Whisky and Words Number 107: Michter’s Single Barrel Straight Rye vs. Bulleit 95 Rye

A true small-batch, single-barrel release

Full disclosure: I can find Michter’s Single Barrel Straight Rye locally, but I did not buy it for this review. I received a sample bottle of this and two other whiskies for a group tasting event. (Hence not much in the way of photography today.) If I had purchased, it would have set me back about $49 locally, which is a lot for an American whisky with no specific age statement. 

Michter‘s is interesting for being a small distiller  specializing in small batch whiskies and, in this case, single barrel releases. Yes, this is a single-barrel rye. Of its provenance, the Michter’s web site does not tell us any more than we’d know from the branding as a Straight Rye: aged at least 2 years in charred, new American oak barrels, at least 51% rye in the mash, no colors or flavoring agents added, and all the whiskey in the bottle distilled in same state. It would be interesting to know the actual ratio of rye in the mash bill. I emailed, let’s see what we hear back. But we do know they distill their own spirit (unlike many ’boutique’ rye whiskies that use spirit from MGP). Michter’s distillery is in Louisville, KY.

From the color, a deep amber with a touch of red, we can guess this spirit has spent some time in well-charred barrels for at least the two statutory years, maybe more. The color is a bit deeper than the Bulleit, which may just be down to depth of char.

So, what’s it like? The Michter’s has a pretty darned good nose. It comes out and greets you from a couple feet away. It has a fruity side (watermelon, red apple, banana) and a spicy side (ginger cookies and cinnamon). It’s aromatic reach is a good 3 times that of our comparison today, Bulleit 95 Straight Rye, which is nice enough once you get close in. I wrote in my review of the Bulleit: “Caramel, bread dough, mild grassy rye spice and toffee. Lighter aromas include watermelon rind, fresh-cut oak and drying hay.

On the palate, Michter’s has a lot of texture, a really nice mouthfeel and is not overly sweet. What it has for sweetness is a light honey, not cloying, with a lot of tannins and spices—very lively on the tongue. It feels higher ABV than 42.4%. There is no doubt that this is a rye-heavy spirit, as the vanilla, orange peel and spices are met with a fast-drying but fairly long, rye-spicy and slightly bitter finish.

The Bulleit 95 is (surprise) a 95% rye mash bill, created to Bulleit’s specs at the MGP distillery. That’s a lot of rye, and on the palate it is nearly as spicy—though not quite as bitter—as Michter’s. Comparatively, there is not as much punch or follow-through as the smaller distiller’s product. Overall, the Michter’s delivers more depth and variety in the nose and palate and a longer finish. No surprise, Michter’s is about $20 more expensive for a 750 ml bottle. And it is bottled from a single barrel, so you are going to get the characteristics of that one barrel without the mellowing impact of a blend. Every barrel (hence every release) will be a little different.

Michter’s Single Barrel Straight Rye Whiskey, 42.4 % ABV

Nose: Cinnamon, ginger cookies, red apple, watermelon, banana.
Palate: Chewy mouthfeel, light honey, good helping of tannin, nutmeg, vanilla, subtle orange peel, and a loads of dry rye spiciness.
Finish: Long and very dry but not unpleasant. Spicy rye.

Bottom Line: Fair cop, I have only tasted samples from maybe a dozen barrels at various distillers and have had a few single-barrel releases in my cabinet. Some single-barrel releases fell flat; they can be very hit and miss. Selecting a barrel specifically for release must require a very balanced barrel and a talented malt master. I think the Michter’s folks hit it on the head here. It’s a dram which will reward your nose, should you choose to employ it. It is also going to demand a bit more attention and time on the palate. It is a little more aggressive in spice than the Bulleit, but then it’s got a lot more tango in  its dance, too. Given that, if you are looking to amp up your rye selection and spend some time sipping, it’s a good choice. Maybe keep some Bulleit 95 around for mixing.

Deep color comes honestly here.

Author: H.W. MacNaughton

Technologist and communicator. Into technology, jazz, Formula One, sci-fi and any good writing about real stuff.

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