Harvard law graduate Joe Magliocco worked in the wine and spirits industry before teaming up with Austin, Nichols & Co president Dick Newman in the 1990s to resurrect Michter’s distillery. Though its resurrection coincided with a boom in bourbon’s popularity, Michter’s is a whiskey brand with a long legacy ¬– all the way back to America's first whiskey company, founded in 1753. In this interview, Whisky Magazine editor Christopher Coates speaks to Joe about Michter’s single-barrel expressions, who discusses the processes behind these popular releases.
Christopher Coates (CC): When and why did you decide to add single-barrel expressions to your distillery’s core range?
Joseph Magliocco (JM): In the 1990s, when we were planning to restart the historic Michter’s brand in Kentucky, we decided that our first two offerings would be 10 Years Old Single Barrel Bourbon and 10 Years Old Single Barrel Rye. The whiskeys that we were going to bottle were wonderful, and there was a little bit of interesting variation from barrel to barrel.
CC: How do you approach selecting casks for bottling as single barrels?
JM: At Michter’s, our master distiller, Dan McKee, and our master of maturation, Andrea Wilson, pay great attention to the selection of every barrel that we put out, be it a single barrel or a small batch [expression]. Because our batching equipment is purposely sized to hold no more than the contents of twenty full barrels, even our small batches allow no room for error, where one could blend out a barrel that does not meet our standards. The barrels we decide not to use are sent off to a company that repurposes them into fuel ethanol.
CC: What is the target demographic for these bottlings?
JM: We try to make Michter’s for people who appreciate high-quality, rich and flavourful whiskeys that are interesting in that you will notice something up front, observe something else mid-palate, and pick up additional complexity on the finish.
CC: How do you balance the idiosyncrasies of single barrels with the need for some degree of consistency from a core-range product?
JM: While part of the beauty is that single barrel bottlings vary a bit from barrel to barrel, we want to achieve consistency within a tight range of quality. To that end, we spend a lot of time and money on our barrel houses and during maturation to ensure quality across all our single-barrel bottlings. The barrel houses we build are not sheds, rather they have walls that are 35 centimetres (14 inches) thick to achieve the insulation R value that our master of maturation, Andrea Wilson, requires. We heat-cycle our barrels, and we have equipment in our rickhouses that controls both temperature and internal air circulation.
CC: What do you think a single-barrel release can bring to the table that a consistent “batch-blended” product can’t? That is to say: why go to the trouble to do it at all?
JM: A single-barrel release offers one the opportunity to compare different bottlings and savour and enjoy the particular attributes of the whiskey from different barrels.
CC: Do you bottle your single barrels at cask strength, or did you pick a consistent bottling strength maintained for each release? Why?
JM: In some cases, we have chosen to bottle at barrel strength. In others, where we have found a specific proof that we feel is wonderful for a particular whiskey, we have decided to bottle at the strength we like best.
CC: Do you distribute your single-barrel expressions in all markets in which your brand can be found, or only in selected markets? If the latter, why?
JM: Like our other Michter’s offerings, all of which have to be allocated because demand exceeds supply, our single barrel offerings (with the small exception of our Kentucky-only Michter’s US*1 Barrel Strength Bourbon) are shipped to all the markets we sell to.