The Whiskey of the Month for August is Michter’s Sour Mash. Michter’s is a brand with a long history, which we love! We’re proud to offer a few of their whiskeys, but it’s the Sour Mash that we’re featuring this month.
Most of the whiskeys that we feature at Big Jones are Kentucky whiskeys, since Kentucky is undeniably the center of the bourbon universe. We’ve highlighted a couple old Tennessee whiskeys, and a couple new offerings from uncommon distilleries like High West in Utah. But if you want to talk old whiskey then you have to look back to Pennsylvania before the Civil War. That’s where the Michter’s story starts, before Kentucky was even a state.
And like many old stories about whiskey, it involves pain during Prohibition and brand names being resurrected and repurposed over time.
The original distillery using the Michter’s name was in eastern Pennsylvania in the 1700’s, and had a rye that was known during the American Revolutionary War. From their web site:
The rich history surrounding Michter’s harkens back to America’s first distilling company. Known at times as Shenk’s and as Bomberger’s, Michter’s was established in the 1700′s by John Shenk, a Swiss Mennonite farmer who settled his family in Pennsylvania’s Blue Mountain Valley. With his farm producing an abundance of rye, in 1753 Shenk decided to build a small distillery to convert his excess rye to whiskey. In time, this little distillery with its hand-hammered stills would come to produce what would someday be known as the famous Michter’s whiskey.
This particular rye whiskey was so valued that when the Revolutionary War broke out, General George Washington purchased it to fortify his men as they hunkered down in their camp through the long, brutal winter at Valley Forge. Michter’s, as the saying goes, was “the whiskey that warmed the American Revolution,” and it continues to warm today’s resurgent American whiskey revolution.
Through the 1800’s, whiskey distilling went from being a simpler agricultural practice done in small part-time stills on the farm, to being a significant large-scale industrial practice. Making spirits from rye and other grains was an expedient way to maintain the value of your grain for a longer period of time without having to worry about spoilage — and spirits were easier to transport than bushels and bushels of grain. But as steam power became prevelant in the early United States, the whiskey industry changed to take advantage of its benefits.
The old Pennsylvania distillery is said to have closed in 1919, as Prohibition swept the land, closing most distilleries and breweries across the country. National prohibition started in 1920, and lasted until 1933. The small distillery opened again after Prohibition ended, and operated into the 1970’s, until experiencing bankruptcy.
The 20th century saw hundreds of distilleries open and close — first from Prohibition, and then from the war effort during World War II when most distilleries were forced to turn their full production towards high-proof alcohol for war machinery. Hundreds of storied whiskey names came and went, only to be resurrected during the whiskey boom of the last thirty years.
The Michter’s name has been used for the past few years for a number of whiskeys that are distilled in Kentucky, not at the original distillery in Pennsylvania.
The name of this particular product, Sour Mash, obviously refers to ‘sour mash’ which is a way of making the beer for whiskey where you use some of the liquid from a previous distillation in the new mash (as opposed to a sweet mash.)
Here’s a bit about this particular whiskey, from their web site:
During the 1970’s and 1980’s, whiskey lovers made Michter’s Original US*1 Sour Mash Whiskey the distillery’s most popular type. In 1989 Michter’s Original US*1 Sour Mash disappeared from the marketplace – until now.
December 2012 marked the first release of Michter’s Original US*1 Sour Mash Whiskey in 23 years. It is made according to the traditional sour mash whiskey making process whereby some previously fermented mash is used as the starter for the new mash to be fermented. Typically in most sour mash whiskeys, this “setback” from the prior fermentation accounts for about 10 to 20 percent of the new mash to be fermented.
More than just a sour mash process whiskey, Michter’s Original US*1 Sour Mash is made from a special selection of grains, barrel aged, and later on filtered according to the exacting Michter’s standards.
Production: Small Batch.
Bottling Strength: 86 Proof (43% Alcohol by Volume).
Cooperage: Fire-charred, new American white oak barrels.
Give it a try, we hope you like it!