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Michter’s Limited Release Toasted Barrel Finish Rye Whiskey (2023) Review

Michter’s Limited Release Toasted Barrel Finish Rye Whiskey (2023) Review

Sometime around May last year, I realized that I had seen zero evidence of anyone having a bottle of the 2023 Michter’s Barrel Strength Rye Whiskey. I thought to myself that I was just unlucky at my local stores, but a quick check on the secondary market showed nobody else had snagged one either. So I decided to pay a visit to the Fort Nelson Distillery in Louisville. I was excited because when I walked in, I noticed combo packs for sale on the gift shop checkout table with the signature dark-green Barrel Strength Rye Whiskey label peeking out. “Success!” I thought to myself, “I can be the first one to review the 2023 release.” When I got to my car and pulled the bottle out, I noticed that the neck label was from 2022. Why were they still selling 2022 bottles in the middle of 2023? Did they make too many the year before?

I was so frustrated with the delay of 2023’s MBSR that I wrote an article in early July wondering why Michter’s was delaying the release. It took about a month to get my answer. It came in the form of a press release from Michter’s saying that 2023 would be a Toasted Barrel Rye Whiskey year. Just like in 2017, no barrel strength rye whiskey would be released.

23G2578 = Bottled in August 2023, Barrel Number 2578

The Fourth Coming of Michter’s Limited Edition Toasted Barrel Rye Whiskey

The very first Michter’s Toasted Barrel Rye Whiskey release occurred in 2017. What was strange for that release was that their Barrel Strength Rye Whiskey had been completely stopped in favor of the Toasted Barrel release. Enthusiasts were a little bit bummed because the 2015 and 2016 Barrel Strength Rye Whiskey had started to gather momentum among rye whiskey lovers about just how good Michter’s rye whiskey was.

The 2017 Toasted Barrel Rye Whiskey release was a hit and Michter’s went on to release more Toasted Barrel Rye Whiskey single barrels in 2018 (in much more limited amounts). But this time they would produce both the standard Barrel Strength Rye Whiskey and the Toasted Barrel at the same time. They even repeated this practice in 2020. So it seems odd to me that in 2023, Michter’s came to the conclusion that they could not simultaneously bottle both MBSR and MTBR. They just decided to release the toasted barrel one.

What goes into making a Toasted Barrel release?

Michter’s rye whiskey mash bill is rumored to be around 53% rye, 33% corn and 14% malted barley. It comes off the still at 138 proof and enters a toasted and charred barrel at an incredibly low 103 proof. From there, it is aged in heat-cycled warehouses for more than 4 years until it is deemed worthy by their master of maturation.

Lots of producers make a double-barreled (or finished) product, but not all of them do it like Michter’s. What happens with 99% of the finished whiskey out there is that it gets dumped into a large vat prior to being put into the secondary barrels. This way, they can top off the finishing barrels for efficiency’s sake and save some money not having to buy so many.

As I’ve attempted to show below, it takes multiple barrels to fill up one secondary barrel. That’s because most barrels lose a little bit more than half of their liquid through the angel’s share and devil’s cut within the first four years.

Other brands typically fill their secondary barrels almost all the way full. Michter’s is a true 1:1 though

But Michter’s isn’t known for cutting costs on anything they do. They are the only producer that I know of who does their toasted barrel finishing process by filling a new toasted oak barrel with the contents of just one barrel. This keeps their single barrel bourbon true to the definition of a “single barrel” (which is an unregulated term, by the way).

Those toasted barrels – by the way – are made from 36 month air-dried oak. They’re also just toasted; not toasted AND charred as many other competitors do to theirs (and still call them toasted for some reason). As a final touch, Michter’s bottles their toasted barrel rye whiskey at barrel strength – the only toasted barrel product they make to do so.

