How American-Made Michter’s Became ‘The World’s Most Admired Whiskey’


How American-Made Michter’s Became ‘The World’s Most Admired Whiskey’


Call it whisky or whiskey, it’s the world’s most popular spirit. Over centuries, few distilleries have truly perfected the craft. Here, Sotheby’s specialist Forrest Price digs into the history of Louisville, Kentucky-based Michter’s, the first American distillery to be named ‘The World’s Most Admired Whiskey.’
Call it whisky or whiskey, it’s the world’s most popular spirit. Over centuries, few distilleries have truly perfected the craft. Here, Sotheby’s specialist Forrest Price digs into the history of Louisville, Kentucky-based Michter’s, the first American distillery to be named ‘The World’s Most Admired Whiskey.’

I n 2023 Michter’s became the first American brand to be named “The World’s Most Admired Whiskey” by Drinks International’s prestigious annual poll of industry experts. The result for this Louisville, Kentucky-based distiller of top-shelf whiskeys, bourbons and ryes came as no surprise. Michter’s publicly stated goal is to offer the greatest American whiskey, and they achieved that accolade through their passion and an unwavering balance between a vision of the future and adherence to the past.

The History of Michter’s Distillery

The Michter’s legacy begins in Schaefferstown, Pennsylvania, at a distillery founded by Swiss settler John Shenk in 1753. In the 271 years since, it changed names several times: in the 1800s it was known as Bomberger’s, and in the 1950s it became Michter’s when Lou Forman combined the names of his two sons, Michael and Peter.

The Pennsylvania distillery went bankrupt in 1989, leading to its closure, but in the 1990s Chatham Imports, a wine and spirit supplier owned by three Magliocco brothers (John, Nino and Joseph), spent an impressive $245 to become owner of the Michter’s brand. Led by Joseph J. Magliocco, the Chatham team set out to restart the legendary brand with the help of consultant Dick Newman, former president of the Kentucky-based Wild Turkey.

Michter’s Fort Nelson Distillery, in downtown Louisville, features a legendary pot-to-pot still system that originally lived at Michter’s original Pennsylvania distillery, which produced some of the best whiskey in the country during its existence. Images courtesy Michter’s

Their first move was to relocate the company to Louisville, Kentucky. There, they sourced existing whiskey that had been barreled by local distilleries, releasing their first whiskeys under the new Michter’s leadership in 2000: a patient 10-year rye and a 10-year bourbon. It was an immediate success: just two years later, Pete Wells (now restaurant critic at the New York Times) awarded the latter “Best American Whiskey.”

Then, beginning in 2003, Michter’s started working with an undisclosed Kentucky distillery, who allotted them a certain number of production days, during which time they perfected their craft of creating perhaps the most unique barrels in the bourbon industry. All of the oak that Michter’s uses is aged and seasoned outside for a minimum of 18 months before being made into a barrel – in addition to a number of other flavor-imparting trade secrets. In 2012 Michter’s opened its own distillery in Shively, Louisville, and as of 2015 they’ve been totally self-sufficient for their distillation.

At Shively Distillery, a custom-designed, all-copper column-to-pot system produces Michter’s US*1 line of releases, named in homage to its heritage as the first American whiskey company.

Presently Michter’s operates three locations in Kentucky: There’s Michter’s Shively Distillery, with its custom-designed, all-copper column-to-pot system. This system produces their US*1 line of releases, which has garnered many accolades – its name is an ode to Michter’s heritage as the first American whiskey company. Additionally, Michter’s Fort Nelson Distillery, in downtown Louisville, features a legendary pot-to-pot still system that originally lived at Michter’s original Pennsylvania distillery, which produced some of the best whiskey in the country during its existence. Lastly, Michter’s also runs a 205-acre farm and operations facility in Springfield, Kentucky, where they grow non-GMO corn, rye and barley to distill.

