Throughout the lion’s share of the 21st century, Michter’s has enjoyed status as one of the premiere names in American whiskey. But now the Kentucky-based distillery can lay claim to being the king of the global whiskey-making game. This week it was named “World’s Most Admired Whiskey” in the annual top 50 list of producers, as published by Drinks International.
Now in its third edition, the yearly ranking is formed by polling a consortium of “independent whisky experts from across the globe,” according to the magazine’s website. Those industry veterans are asked to evaluate brands by way of a number of key metrics, including quality and consistency, price-to-quality ratio, and strength of marketing.
Using that rubric, Michter’s bested the field. Which was something of a coup, as this was the first time that an American distillery has received the top prize. Indeed, in hauling home the hardware, Michter’s beat out Yamazaki—the pride of Japan—and Ardbeg, a perennial darling amongst scotch enthusiasts.
“For decades, American distillers have been working hard to produce outstanding whiskeys,” said Michter’s president Joe Magliocco, after the announcement. “To finally see this international recognition for a whiskey made in the US is absolutely wonderful.”
It’s been quite a wild ride for Magliocco and his team. In the late ‘90s, he acquired the trademark to the Michter’s name or just $245. The distillery, which was defunct at the time, had history stretching back to pre-Revolutionary War Pennsylvania. He then promptly set up shop in Shively, Kentucky, and brought in some top talent from the bourbon industry to help lay down liquid. Fast forward to 2020, and the brand was already setting world-records with the sale of a single barrel for over $200,000 (it was a 10-year-old bourbon that was auctioned off for Covid-related charity).
That’s not the only high watermark that Michter’s has reached. In 2013 it unveiled its Celebration Sour Mash. The rare mingling of ultra-aged bourbon and rye was priced at $4000 a bottle, making it the most expensive American whiskey release ever—at the time. Earlier this year it released its 4th edition of the label; 328 bottles in total, priced at a stratospheric $6000 per decanter. Good luck finding one at half that price, today.
Nevertheless, the distillery wouldn’t have received this most recent recognition if it were only marketing stuff for the top shelf. In its US 1 lineup of bourbon and rye, the brand puts out a dependably delicious small batch bourbon, which is aged for upwards of 8 years, and priced squarely within the $40-$50 range.
Although American whiskey has been slow to make significant in-roads in European markets, Michter’s is an exception. Bottles of its wax-dipped 10-year-old bourbon and rye are often seen atop the shelf at some of the most prestigious bars in London, Paris, and Berlin. And the brand is positioning this award as something of a “Judgment of Paris Redux;” a bellwether moment that might augur well for the category as a whole.
“I could not be prouder of what this means not only for Michter’s, but for the American whiskey community as a whole,” says Andrea Wilson, master of maturation at Michter’s. “At home, we’ve always had tremendous belief in our approach, but then you would travel abroad and see bourbon placed on the bottom shelf almost automatically in many parts of the world so it is really exciting to see it reach such high regard.”
Now maybe the international community can finally start spelling the word ‘whiskey’ properly.