It’s fairly obvious that the 2017, 2018 and 2020 versions of Michter’s Barrel Strength Rye Whiskey were the same contract-distilled distillate they had been using. 2021 was the first year that their own distillate from their own column still began to make its way into their bottles. As of 2023, every bottle that is not in a Michter’s 20yr, 25yr or Celebration bottle is a product of their own distillation.

So how does this year’s batch taste? Let’s find out. A big thanks to James for the assist on this one. I sampled it neat in a glencairn.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Scents of brown sugar and toasted marshmallow enter my nostrils and remind me more of a bourbon than a rye whiskey. I assume this will appeal to a wider audience because of it. Following closely behind are more sweet notes that are similar to cinnamon-raisin bread. The mild, fragrant cinnamon spice gives way to soft herbal notes. I can even find a touch of melted milk chocolate if I concentrate enough.

Palate: Holding this in my mouth shows a whiskey that tastes far less hot than the proof on its label would like for you to believe. Flavors include more brown sugar and peppermint candy cane. Cinnamon stick combines with allspice and ginger. The oak is soft and well-integrated and gives the perfect amount of tannic balance to each sip. And while this may seem like I’ve tasted the wrong barrel, I swear I can also pick up a touch of maple on the palate as well. Finally, vanilla bean and a slight hint of chocolate-covered coffee beans allow for extra complexity to a very satisfying dram.

Finish: Vanilla notes and brown sugar ramp up on the finish with a layer of baking spices settling onto my tongue for the long haul. Oak remains soft and sweet while a hint of herbal flavors and menthol show themselves the moment I open my mouth for the exhale. This is very well done.

Score: 8.2/10

While it could be reasonably assumed that the 2020 version of Michter’s Toasted Barrel Rye was not a product of Michter’s own distillation at their Shively facility, there is no doubt that this 2023 version is 100% their own. And after tasting this most recent batch, it’s safe to say that they’ve nailed a replica from their previous contract-distilled whiskey. This year’s Toasted Barrel Rye is a testament to Michter’s ability to distill, age and finish whiskey that future generations will continue to enjoy.

While every barrel of Michter’s Toasted Barrel Rye is unique due to their single barrel nature, I think it’s safe to say that they have not lost the overall character of the rye whiskey here. It still has an underlying herbal and spicy flavor that has extra layers of vanilla to help it achieve a more crowd-pleasing tone. And I get it, I didn’t start out liking rye whiskies either. I needed to find a rye whiskey that spoke to me by being sweeter and more approachable before I could learn to love them. I would assume that most people in the enthusiast community who are rye-curious would like the contents of this bottle before venturing down the path of spicy whiskey.

Final Thoughts

Very few producers make a rye whiskey like Michter’s. This is why I often cite Michter’s as being one of the best Kentucky rye whiskey producers on the market today. No other brand – and dare I say even Buffalo Trace – comes close. I’d put most M10 rye whiskey bottles up against Sazerac 18 or Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye. Even Michter’s Barrel Strength Rye Whiskey can hold its own against most lower-proofed Thomas H. Handy releases. But the one thing nobody else has a competitor to is Michter’s Toasted Barrel Rye. And while Jack Daniel’s made the attempt last year with their Special Release Twice Barreled Heritage Rye Whiskey, it would fall short with what Michter’s does here.

I encourage anyone who has yet to try this or track down their own bottle to do so quickly. Because it might be another 3 years before we see it again.

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Tuesday 23rd of January 2024

Good review, I really enjoyed this release. I have a Four Gate toasted rye that I plan on doing a comparison with.

One point: "They are the only producer that I know of who does their toasted barrel finishing process by filling a new toasted oak barrel with the contents of just one barrel."

2XO has done this also with their Gem of Kentucky. This is a bourbon though and I don't find it to be as well rounded a product as the MTBSR (my GoK is #41)

Also, "As of 2023, every bottle that is not in a Michter’s 20yr, 25yr or Celebration bottle is a product of their own distillation."

Is this also true of the M10 Bourbon? I thought that was rumored to be a slightly younger and proofed down King of Kentucky