A little known but very fun fact: prior to doing its own bottling at Michter’s Shively, Kentucky Michter’s was bottled between Julian Van Winkle’s Commonwealth Distillery, Kentucky Bourbon Distillers (Willett) and Strong Spirits. None of these bottlers distilled any whiskey that Kentucky Michter’s has bottled.

Michter’s Best Whiskeys

The early to middle part of the 2010s were banner years for Michter’s, as this is when they began releasing what is now some of the most sought-after and valuable bourbon and rye on the market. First, 2008 bottlings of 25-year editions of both bourbon and rye were released in 2009. Both of these whiskeys have rich and full mouthfeels, yet don’t overwhelm with oak as many older bourbons do. Their oils will coat your mouth, and you can feel and taste the whiskey even after swallowing, creating a truly rounded and pleasurable experience. The bourbon reminds one of roasted nuts sprinkled over a vanilla- and chocolate-coated apple. The rye exudes rich coffee and floral, tangerine-like essence, rounded out by warming undertones of spicy peppers.

Michter’s 20-year bourbon (left) is full and fluffy at once, while its US*1 toasted-barrel finish (right) is delicate and complex due to its long heat exposure.

Four years later, in 2012, Michter’s introduced its 20-year bourbon, one of my personal favorites. It is full and somehow fluffy at the same time. Citrus tea and hot chocolate tingle the palate, while savory notes of peach and tart fruit, drizzled with molasses, linger on the finish.

The following year Michter’s showed the world how great a whiskey from the United States can truly be with its first Celebration, a groundbreaking American whiskey blended from rare first-use barrels, ranging in ages up to over 30 years! The depth of flavor is bottomless. Celebration has flavors of honey, smoked fruit, candied nuts, vanilla crème, toasted pineapple and allspice all rolled into one. It has balance and delicacy, rounded out into quite an exceptional whiskey.

Bomberger’s Kentucky Bourbon (left) and Shenk’s Kentucky Sour Mash Whiskey (right) are part of Michter’s Legacy Series.

Then in 2014, Michter’s became the first company to launch a toasted-barrel finish whiskey (a process in which the wood is exposed to heat over a longer period of time, as opposed to a charred barrel, which usually means less than one minute of direct flame exposure). This slower, more gentle approach releases more of the wood’s natural flavors, creating a more delicate, yet complex whiskey. Despite their innovation, Michter’s had no idea they’d be creating an entirely new category of American whiskey, which has since taken hold of the market and is being replicated all over the country.

Plus, in order to pay proper homage to the distillery’s past, the Michter’s Legacy Series, comprising Shenk’s Kentucky Sour Mash Whiskey and Bomberger’s Kentucky Bourbon, was also released for the first time in 2014.

Rare Michter’s Whiskeys at Auction

Since 2023, Sotheby’s has auctioned both the 25-year bourbon and rye releases for over $20,000, while the Michter’s 20-year bourbon and Michter’s Celebration have sold for over $10,000. All of these prices constitute the highest-value whiskeys in their respective categories.

Michter’s Celebration uses rare first-use barrels and features a bottomless depth of flavor.

Michter’s has garnered great acclaim in many of the 70-plus export markets it sells to, including being named “The Best American Whiskey” by China’s Billion Bottle Club. In 2020, the barrel of 10-year bourbon donated by Michter’s to the 50 Best for Recovery charity auction set the then-record price for a barrel of bourbon when it sold at auction for £166,000 ($209,462). Michter’s is somewhat unique among American whiskey companies in that it has not sold any barrel picks due to its policy of never releasing any whiskey that its production team feels is not up to its exacting standards.

Michter’s has a rich and long legacy of offering traditional American whiskeys of uncompromising quality. With each of its limited production offerings aged to peak maturity, Michter’s highly acclaimed portfolio of bourbon, rye, sour mash whiskey and American whiskey are odes to flavor, history, patience, vision and an unfaltering commitment to excellence. The Michter’s team is led by Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame inductee President Joseph J. Magliocco, Master Distiller Dan McKee and Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Famer Master of Maturation Andrea Wilson.

Whisky & Spirits

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