Monday, March 10, 2014

Where Is the Michter's Distillery?

Bulleit Distilling Company, which we hunted for last Thursday, is hardly the only phantom bourbon distillery. The Old Evan Williams Distillery doesn't exist either, except as an assumed business name for Heaven Hill.

Each phantom distillery is different. In the case of Evan Williams, we know exactly where each phase of the production process takes place despite the fanciful name. We don't know that with Bulleit Bourbon. That's the difference.

Which brings us to Michter's. Like Bulleit, they are a non-distiller producer (NDP). The identity of their distiller or distillers is a secret, at the insistence of said distiller or distillers, which we can't confirm because we don't know who they are. NDPs either buy whiskey when it's distilled (contract), which gives them the opportunity to customize it, or they buy it fully aged and ready to sell (bulk). Michter's gets most of its whiskey via contract, although its older expressions are bulk.

Lots of bloggers write about Michter's. Two I can point you to are The Coppered Tot and What Tastes Good. They recently received virtually the same presentation from Michter's that I did. I also toured Michter's work-in-progress facility in Shively, Kentucky. We may not know where Michter's is distilled or aged, but we know where it is dumped, processed, and bottled. That is now taking place in Shively.

Michter's has appeared in this space before, most notably in 2012 when Wine Enthusiast Magazine named them Distiller of the Year. Then as now, Michter's is not a distiller. As noted above, Michter's gets most of its whiskey via contract.

With contract distilling, an NDP has significantly more control than when buying bulk product but that doesn't make them a distiller. The 'cooking in someone else's kitchen' metaphor is valid to a point but a distiller has a distillery at which it mashes, ferments, and distills alcohol. An NDP does not. Calling someone an NDP is not derogatory, it's a statement of fact. Distiller/Non-Distiller is a clear, unambiguous, and useful distinction. Let's not screw with it.

If you want to know more about Michter's, "Michter's: From Way Back When, to Not Long Ago and Today" is one of the front page stories in the new issue of The Bourbon Country Reader.

Happily, a subscription to The Bourbon Country Reader is still just $20 per year (six issues) for addresses in the USA, $25 for everyone else. The Bourbon Country Reader is always independent and idiosyncratic and has no distillery affiliation. It is published six times a year, or thereabouts.

Click here to subscribe with PayPal or any major credit card, or for more information. Click here for a free sample issue (in PDF format). Click here to open or download the free PDF document, "The Bourbon Country Reader Issue Contents in Chronological Order." (It's like an index.)

If you prefer to pay by check, make it payable to Made and Bottled in Kentucky, and mail it to Made and Bottled in Kentucky, 3712 N. Broadway, PMB 298, Chicago, IL 60613-4198. Checks drawn on U.S. banks only, please.


Harry said...

Speaking of Michter's (well, sort of), I just finished your "The Greatest Bourbon You'll Never Taste" in ebook format in which Michter's PA distillery featured. Don't know why it took me so long to get around to it. Thanks to The Coppered Tot, I finally did. That raised the question - Will Michter's ever actually distill at Shively? Seems like we've been hearing about this for years. If the answer's in TBCR, don't tell me - let me be surprised when the mail arrives. Thx.

Joe said...

"...Made and Bottled in Kentucky...Chicago, IL..."
Given the context of the post, this made me smile. Keep up the good work Chuck. I'd like to think the industry is better because of it.

sam k said...

The Reader will fill you in on everything anyone knows about the new Michter's distillery at Shively. It is my conviction that they'll be distilling there at some point.

I can't recommend this issue of the Reader highly enough. It exposes the elitificaation of the bourbon industry at the hands of the Kentucky Distillers Association and gives the the backstory of the current goings on at the new Michter's distillery.

Great issue, Chuck.

Sign up now or forever hold your peace.

Anonymous said...

Brand reps, wanting to get in our bar, are telling me they are distilling as of august 2013. Is this true? bc the same reps are saying that they are 2nd generation of the original michters distillery.. I don't mind their juice and can diffenently sell their flavour profile, but at the same time, I can't sell their story in the bar knowing that it isn't true..
would you want bars to take this choice for you or would you want to make up your own mind as a guest?

I'm sorry if this question is too business minded for your blog.

I'm subscribing to the blog, in case my questions are answered there;)

Chuck Cowdery said...

They're not distilling now and August 2014 would be an ambitious target. As for your bar patrons, skip the story and stick to the liquid. The liquid is good.

Unknown said...

I am curious to learn more about the what and how of rectification as art and technique, as well as whatever methods NDPs use to develop flavors. I am new to bourbon blogs and such, any recommended sources? In the meantime, I'll check out the Bourbon Country Reader. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Nice to see at least an off-hand acknowledgement that they put in some serious copper. Last year the line around here was "I'll believe it when I see it."

Anonymous said...


EllenJ said...

I really enjoyed the article about Chatham and Michter's in the current BCR. It's about time someone published some information that contradicts the knee-jerk slams these folks have received from the Bourbonistas ever since they dared to assume a name made holy by the same idiots who are now mortgaging their childrens' future to buy up bottles of (what they believe is) Pappy Van Winkle (since they can't get blue-wax Hirsch anymore, 'cause I have it all).

I DO think it would have been a nice touch to acknowledge the input of myself and SamK, considering that you were as much a ranter and raver of "phoney Michters" as all the rest when we were both talking to you about those things you appear to have just discovered.

Chuck Cowdery said...

If I have been remiss, I apologize. I happily acknowledge that you and Sam know more about Pennsylvania whiskey-making history than I ever will and I have learned much from both of you.

Drew said...

It should be noted to your readers that Shively is a small suburban city located inside Louisville/Jefferson County. Most of us natives that live here refer to it as one of the smaller cities that make up Louisville.

Chuck Cowdery said...

To follow up, the Shively distillery is just about ready to go. A new distillery makes a lot of distilled water first, to make sure everything works before they start to pour mash into it. They'll run their first batch of water any day now.

What we've been hearing about since 2011 is the visitors center and demonstration distillery in downtown Louisville. That has gone much more slowly than anticipated, but is proceeding. The building is stable and now has a roof and floors, but that's about it.

Dennis Hunter said...

So it's a Pennsylvania liquor bottled in Louisville? Jesus. I do remember a friend offering me a taste back in 04, that clearly said Pennsylvania on the label. Let those carpetbaggers mix up their swill at home.