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Bomberger’s Declaration Bourbon (2023) Review

Bomberger’s Declaration Bourbon (2023) Review

This is the sixth release of Michter’s most undervalued bourbon of its entire lineup. What do I mean by undervalued? The retail price of Bomberger’s is $100 while its secondary price is around $150.

Couple that with how easy (and relatively cheap) it is to find and buy on the secondary market and I get the feeling that sellers don’t understand what they’re getting rid of.

I just don’t understand why enthusiasts are so quick to part ways with their bottle. Have they never tried it before? Is it because it doesn’t have the Michter’s name on the front? Somebody make it make sense to me.

I’m not going to go in-depth on the history of Bomberger’s; just know that’s what the original Pennsylvania distillery was known as before it was called Michter’s. But what I will focus on is how Michter’s has used this label – along with its little sibling Shenk’s Homestead Sour Mash Whiskey – as an experimental test-bed of sorts. Let me explain:

Michter’s isn’t a company known to experiment with their products once they’ve found what works. But in this industry, bringing new products to the market keeps enthusiasts interested and keeps the brand relevant.

So with each passing year, Michter’s changes what goes into Bomberger’s (and Shenk’s) just a little bit. From 2019 to 2022, Bomberger’s had a portion of the bourbon aged in special Chinquapin Oak barrels. But for 2023, Michter’s has done something they have never done before: changed up the mash bill.

Malted Rye sees its first use at Michter’s

Malted Rye is all the rage these days. It has been fully embraced by the team at New Riff for almost a decade now and many craft distilleries are catching on. Even Jim Beam has created a 100% malted rye whiskey for their Basil Hayden’s brand.

But this year, Michter’s has decided to use it in Shenk’s and Bomberger’s. This is big news because, to date, Michter’s has only ever distilled two primary mash bills: a bourbon and a rye whiskey. Does this mean that they are experimenting with more mash bills behind the scenes?

What Michter’s doesn’t tell us is how this malted rye was used. If we are to assume that the mash bill of Bomberger’s is around 79% corn, 11% rye and 10% malted barley, does the malted rye take the place of the rye component or the malted barley? My guess is the former, but they won’t elaborate.

I don’t believe that every barrel used in a typical batch of Bomberger’s contains this new mash bill. My reasoning is that the company’s website says it still contains a portion of the batch that was aged in Chinquapin Oak barrels.

That’s all well and good, but it seems like Michter’s is blending the new malted rye recipe and the Chinquapin Oak-aged bourbon to create each batch.

Speaking of batches, Joe Magliocco is quoted on saying that each batch of Michter’s Bourbon is made up of no more than 24 barrels. I expect this is the case with Bomberger’s when I do the quick math on the total bottle count per batch (which swings between 2000 and 2600).

There are multiple batches produced each year, but I’ve never looked into how many total batches are produced. I want to say 20 to 25 though. So it’s not super allocated, but it’s also not easy to find.

Now that we know the makeup of this year’s Bomberger’s, the real question is if this sudden change has made the 2023 Bomberger’s release even better than before. Has Michter’s stumbled upon a secret ingredient or is this a one-and-done kind of experiment? Let’s find out. I sampled this neat in a glencairn.

Tasting Notes

Nose: The wood influence has always made Bomberger’s stand out from its peers. That influence shines through in more ways than just the oak notes – which it has plenty of – but also the toasted caramel and baking chocolate scents. There are lighter notes like oak, vanilla candle and fruit notes like cinnamon-spiced baked apples, cherries and apricots. I even find some slight herbal notes which I’m suspecting might be from the malted rye.

Palate: The one thing that sticks out about this year’s Bomberger’s is just how creamy the mouthfeel is compared with previous years. Aside from that observation, the palate is loaded with flavors like robust oak spice notes as well as ground cinnamon, clove and anise.

Semi-sweet chocolate chips, a hint of mint and the smallest hint of bubblegum all speak to me as flavors I associate with malted rye. They aren’t as in-your-face as other brands though, which I can appreciate. Sweetness comes from toasted brown sugar to round out the flavors. Each sip delivers a lot of bang for the buck.

Finish: Chocolate and mint notes combine to make a lingering flavor that is not that far off from what a Girl Scouts Thin Mint cookie tastes like. Slight notes of coffee grounds hide behind it. There are lots of tannic notes to draw your attention to during the moderately long finish such as seasoned oak and barrel char. The finish is more simplified than the nose or palate, yet it provides a really satisfying finish.

Score: 8.4/10

Previous Bomberger’s releases always felt like the complete package to me. The oak influence was top notch; tasting somewhere between a regular bourbon and one that has been double-oaked. I was very skeptical when I learned they were going to be blending in a new malted rye mash bill.

After all, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But after tasting it, I am happy to report that the original profile that I loved so much has only been enhanced.

Each sip is potent and fully mature. Each sniff is laden with wood and also has some great fruit notes. But it’s the creamy mouthfeel that I think stands out the most. This is one of the few traits that really elevate a whiskey above and beyond its competition.

Final Thoughts

For many seasoned and novice enthusiasts, a whiskey’s worth is judged by its secondary price. If you live by that mantra, that means you probably have no interest in Bomberger’s. Each year, I expect its popularity to increase only to see how criminally underappreciated it still is.

And even though I consistently rate it highly, the secondary value has not changed. So I give up trying to convince everyone and assume that there’s a small enclave of us out there who know its potential. At least we’re not paying a lot for a bottle.

So for those of you who are like me, take a pause and enjoy the fact we can have a whiskey of this caliber while not having to pay an arm and a leg. Bomberger’s truly is one of the best values in bourbon out there.

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Sunday 12th of November 2023

I just bought another bottle that my local store held back for me. Not sure why they did that, but I am grateful. The best bottle from this year that I have opened. It is way better than the March 2023 bottle of Russell's Reserve 13 which was the biggest disappointment of the year.