We require our cooperages to select the highest quality oak, then to open-air season and air dry it for anywhere from 18 to 60 months. Rather than merely kiln dry as many others do, we naturally air dry for a minimum of 18 months because longer open air seasoning reduces some of the more astringent compounds found in the wood, resulting in a smoother whiskey with better flavor.
While all bourbon and American rye barrels are required to be charred, we take the extra step of toasting our barrels before they are charred in order to achieve richer flavor. As the oak is heated during toasting, compounds in the wood break down to release desirable aroma, flavor, and color. By toasting first and then charring, the sugars in the wood better caramelize and form a more concentrated “red line” in the barrel stave. During aging as the whiskey soaks through the char to the caramelized red line, it interacts with sugars and other compounds in the wood that impart additional flavor and color.
Although 125 proof (62.5% ABV) is allowable as the entry proof for distillate to be placed into the barrel for aging, we barrel our distillate at a lower 103 proof (51.5% ABV) level. This costly step creates a richer whiskey with less water added the day of bottling. This was historically regarded as the gold standard in Kentucky, and the lower proof creates a richer barrel chemistry that allows for the concentrated sugars in the wood to dissolve more readily. When the whiskey is fully matured and the day has arrived for the barrel to be dumped and brought to bottling strength, considerably less water is added during bottling of a barrel where the entry proof was 103 rather than 125. Even though the lower entry proof yields fewer bottles per barrel of whiskey at a particular strength, the resulting smoother flavor and richer mouthfeel make it all worth it.
Kentucky experiences distinctive seasonal changes with hot and humid summers and winters that are cool and dry. Temperature fluctuations in a warehouse cause pressure changes within the barrel that push whiskey into and out of the staves of the wood, a process we call a “cycle.” The more often whiskey interacts with the wood, the more flavor, color, and complexity develop. Heat cycling is the process of first heating and later naturally cooling our warehouses during the winter months to stimulate additional cycles. Despite the significant extra cost incurred by heat cycling, this process increases maturing quality which results in a better tasting whiskey.
For precise quality control, all Michter’s whiskeys are either single barrel or batched in small equipment custom designed to hold no more than twenty full barrels. This enforces a strict discipline for our team because in a single barrel or a truly small batch product, every barrel we use must meet our rigorous quality standards.
We select the custom filtration protocol ideally suited to highlight the very best qualities of each of our whiskeys. At Michter’s, our goal is not production efficiency, but rather to offer the greatest American whiskey. Instead of following a one size fits all filtration approach with attractive cost savings, we thoughtfully select the different filtration mediums and techniques best suited to each of our individual whiskey offerings. This is time consuming and costly, but it allows us to highlight the very best qualities of each of our expressions.