Vintage Michter's Whiskey Tasting

I bought an empty 1976 Michter's jug to hang out with my growing collection of "new" Michter's whiskey. The sample of Michter's reviewed below came from another late 70s or early 80s decanter.
Last October, I wrote an article about the New York owned, Kentucky based Michter's Distillery. I was frustrated with the lack of information about the original Michter's, a Pennsylvania whiskey brand and historic distillery with roots tracing to 1753. The first Michter's went bankrupt in 1989, and its owners abandoned all of their property (real, moveable, and intellectual) on Valentine's Day 1990. It was the end of an era for the Keystone State and a region where thousands of early distillers shaped American whiskey.

Since delving into Michter's history, I have been eager to taste the polarizing, "old" Michter's whiskey. I finally got a chance to taste what some folks speak so highly of and what others recall as bad whiskey.

Fortunately, I have gotten to know Ethan Smith, a whiskey enthusiast and blogger from Manheim, Pennsylvania, which is near the abandoned Michter's site. Apart from being a really nice guy, Ethan is a gifted writer and the owner of lots of dusty Michter's bottles/decanters. He is also friends with Dick Stoll, the last master distiller at Pennsylvania Michter's and Erik and Avianna Wolfe, who recently partnered with Dick Stoll to create the whiskey company Stoll & Wolfe. Ethan sent us a dram from a late 1970s or early 1980s King Tut decanter which he has transferred into a glass bottle for better preservation.

If you follow The Coopered Tot blog, you may have read Josh Feldman's post about his meeting with Joe Magliocco. Magliocco is the president of Chatham Imports and the "new" Michter's Distillery, one of Kentucky's most successful non-distiller producers. In the mid-1990s, Magliocco obtained the Michter's intellectual property and revived the label along with the late Dick Newman, a retired Austin Nichols executive.

In Josh Feldman's article, there is an image of Joe Magliocco pointing to 1970s Michter's King Tut decanters in his office. Joe sold Pennsylvania Michter's as a young man before he graduated from Harvard Law School and eventually started new Michters. Look closely and you'll also see a Penn State Nittany Lion decanter and a Liberty Bell. How quaint.
The 1970s or early 80s Michter's whiskey reviewed below has a 50% corn, 38% rye, 12% malted barley mash bill, a kernel shy of being classified as bourbon. It was generally aged for 6 years, but as sales slumped, it often exceeded 8-10 years. It is 86 proof. Ethan believes the flavor profile can be closely imitated by blending Old Forester and Woodford Reserve Rye. Let's see!

Vintage Michter's Whiskey

Michter's Distillery (Schaefferstown, Pennsylvania)
86 proof
Between 6-10 years old

Color: Bright, golden. 

Nose: I poured the old whiskey into a Glencairn glass and let it sit for about 10 minutes. The nose is gentle/muted. Ethan sent us what he considered to be one of his best samples, but I think several decades have probably detracted from the whiskey's aroma. I get watery caramel, wet slate, tobacco leaf, brown sugar, and light oak. It is generally pleasant, but very faint.

Tasting Notes: The entrance is smooth and sweet. My first impression is honey. There is a bright, fruity flash which is quickly supplanted by black pepper, leather, and oaky bitterness. The finish reveals a punchy alcohol bite and leaves the lingering oak/leather taste. I see the comparison to Old Forester in the finish.

Overall: NR. Better than expected, but not quite as good as I had hoped. Old Michter's is old school, and it strikes me as the kind of whiskey produced for everyman, not for elite connoisseurs. I think my Grandpa Vito drank Michter's in the Bronx while he watched pro wrestling and smoked cigars. It's flavorful but not sweet. It's smooth but bites back. I appreciate Ethan for sending it along.

Peer reviews:

Red, White & Bourbon