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An unexpected surprise on the Bourbon Trail

The alarm went off at 7:40am on our first full day on the bourbon trail.  6 hours earlier we had just gone to bed completely full on pizza.  Groggy, still full, still half drunk, we all got dressed and stumbled downstairs for some breakfast (because we needed more carbs obviously).  Our big appointment of the day was 11:00 am at the Four Roses Bottling location for a barrel selection.  Early last week however, while finishing up some planning for the trip, I had asked Michter’s if it would be possible to stop by at some point over the weekend.  A friend of mine said he had had a great tour there, so I thought it would be neat to stop by, even if just for an hour.  They are only open Monday through Friday, but told me they could see us at 9:00 am on Friday.  We agreed to it and though we had considered sleeping in the night before, we made it up and out on time.

Michter’s is located in a southern suburb of Louisville called Shively.  Shively is also home to Brown Foreman, and previously was the home of Stitzel Weller (and I guess reopened now through Diageo).  The drive up to the location is pretty underwhelming.  Old, run down buildings are scattered in between some new developments, some farm land, some factories, but it mostly looks frozen in time.  Upon arriving, it looked like we had hit their corporate office and not a distillery, as all we could see was a 2-3 story square office building with windows.  We weren’t quite sure if we were in the right place, but we walked into the front door and had no idea how much our expectations were about to be blown away.

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We were met inside by Andrea Wilson, Vice President and General Manager, Jamie Alvey, SE Regional Director of Sales, and Dan McKee, the Distillery Manager.  Our first stop was a conference room where they had brought in someone to make us Kentucky coffee (coffee and bourbon of course) with some sort of tasty whipped cream on top.  There was also a giant box of fresh donuts for us.  For the first time in my life, and probably all of our lives, we were simply unable to eat a donut.  I believe the excessive carb intake over a 12 hour period had been more than we could take.  I still can’t believe we all passed up donuts, it gave the false impression that we ate healthy when really we all just had yeast billowing from our pores already.  I do know the coffee was delicious, and a great start to our morning.  It tasted like well, coffee and bourbon, two things I love.

We spent a little time learning about the history of Michter’s before the tour.  I digress at this point about the history of the distillery because I am aware that some old school bourbon guys have an issue with the name Michter’s and how the name moved from PA to KY or whatever.  I really don’t care.  I wasn’t drinking bourbon until a few years ago, and what I know now about Michter’s is what I see and what I drink today, not 15+ years ago.  I also learned that the name Michter’s itself came from the names of one of the original owner’s sons Michael and Peter.  I thought that was cool.

The tour itself was great.  Michter’s began distilling about a year ago, so everything is still really clean and new looking.  Everything is also housed within the same general area and indoors, which would make this visit doable in bad weather.  We saw the giant steel tanks holding the rare older aged bourbons.  We saw the bottling line which just happened to be bottling M20 the day we were there.  We saw the fermenters which stay sealed unlike other distilleries (I always felt a little weird seeing everyone stick their hands in the fermenter  at other places, even if it’s totally sanitary).  The original pot still is located here in the back, with plans to move it into a visitor center.  We saw the lab, we saw the rack house, pretty much the entire thing in about an hour since we didn’t have unlimited time.

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A few notes about the distillery before moving to the tasting:

  1. Everyone we met on the tour was friendly as can be.  The lab guy wanted to talk more than we had time for.  A warehouse manager joked about us trying to run out with an M20.   It looked like a great place to work.  Dan the Distillery Manager was clearly proud of the work that he and everyone else was doing at Michter’s.  I kept thinking of that commercial that said “Happy Chickens make Happy Eggs” or in this case,  “Happy People make Happy Bourbon (and rye).”
  2. Apparently in the winter, barrels do not age in outdoor rack houses because of the cold weather not moving the bourbon around.  By heating their rack house in the winter, they feel that they can get more age out of the bourbon.  It makes sense in theory, will be interesting to see how it compares in a few years (indoor vs outdoor aged).
  3. I did not see a DSP on the steel tanks with the Michter’s 20, sorry guys.  🙂

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We got to end the tour with a tasting with the man himself, Willie Pratt, master distiller of Michter’s.  He may be referred to as “Dr No”, but he was just as friendly as can be with us.  He knows his bourbon too.  We got to try all the regular Michter’s products, the M10 bourbon and rye, the barrel strength rye, and the pinnacle of them all, Michter’s 20.  We were all a little bummed that we only had 20 minutes for the tasting because we really would have loved to talk more bourbon with Willie and spend a little more time with the products.  I have never had the standard Sour Mash offering, but we really liked it for an everyday bourbon.  We had to run out pretty quickly, but not before getting a cool engraved Michter’s copper mug as a parting gift.

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As we went through the rest of the weekend from distillery to warehouse to restaurant to bar to casino boat and to wherever else we ended up, we kept talking about how great our Michter’s visit was.  They made an impression on us in a short amount of time.  It’s hard not to be a fan of a company willing to roll out a red carpet to 4 guys from Atlanta who wouldn’t even eat their donuts.  I cannot wait to see and taste the products that come out of this distillery now and into the future.  Cheers Michter’s!