I’ll admit it, I’m a high-proof whiskey snob. I’ll sip a good cask-strength bourbon all day long — or at least until I fall down from all that alcohol — and when I’m mixing up a rye Manhattan, it’s almost always with something bottled-in-bond (50% ABV). There are, however, exceptions to my rule, and my favorite exception is Michter’s Sour Mash. Bottled at a mild 86 proof (43% ABV), it’s still full of flavor, and it holds up in a cocktail as well as its higher-octane brethren.
About that “sour mash” moniker. Only the name is unusual — most of the whiskey we drink is distilled using the sour mash method. Michter’s chooses to call its whiskey “sour mash” both for tradition’s sake (Michter’s was known for its Sour Mash expression in its previous incarnation, before current owner Joe Magliocco revived the brand in the late 1990s) and, quite possibly, because the mashbill doesn’t contain the requisite 51% corn required to be called bourbon. Whatever the specs, however, it’s delicious — rich and sweet and chewy, with gobs of butterscotch and toffee and vanilla tempered by a touch of rye spice and a long, dry finish.
Michter’s has been experimenting with toasted barrel finishes for its whiskeys since 2014. Barrels employing wood that has been air-dried for 18 months are toasted, without the charring typical of American whiskey barrels. After aging in charred new oak barrels, the whiskey is finished for a short period of time — typically a few weeks —in the toasted oak barrels.
This is the second bottling of Michter’s Toasted Barrel Finish Sour Mash (the first was released in 2019 and is tough to find even on the secondary market), and to my palate it tops the first. Bottled at the same 43% ABV as the original Sour Mash, It still has those deep caramel and vanilla aromas, but they’re overlaid with dry oak from the toasted barrel. On the palate, it’s the same effect. Rich, sweet butterscotch and toffee notes are complemented by salted caramel, tingly rye, cool eucalyptus, and a long, dry, lightly oaky finish. It’s beautifully balanced, without the harshness or astringency that can come from too much time in the toasted barrels. Is it better than “classic” Sour Mash? That’s a tall order. But there’s more to it, more layers to unfold, and it’s distinctive enough that it belongs on the shelf alongside standard Sour Mash rather than it being a one-or-the-other proposition.
Toasted Barrel Finish Sour Mash has a suggested retail price of $100, but given that Michter’s has become arguably the most desirable American whiskey on the secondary market — and generally the priciest as well — don’t be surprised to find your local retailer has marked it up by a factor of, well, a lot.
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