Michter’s had initially started whiskey production with a three-phase approach. Phase 1 involved sourcing the best whiskey they could find. Phase 2 involved contract distilling their own whiskey using Brown Forman’s Early Times Distillery. Phase 3 would involve distilling their own whiskey at their own facility (which finally opened in 2015).
In 2015, another significant event occurred which saw Michter’s releasing their first product that was totally unique from anything Brown Forman was putting out: Michter’s Toasted Barrel Finished Bourbon. It was a huge success and led the way towards more variations of the toasted barrel concept like the 2017 release of Michter’s Toasted Barrel Rye Whiskey.
Michter’s Toasted Barrel Bourbon
Whereas Michter’s Toasted Barrel Bourbon was still being bottled at around the same proof as their standard US-1 Bourbon, they decided to bottle their Toasted Barrel Rye Whiskey at barrel strength. The concept of a toasted barrel finish involves dumping aged distillate from its original barrel into a new “toasted” barrel. Toasted barrels are most common in the wine industry and involve a heating element that is lowered into the assembled barrel for a specific amount of time, toasting the inner stave surfaces. The staves do not become charred, but the heat helps bring more flavor compounds to the surface of the wood. The most common compound produced with this method is vanillin (the compound that we perceive as the flavor vanilla).
After the success of the 2017 release and a short and very limited release of toasted barrel rye in 2018 (which was released in 2019 only at Fort Nelson), Michter’s turned its attention towards making another large scale toasted barrel rye release in 2020. Fans of the brands were hyped. But there was a small cause for concern. Most Michter’s fans believe that the products that Michter’s had released in 2015, 2016 and 2017 were far superior to the most recent releases. Would the 2020 release of Michter’s Toasted Barrel Rye even hold a candle to the 2017 release? There’s only one way to find out; a semi-blind comparison between the two. So without further ado, let’s see how they compare.
Nose: Buttercream frosting on top of warm cinnamon rolls start this one off. As is the case with most Kentucky-style rye whiskey, the notes are going to be very familiar to a bourbon. The rest of the nose highlights notes of caramel sauce and chocolate shavings. There are also a decent amount of fruit scents like toasted orange peel, lime zest and dried cherries.
Palate: The nose didn’t have a whole lot in the way of rye scents but on the tongue the rye spice is apparent. There are notes of cinnamon baking spice, toasted orange peel, grilled lemons and shaved ginger. There are still plenty of sweet tastes too with sticky honeybuns and vanilla cupcakes.
Finish: In my experience with toasted barrel finishes, I have usually found great toasted marshmallow notes throughout and I am happy to finally find it on the finish. There is plenty of vanilla, toasted wood and toffee to keep the finish going on forever. And as far as rye notes go, there are still some herbal notes with mint being the brightest.
Final Thoughts: Whichever bottling this was, it was extremely satisfying. The fruit notes were great and it found a great balance of flavors that land somewhere between a bourbon and rye.
Nose: Sweet mint notes are the first to arrive with loads of buttery toffee and toasted almonds. There are strong notes of vanilla beans as well as cinnamon rolls with slight traces of chocolate sauce. It’s a delicious nose.
Palate: Dark chocolate and spicy cinnamon attack first. The spice and heat on this one is a bit more than Glass 1 with notes of red pepper flakes and peppermint. But the fun doesn’t stop there. There are notes of coffee grounds coupled with sweet hay and vanilla custard. Some age comes out in the form of seasoned oak while rich tobacco leaf also adds depth. Cherry and grenadine syrup present some fun notes that help round out the whole experience so far.
Finish: Menthol cooling notes are the first to pop up after the sip is complete. There are lots of vanilla and toasted marshmallow notes as well which seem to be a popular trait of these toasted barrel finishes. Some of the marshmallow notes taste burnt though, adding to the complexity.
Final Thoughts: The finish is a bit more simple on Glass 2 than on Glass 1, but the nose and palate are the stars of the show here. And it’s for those reasons why I am giving the slight edge to Glass 2.
Glass 1: Michter’s Toasted Barrel Rye Whiskey 2020
Glass 2: Michter’s Toasted Barrel Rye Whiskey 2017
Winner: 2017 Michter’s Toasted Barrel Rye Whiskey!
This is one of the closest results I’ve had when comparing an old Michter’s product with a new product. I know that it’s almost universally believed that 2016 Barrel Strength Rye Whiskey is superior to the 2019 and beyond releases. Similarly, the 2015 release of Toasted Barrel Bourbon was considered better than the 2018 release. But the gap has really closed when looking at these toasted barrel ryes. My take is that there is a lot more uniformity within the toasted barrel releases because it’s likely that Michter’s batches 8-10 single barrels together before using that batch to fill the individual toasted barrels to the top. This results in less variation when the end product is completed.
In the end, the old 2017 batch takes the “W” due to just how terrific the nose and palate are. But kudos to the 2020 for making it so close. I have spoken to many other Michter’s lovers and they also have indicated their fondness for the 2020 release too. Out of the three core toasted barrel products that Michter’s produces, this is by far the best one to get.
1 | Disgusting | Drain pour (Example: Jeffers Creek)
2 | Poor | Forced myself to drink it
3 | Bad | Flawed (AD Laws 4 Grain BiB, Clyde Mays anything)
4 | Sub-par | Many things I’d rather have (Tincup 10 year)
5 | Good | Good, solid, ordinary (Larceny, Sazerac Rye)
6 | Very Good | Better than average (Buffalo Trace, OGD BiB)
7 | Great | Well above average (Old Ezra Barrel Proof, Old Weller Antique)
8 | Excellent | Exceptional (Michter’s Barrel Proof Rye, Four Roses Barrel Strength)
9 | Incredible | Extraordinary (GTS, 13 Year MGP or Canadian Rye)
10 | Insurpassable | Nothing Else Comes Close (William Larue Weller)
*Bourbon Culture is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.