Classification: Straight Rye Finished in Toasted Barrels
Company: Michter’s Distillery
Distillery: Sourced from an undisclosed distillery(ies) in Kentucky
Release Date: September 2023
Age: NAS (Aged at least 4 years per TTB regulations)
Color: Dark Reddish Copper
MSRP: $120 / 750mL (2023)
Michter’s US*1 Toasted Barrel Finish Straight Rye uses the company’s US*1 Rye as its base before undergoing an undisclosed amount of time in 20 month air-dried barrels made of “special wood” that were toasted but not charred. According to Master Distiller McKee, the average barrel proof for the toasted rye barrels bottled for this release is 108.9. Michter’s US*1 Toasted Barrel Finish Straight Rye joins the company’s other toasted barrel offers, Michter's US*1 Toasted Finish Bourbon, and Michter’s US*1 Toasted Barrel Finish Sour Mash.
A straightforward introduction of caramel with black cherry and apple in tow. It’s a collection of scents that work, but aren’t overly exhilarating. A swirl of the glass reveals a soft side to the aroma that takes on traits of creamy vanilla custard, bread pudding, and confectioner’s sugar. The nose is capped off with a weighty oak note and a twinge of sweet rye spice that does a lot to bring the entire aroma together into a much more effective sensory experience. What begins as uninspired, ends quite effectively for a rye whiskey.
You’ll instantly take note of any rye that has a creamy consistency, and this one in particular seems even more noticeable. Its thick mouthfeel carries with it orange rind, cherry, and a slight bitterness, which add up to tasting very reminiscent of an old fashioned cocktail. With an underlying layer of baking spices and a peach-apricot fusion, the palate is extremely persuasive in making you fall for it. Though it's not overly complex, its flavors stand out on equal footing, making for a very compelling sip.
The backend of the sip adds a welcomed hit of warm rye spice and heat. Along with this is a lingering toasted oak note that's punctuated thanks to the inclusion of cinnamon, sandalwood, and cedar. Intensity and balance are well executed. The finish doesn’t repeat what came before it and acts as more of a continuation, ending this sip on a very satisfying note.
Although finishing in toasted barrels has seen a recent upswing in popularity, Michter’s was one of the first to offer a consumer product in 2014. It really wasn't until Heaven Hill introduced Elijah Craig Toasted Barrel Finish Bourbon in 2020 that things really started to gain traction with consumers and other producers. Soon everyone was offering a toasted barrel finished bourbon, and since then producers have been mixing and matching, like in the case of Blue Note Crossroads’ toasted and French oak finish.
What’s been a common thread with toasted finished whiskeys over the last 3 years is producers have mainly kept their toasted finishes confined to bourbon. But like usual, rye eventually catches up.
There’s been toasted ryes before - Michter’s included - but it really wasn’t until another major player, the MGP-owned Penelope, turned heads a few months ago with their Toasted Rye Finish. That release instantly showed how well toasted barrels work with rye, and even goes so far to make the case that perhaps rye does it better.
Michter’s Toasted Barrel Finish Rye in turn offers their own set of characteristics and pushes the bar even further. I enjoyed last year’s Michter’s Toasted Barrel Finish Sour Mash, but it was far from transformative. The toasted barrel finish that Michter’s Rye underwent is much more of an enhancement that resulted in an even better end product.
It cannot be understated how effective and impactful Toasted Barrel Finish Rye’s viscosity is. A creamy mouthfeel in a whiskey is one of the most impactful aspects you can come across. I find creamy ryes are especially dynamic because of the baking spices flavors many of them offer. As is the case with Michter’s Toasted Barrel Finish Rye, the addition of old fashioned related flavors in conjunction with its creaminess results in one of the better tasting old fashioned-flavored sips I’ve ever had. While the whiskey’s flavors aren't out of left field, finding them in this specific application along with the additional toasted barrel oak notes generates an immediate positive reaction.
With so many producers offering a toasted barrel finished bourbon at this point, prices are generally found in a wide range of $50-$100. Some of that is likely due to some producers using toasted staves or toasted pieces of wood, which are typically less costly than Michter’s who uses full size toasted barrels. Though with far few toasted barrel finished ryes available, prices are still found in that range but generally skew higher. Penelope Toasted Rye hits at $70, RY3 at $88, Red Line at $90, Nulu at $95, Hughes Brothers at $100, and K. Luke at $120 to name a few. Michter’s is at the top with an MSRP of $120 with many stores charging much more than that. Because of the Michter’s name and being the most mainstream brand offering a toasted rye, prices are naturally higher, but is it worth the extra cash?
I haven’t tasted all of the aforementioned toasted ryes currently on the market as many of the smaller brands are very small releases with regional and/or special private barrel club releases. Penelope on the other hand with the backing of MGP, is much more widespread and is a whopping $50 less. Compared directly, the Penelope is more rough around the edges but is no less impactful with its flavors. Michter’s is able to one-up it with its mouthfeel. With Michter’s more focused flavor profile of old fashioned flavors combined with its mouthfeel is as close to a perfect storm as a whiskey may get of this particular style. Toasted barrel finished whiskeys in general are still proving themselves and they haven’t quite gotten to the point where they can demand top dollar from consumers. Wild Turkey tried it with Master’s Keep One in 2021, a toasted barrel finished bourbon for $175, and many balked at that price. Yet if there was one toasted finished whiskey, be it bourbon or rye to help justify a higher price, Michter’s Toasted Barrel Finish Rye would easily be it.
A beautifully constructed toasted barrel finished rye that rides high on its flavor profile and viscosity.
Michter’s Toasted Barrel Finish Rye has been one of the easier whiskeys to rate this year. It only takes one sip to know how well it works and I’ve seen the same reaction with everyone I’ve shared it with. I’m sure there are some that don’t care for this particular style of finish, but I feel like it's one of the least polarizing. On the flip side of that, rye whiskey can be hit and miss for some people who find it harsh and overly hot or spicy. Rye can sometimes be more difficult to blend for producers and as a result, there is less variety and depth in the blended rye market. That’s why a toasted barrel finished rye is so interesting. Rye whiskey can have amazing baking spice-related flavors, can be fruit-forward, or heavily spiced. Playing with those traits and adding in a toasted finish seems to work especially well for rye. This year’s release of Michter’s Toasted Barrel Finish Rye is a success both for its appealing flavor profile and its amazing creamy mouthfeel. These two traits came together in perfect unison.