Bourbon Reviews, Distillery News and Information
Michter’s Fort Nelson Distillery
801 West Main Street
Tour / Review
Please enjoy our Michter’s Fort Nelson Distillery Tour Review!
Michter’s Distillery History
Michter’s legacy dates back to 1753 when John Shenk founded his distillery in Schaefferstown, PA, where he produced rye whiskey. Abraham Bomberger then purchased the distillery in 1861. The distillery did not do particularly well after reopening following the repeal of prohibition and changed hands a number of times. In the 1950’s, Lou Forman, one of the distillery’s owners, created the name Michter’s by combining the names of his sons, Michael and Peter. In 1989 Micther’s declared bankruptcy and the distillery and trademark were abandoned. Finally, in the 1990’s, Joseph J. Magliocco and Richard Newman resurrected the Michter’s brand in Kentucky, where it is still located today.
Michter’s Has Three Locations But Only The Fort Nelson Distillery Has Tours
Michter’s Distillery has three locations, but tours are only offered at the Michter’s Fort Nelson Distillery in Louisville, KY. It should be noted that the main production distillery is the Shively Distillery, and the Fort Nelson Distillery produces only small quantities, and mainly exists for visitors.
There Are Three Different Michter’s Fort Nelson Distillery Tours
Michter’s Fort Nelson Distillery offers three different tours. The Discovery Tour is the least expensive tour. This one hour tour offers an introduction to Michter’s and a tour of the facilities, followed by a tasting of 6 of the Michter’s whiskeys. The tasting includes the US*1 Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Rye barreled at two different barrel entry proofs. The Founders Tour lasts an hour and a half, and gives the same introduction to Michter’s, as well as a deeper look into their pot distilling process. Seven whiskey samples are provided, including some of the more sought after whiskey such as Bomberger’s and Shenk’s.
The third tour, the Legacy Tour, which I took, is a more in-depth educational experience led by one of the senior members of the Michter’s team. This tour is approximately 2 hours. The experience includes an introduction to Michter’s Distillery and its history, a tour of the distillery with a fairly in depth discussion of the production process and a short sensory experience. The seven sample tasting includes some of the more sought after Michter’s whiskeys including the 10 year old rye and bourbon, and either a 20 or 25 year old Michter’s bourbon. As of October 2023, Michter’s Distillery Tours are offered Tuesdays through Sundays. Please see the distillery website for times, and to make reservations.
Meet Our Host, Kyle Lloyd, (Former) Director of Research & Development
My tour was led by Kyle Lloyd, who was, until recently, the Director of Research & Development at Michter’s. We all gathered at the far end of the gift shop, where there is a timeline of Michter’s history and a video monitor on the wall. Kyle used the timeline to explain Michter’s history, and then we watched a short related introductory video. Following this, we proceeded into the distillery. Again aided by ample signage on the walls, we began our discussion of distilling with one of the most important ingredients, water. Kentucky sits on a limestone shelf, and Louisville itself on a large aquifer. The limestone, sand and gravel act as a natural water filter. It turns out that this limestone filtered water is low in iron and high in calcium and is excellent for making whiskey.
Michter’s Uses U.S. Grown Non-GMO Grains
Next, we moved over to a display of the grains used for distilling Michter’s whiskey. These include U.S. Grown non-GMO Corn, Rye and Barley. The grains at Michter’s are ground with a cage mill, and a small functional version was used for demonstration purposes.
Three Cypress Fermenters
The mash tun, or cooker, is the next step and is used to cook the grains at varying temperatures allowing the enzymes to convert starches to fermentable sugars. At Michter’s Fort Nelson Distillery, the cooker is located in the basement, so we visited that near the end of the tour. Instead, the three cypress fermenters were our next stop. They are from the original Michter’s Pennsylvania distillery. In contrast, the larger Michter’s Shively Distillery, also in Louisville, handles most of the production and has steel fermenters. Fermentation was explained to us, as we watched the action in Michter’s open fermenters.
There is a small double pot still system in the Michter’s Fort Nelson distillery. I believe that this is also from the original Pennsylvania distillery. In the larger Shively distillery, there is also a pot still system, as well as a 32 inch diameter 46 foot tall copper column still. At Michter’s, the distillate comes off of the stills at a final proof of 138.
A Short Sensory Experience, 103 Proof and Filtering
Just past the stills is a small lab area. Here we were did a short sensory experience where we smelled samples of the heads, which are comprised of the first components which come off the still, the hearts, which contains the ethyl alcohol and the most desirable products of distillation, and the tails, which are the final products of distillation. We also discussed further the distillation and production process used at Michter’s. Bourbon can enter the barrel at no higher than 125 proof, but at Michter’s they “proof it down” to 103 proof before barreling it. We were told that this is a very important step at Michter’s in allowing them to create the best bourbon. This point is mentioned multiple times during the tour and in signage. Michter’s whiskeys are also filtered prior to bottling, utilizing filtration systems specifically designed for each style.
Michter’s Barrels And Temperature Cycling
Barrels are very important in creating the flavor of bourbon. Kyle gave us a detailed discussion of the seasoning (the amount of time the wood ages prior to barrel construction), toasting and charring processes used in making Michter’s barrels. Next, a small display of a rickhouse was the backdrop for our discussion of the aging process, as barrel aging does not occur onsite. Michter’s uses temperature cycling in their warehouses, which allows the whiskey to experience temperature fluctuations allowing it to move in and out of the wood with greater frequency than nature would normally provide. Using a flavor wheel as a visual aid, Kyle told us about the different flavors that the barrels impart on the whiskey, and this would prepare us for the next part of our tour, another sensory experience and then the whiskey tasting!
Another Sensory Experience
For our next sensory experience, we each had our own setting of 4 glass bottles with examples of the different aroma characteristics that we had been discussing, and a jelly bean. Each bottle was presented as an unknown, and we described what we smelled as each of us sniffed their contents. Then it was time to put everything we had learned to use sampling some actual whiskey.
Michter’s Whiskey Tasting
For the Legacy Tour, we were presented with some of the more coveted Michter’s whiskeys, in addition to those that are more readily available. We began with Michter’s US1 Rye barreled at 125 proof (the highest proof allowable) and 103 proof (the proof Michter’s uses) to demonstrate the effects of different barrel entry proofs on the final spirit. Although the difference had been explained to us, this sampling allowed us to really appreciate it firsthand. Next we sampled the Michter’s US1 Bourbon, which is readily available in most markets. Then it was on to the special treats, which included Michter’s 10 year old Rye and 10 year old Bourbon, the Bomberger’s Declaration Whiskey 2018 release and last, but certainly not least, the highly sought after Michter’s 20 Year Old Bourbon. For anyone wondering, yes, it really is that good!
Down To The Basement Then Up To “The Bar At Fort Nelson”
After our tasting, we then proceeded to the basement where we found grain storage, the “cooker” and the barrel filling station. We each had the opportunity for a photo-op while filling a barrel. Last but not least, our tour finished on the second floor of the distillery, at the aptly named “The Bar at Fort Nelson” where we had the opportunity to purchase cocktails and pours of bourbon.
Don’t Miss Michter’s Fort Nelson Distillery Tour When You’re In Louisville
I really enjoyed my visit to Michter’s Fort Nelson Distillery. The Legacy Tour was a great experience, and well worth the price! While the experience is more abbreviated on the Discovery and Founders tours, and different whiskeys are presented for tasting, I am sure they offer great experiences as well. If your bourbon jouney brings you to Louisville, Michter’s Fort Nelson Distillery should definitely be on your itinerary!
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