Mitcher’s Distillery sits at the crossroads of many of the very positive trends that are driving the US distilled spirits market. The company is very much a part of the craft spirits movement and is also riding the revival of brown spirits, particularly US whiskey, within which it has led the development and popularity of rye whiskey, a once-forgotten style. More generally, it highlights how the US is reclaiming its distilling heritage.
For generations, Michter’s was associated with the historic Shenk’s Distillery, founded in 1753 in Pennsylvania. After a bankruptcy in 1989, the brand was resurrected when, in 1996, New York-based Chatham Imports, a privately held company, acquired Michter’s abandoned trademarks. Joseph Magliocco, president of Chatham Imports, was familiar with the brands, having earlier sold Michter’s in New York. The acquisition was largely unremarkable at the time. After all, the US
whiskey category was in the throes of a decade-long decline and the category’s revival seemed highly unlikely at that juncture.
Magliocco, however, was well advised. Dick Newman, who was then acting as a consultant for Magliocco, had a long history in the whiskey trade, running Old Grand-Dad, Old Crow and Old Taylor for National Distillers, before becoming president and CEO of Austin Nichols. After filing for the abandoned Michter’s trademark, they made their first major strategic decision: to resurrect Michter’s in Kentucky, in the heart of the modern US whiskey industry, to ensure access to the best whiskey talent and resources available. “If you really want to be serious about the whiskey business, Kentucky is the place to be,” Magliocco said.
Magliocco initially bought bulk Bourbon on the spot market. At that time Kentucky was awash with Bourbon, and sourcing it wasn’t difficult. Magliocco says: “The market was very different to what it is right now, and especially when people heard that we wanted to focus on 10yo-plus whiskey they were very happy, because there was almost no market for older US whiskey. We also wanted to focus on rye, which was a totally dead style at that stage, so we had the pick of the litter. We went around and tasted it and picked the style of whiskey that we liked, even though we had nothing to do with making it. It was the style of whiskey we were trying to emulate and eventually produce ourselves.”
After a period, the group began producing its own recipe through another distiller on a contract basis. Eventually the group decided the time was right to invest in production assets. Today Michter’s has two locations in Kentucky: a 67,000sq ft distillery and bottling facility in the Shively section of Louisville and, currently under renovation, it is now transforming the distinctive Fort Nelson building into a distilling and tourism centre along Louisville’s famed ‘Whiskey Row’. Magliocco says: “We were like a chef that couldn’t afford our own kitchen and were cooking in somebody else’s. That changed last year when our distillery in Louisville went operational. We are now very much in control of our destiny.”