Michter’s Wry Marketing

About two years ago, Rye whiskey was the in thing in the spirit world. Demand for this spicy whiskey grew and many distilleries were caught with little or no product to fill the void.

Fast forward about two years (which, not so coincidentally, is about the time needed to put a noticeably aged whiskey out on the market) and we’re starting to see increases in the amount of rye available. We’re also starting to see more and more brands made available.

We’re also starting to see a fair increase in the marketing spiel that comes with whiskeys. Michter’s is a brand where the forces of increased demand and marketing spiel create the perfect storm of arguable positions.

First, let me say that I actually enjoyed this whiskey. So if you take away anything, let’s just say that it’s best to let the whiskey speak for itself rather than the marketing department.

The label reads “Distilled in small batches according to the Michter’s pre-Revolutionary War quality standards dating back to 1753″.

This is pure hokum. Quality Standards? Really? In 1753? The term “Quality Standards” is very much an industry term, not an agricultural one. And whiskey was primarily an agricultural product until about 1820, give or take a decade. Whilst farmers were likely concerned about how well their products met quality requirements as they were about making sure that they watched their weight. While Michter’s may indeed been around as a company in 1753, their role was that of an agricultural agent, not an industrial one.

Additionally, it should be noted that for the most part, most of the whiskey sold prior to the industrialization of the product was unaged. Whiskey, back in the day, had a value which made it a sought after commodity. It rarely, if ever, had the chance to age in the barrel for longer than it took to ship it to a local market, if the farmer sold it at all. It was just as likely used as currency.

Finally, Michter’s was a Pennsylvania distillery, not a Kentucky one. The fact that Michter’s is now distilled and bottled in Bardstown, Kentucky probably means that Michter’s is a purchased name. It’s unlikely that Michter’s up and moved from Pennsylvania to Kentucky. It’s more likely that the initial Michter’s closed in PA, and someone in Kentucky looked to make a buck or two by buying the brand name. Their claim to America’s oldest distillery rings as true as Bushmills claim to being around since 1608. Unless they’re still making the rye whiskey in Eastern Pennsylvania, then this claim is demonstrably false.

But it’s still a pretty good whiskey. It’s just that I’m still ill, and am very much not willing to put up with nonsense today.