Single Barrel Straight Rye Whiskey
Michter’s Distillery – 84.8 Proof
It will come as a surprise to some of you—and I’m sure is fully expected by others—that there are bartenders out there who do not like to see me walk through the door and claim an empty stool. This has nothing to do with endless questions about the bourbon list or repeated requests for peanut bowl refills (though both will occur). Since I generally keep to myself, I doubt it has much to do with irksome inanities (“Some Brave’s game, right?”), and my preference for neat bourbon and traditional cocktails doesn’t send them diving into Mr. Boston’s table of contents or the downstairs buffet’s pantry (“What do you mean no freshly grated cardamon?”). But when I do order a cocktail, I utter words that cause bartenders and bourbon snobs alike to cringe, the occasional jukebox to halt mid-song and skip.
“Well whiskey is fine.”
I do not call whiskey for mixing. I will gladly call for something neat or on the rocks, but when adding a hefty dose of sweet liqueur, plain old cane sugar, and garnish, the first thing behind the bar will be fine. If it’s on a shelf—even the bottom one—I consider pouring it in Coke or ginger a criminal offense. There is a rule of diminishing returns at work here, in which I hypothesize that the more flavors a whiskey is going to be mixed with, the less you get out of using an expensive whiskey. This hardly seems controversial, but it’s never that hard to find someone at the bar who’ll brag that they won’t touch a Manhattan without a fifteen-year-old base.
But at home, or in the hands of someone who really knows what they’re doing, this rule doesn’t always apply. While traveling a few years ago I happened into an establishment of the type where the bartenders prefer to be called mixologists and the bar approaches the realm of chemistry lab. Trusting in their skills I relayed some of my preferred tastes and left the final product up to them. It was delicious, and my first question was about the rye they used. Michter’s Single Barrel Straight Rye Whiskey has been a staple of mine ever since.
In case you missed our sampling of their Small Batch Bourbon, we’re pretty big fans of the Michter’s brand at B&B, and this second review from their US 1 lineup is no different. Like the bourbon, the rye was only bottled by Michter’s, not distilled by them, and there is no age statement on the bottle. And, as with the bourbon, I recommend you get past that. Sure, there’s something to be said for shepherding your product from farm to bottle, but there’s also something to be said for being able to purchase premium distillate with a flavor profile you’ve sought out, to say nothing of the skill involved in proofing—and this rye is a very specific 84.8 proof.
The nose on the Single Barrel Rye is heavy with vanilla bean, a flavor that carries through the first sip, and light with cured tobacco, which does not. Sweet and aromatic, this opens on the tongue with sugary cola, like an old fashioned vanilla Coke mixed fresh in front of you at a drug store soda fountain or diner. There’s macerated black cherry and a campfire char—not the smokey peat of a scotch, but something sweet, more maple than oak—just before you swallow, when you get some rye spice but very little burn. I love the complexity of this stuff. Neat, it reminds me of some of my favorite challenging bourbons—a compliment that I wouldn’t give out lightly—and it won’t hide in a mixed drink but will noticeably elevate it.
Value: Very High—At around $40, this is like going to the track with an inside tip on an unlikely horse that will pay off big. My advice is to bet on it. I could see this leaving empty shelf space at $60-$65, though I hope it doesn’t happen.
Drinkability: Medium-High—This is a bold and chewy rye with some of the most distinct flavors I’ve come across. The thin, airy, constant notes of a highly drinkable whiskey can be easily missed, which is why I give Michter’s Rye a lower rating here. This stuff reminds you that you’re drinking it, but if you like fuller whiskies, you’ll be glad it did.
Overall Rating: 9.0
* Special thanks to Lillie O’Connell and the folks at Michter’s for a review sample.