2012 Distiller of the Year: Michter's Distillery
With its emphasis on quality, Michter’s has given the American whiskey scene a much-needed shot in the arm.
In the fast-paced liquor industry, spirits brands come and go. Very few get a second chance. However, Michter’s is one of the few in which the second act is possibly stronger than the first.
The distillery produces an outstanding range of Bourbons, ryes, and unblended American whiskies, three of which have scored 93 points or more from Wine Enthusiast over the past three years. Bartenders have embraced the brand; the iconic Michter’s bottle can be spotted at virtually any bar that lays claim to a strong whiskey list.
The story of Michter’s starts in 1753, when a small distillery was built in Pennsylvania’s Blue Mountain Valley to convert an abundance of rye into whiskey. As the story goes, when the Revolutionary War broke out, Gen. George Washington purchased Michter’s rye to fortify his men as they hunkered down in their camp through the long, brutal winter at Valley Forge.
Unfortunately, like many mid-Atlantic rye whiskey producers, Michter’s languished during Prohibition and after its repeal, changing hands several times until the company declared bankruptcy in 1989.
In the 1990s, Joseph Magliocco, now president of Michter’s Distillery, teamed up with Richard “Dick” Newman, an experienced distiller who had previously served as president and CEO of Austin Nichols, the distiller of Wild Turkey.
“We were considering where to restart,” Magliocco says. “Dick said, ‘if you really want to be serious about the whiskey business, Kentucky is the place.’ So every drop of Michter’s since has been produced in Kentucky.”
Thus began what Magliocco refers to as a “cost-be-damned” approach to creating great whiskey. The spirit is barreled at lower proofs and sees longer maturation times than may seem practical from a business standpoint. Indeed, Master Distiller Willie Pratt has earned himself the nickname Dr. No, because of his staunch refusal to release whiskey early.
Steve Day, partner in the Blue Martini Lounge Group, cites Magliocco’s passion as key in driving Michter’s forward.
“Joe was ahead of the industry in his belief of the American whiskey revival,” Day says.
Despite its keen sense of history Michter’s continues to look forward. An ambitious distillery restoration project in Louisville is underway, driven by growing consumer demand for whiskey.
In March 2012, Michter’s purchased the historic Fort Nelson Building in downtown Louisville, a historic cast-iron structure dating back to the 1870s, earmarked to become an “urban distillery” open to the public for educational tours.
However, “that building is not really enough to satisfy demand as we grow,” Magliocco says, so a second, nearly six-acre building in nearby Shively has been purchased to become the main production facility.
Magliocco sums up: “Our goal was to show that whiskey made in the United States could be the equal of great whiskey made anywhere in the world.”
This commitment to preserve a historic American brand and the production of high-quality spirits is what makes Michter’s the Wine Enthusiast choice as Distiller of the Year.