Here’s a dirty little secret about whiskey: just because it’s older doesn’t mean it’s better. In fact, in the production of bourbon and rye—where barrels used for maturation must be brand new, and charred black—older whiskey is often inferior whiskey. Too much aging in that medium and you end up with an overly-oaked spirit; something that tastes more like wood shavings than whiskey. Consequently, most Kentucky distillers will tell you the sweet spot in the barrel is somewhere between the eight to ten year mark.
Nevertheless, the fine folks at Michter’s have somehow found a way to dependably bottle balance in their ultra-aged offerings. They are consistently exceptional, and never over-oaked. The latest testimony arrives this November in the form of their 2022 edition 20 Year Kentucky Straight Bourbon. As is so often the case with this high-octane bottling (clocking in at 114.2 proof this time around) it showcases intensity and complexity of flavor. There’s a menagerie of stewed stone fruit for the nose, and s’mores, toasted nuts and rich, dark chocolate for the tongue. In fact, it will call to mind all sorts of descriptors through a slow, soulful sip. But “super oaky” will not be one of them.
To achieve this enviable result, master distiller Dan McKee and master of maturation Andrea Wilson work in tandem, meticulously monitoring their super-aged stock in a temperature-controlled warehouse. In other words, this isn’t something that happens by accident, or sheer luck. Only the right cask candidates can make it to this esteemed echelon.
“We spent a lot of time reviewing inventory for this special release and are so excited about the complexity of flavor and quality,” says Wilson. “We strive for a dynamic experience that makes a memorable whiskey moment and this year’s release will not disappoint.”
She has to be quite certain of that, considering the price tag this bottle wears: it’s set to retail for $1200. And since there’ll only be 528 bottles available in total, you’ll soon start seeing it fetch as much as 10-times that on the secondary market.
Compounding the scarcity is the fact that the 20 Year expression is by no means guaranteed to be an annual release. Wilson and McKee reserve the right to hold it back in years when they don’t believe the stock is up to snuff. For example, we saw no 2020 edition.
“With the extra attention given to the older barrels, it’s releases like the 20 Year Kentucky Straight Bourbon that make me proud of our maturing team and all of their hard work in aging these beautiful whiskeys,” says McKee.
When they’re here, they are here for good reason. And they are to be cherished.
“This is a whiskey that I really look forward to when Dan and Andrea decide to release it,” confirms Michter’s president, Joseph J. Magliocco. “It’s remarkable that a 20 year bourbon can have so many wonderful qualities without being overly woody.”
And it’ll be a remarkable holiday drinking season for you and your friends if you’re able to snag a bottle. Michter’s distributors and importers will begin to ship the 2022 edition in early November. So get out there and make friends with your local liquor store folks—if you haven’t already—and make some polite inquiries. Or just start begging, whichever works for you.