor. The heavenly smells of a cherry cobbler baking in the old kitchen; Sugars, spices and smoke hang thick in the air under the low ceiling, and you can see their dustiness as the dying light of a November afternoon that’s peeking through the naked trees and beaming its final rays through the west windows. The soul-warming scent is everywhere, in every room, even on the porch. It’s in the blankets. It’s in the rug. It’s in the jacket I wear outside to grab a few more pieces of wood. Breathing deeply….….home.

The flavor profile is so expansive I had to keep four different pages of notes, and spread the tasting over five separate days, giving ample time for my mind to reset. I didn’t read the previous round of notes that I had written, but started from scratch. The first sips of the pour reveal themselves to be sweet oaken sizzle…that spicy rye. My mouth couldn’t water any more than it is, with all the gushing berry juiciness of the flavor profile. That rich spiciness that ebbs and flows in layers of woozy goodness. More of the cherry. More sweet ripe raspberries. It’s berry overload! I can picture a huge cooking bowl brimming with sliced homegrown berries, being stirred, the skins breaking down and the pulpy juice taking over. A dollop of brown sugar and a scoop of country butter is cut in. As it’s stirred, some of it sloshes out of the bowl, onto the counter. I take my finger and swab it up into my mouth, eyes aglow with the ultimate berry goodness I taste. It’s like…..the ultimate pie filling. Literally a 110 proof mixed-berry compote that Grandma would have used in a cobbler. I yell the time honored Kentuckiana expression of respect and enjoyment, “Hot damn!” Yes, you are a lovely OBSV.

As the flavor profile begins it’s descent into the finish, something is bubbling under the surface, and it begins to rise. It’s a thick, gooey spicy caramel. It’s a minute-man missile of burnt sugar exploding on the back of my palate, building into a fantastic mellow half-life on the top center of my tongue, and around to the sides. Slow glow. It hangs for a while, and begins to die out.

It’s not that just that this Four Roses is rare, there are lots of rare bourbons. But this one has the amazing quality to match its scarcity. It’s lightning in a bottle. Ah yes, that’s it. The old adage about capturing “lightning in a bottle”. It’s a force, a moment, something rare and wonderful that’s captured once, and can never be captured again. It’s finite and cannot be duplicated. That’s precisely what this 17yr OBSV is. I feel blessed to even have the chance to experience this bourbon…. I hope you get the chance to do the same.

Now, did someone say cherry cobbler?

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