There is nothing better than cracking the bottle on a new rye whiskey, except possibly for when I crack the bottle on this old favorite. Michter’s Spirits hit it out of the park with both their Straight Rye and Small Batch Bourbons. No surprise coming from a company with a winery background, but boy did they learn the whiskey business fast! You see, I’m a snob about my whiskey. If it isn’t made in Bourbon, Kentucky you’d better damn well not call it bourbon around me, and if it has cinnamon, or any other flavoring, I will pour it out and scatter spelt and salt.
A few years ago, I was on deployment and saw an article in FHM or one of the other dude-bro magazines about rye whiskey. Now, the history is interesting, because rye was way more popular than bourbon before Prohibition. The problem was that rye had been cultivated over the years to do one thing: Make what we Irish call Uisce Beatha (pronounced oo-iS-kay, bah-ha, and meaning “water of life”). While corn served dietary and industrial purposes, rye didn’t. So, when the only purpose to grow rye became illegal, the farmers all switched to corn. Bourbon is made from sour-mashed corn meal, and that is why bourbon is now “The American Whiskey”. Lots of drink recipes began with rye and ended with bourbon, which overpowered the drink and all of those old cocktails fell away over time.
Eventually, I got around to making a habit of picking up a bottle of a random rye and a cigar to pair. I didn’t know anything about tasting other than if I liked it or not, but it was a hobby. I would set up a canvas, paints and a glass with ice. Complete with headphones, I would normally have a drink or two and then write down what I thought as I put everything away.
The Michter’s Straight Rye that I found at a BevMo in La Mesa was a different story though. It rolled over the tongue with a smooth and simple buttery flavor. Not a hint of the antiseptic traits found in Jack Daniels or Jim Beam. This was special. I liked this flavor the instant I experienced it. Warm is even better. It’s like a Werther’s Original dipped in hot sauce to give it that gentle burn in the chest as you swallow. It was so smooth that I completely forgot that my limit was two drinks and turned around to a half empty bottle on a Tuesday night. That didn’t bode well for Wednesday morning, was my first thought. After closing down shop, and heading to bed I berated myself for drinking so much when I had work in the morning. So, I was surprised when I awoke feeling fantastic. No headache, no battery acid flavor in the back of my mouth and no stomach undecided which way it was sending it’s parcels. It was great!
Again, later, I was on vacation for my birthday with family, and my Dad and I make a habit out of a whiskey and cigar while we debate politics and other pretentious things. I needed cigarettes so they stopped at a liquor store for me and I noticed Michter’s Small Batch Bourbon. Well, damn, I thought. Will wonders never cease? So I got the bottle and relayed the first story to Dad, who seemed intrigued.
Lo and behold, he took a sip and stopped dead in his tracks as he looked at me. There was pride and fear all mixed up in one expression. Pride that, like a good Paddy, I had splendiferous taste in spirits and fear that, like a goof Paddy’s mom, my mom would probably ground both of us for what was about to happen. So, the sea-stories and family histories poured out as we all sat in the living room. Only Dad and I were drinking, but you really wouldn’t have known we were drunk. Just an edge of silliness and talking a bit too loudly. The bourbon was also rich, and had the kicking spicy flavor of bourbon, but again without the taste of the solvent that accompanies cheaper whiskey. Eventually, it did catch up with me, but dad just drifted off to sleep. I’m much shorter than him, so soon I was swaying. Still funny and aware, but it did begin to show. This time I drank so much I was surely going to be suffering in the morning, right?
Wrong. Again, I woke feeling rested, if a bit groggy and apathetic towards anything other than getting on my plane home. It’s amazing, but it also makes sense, when you think about it. Alcohol is a solvent, and that antiseptic taste is literally the same smell from rubbing alcohol and for the same reason. Longer aging and better filtering remove much of this negative influence on the palate, but also help remove impurities that add to the effects of a hangover. Of course, enough alcohol will always produce a hangover, because of the nature of the chemistry involved. However, the better distilled the alcohol, the more you must drink to get hungover, while you can still get a good buzz going.
Out of all the whiskey’s I have tried, Michter’s is my go-to. It stays in my house for good days, bad days, boring days and busy days. I wouldn’t drink it every day, because it runs about $40 per bottle, and that’s a bit prohibitive to most pocketbooks. What I will say, is that if you enjoy your whiskey, then you absolutely cannot do better for the value. Hudson Baby Rye is excellent, but is fifty percent more expensive at $60. It’s a fantastic whiskey because its flavor splits the difference between a warm winter drink and a refreshing summer drink whether you use ice, or not. It pairs best with Madura's, I think. I had my first glass with an Alec Bradley Vice that knocked my socks off.
If you get a chance to try either of these whiskeys, you should spring for it, at least once. It may not become a staple on your shelf, but, I can promise that you will think of it whenever someone wants something for a special occasion. It’s a top-shelf whiskey, with a mid-shelf price and it’s refined enough that it wouldn’t be out of place in the smoking room at Downton Abbey. Check with retailers for availability, though. The Rye Revolution is going fairly slowly, and they aren’t hearing about these gems, just yet