Behind the Brand

An Interview with Michter’s Master Distiller, Dan McKee

Michter Master Distiller Dan McKee

Dec. 8, 2022

Born and raised in Indiana, Michter’s Master Distiller Dan McKee moved to Kentucky to pursue his dream of making whiskey.  We spoke to Dan about his dynamic career in distilling, what makes Michter’s unique in the American whiskey landscape, and his vision for Michter’s future. 

You moved from Indiana to Kentucky to pursue your dream of making whiskey. When did you know this is what you wanted to do? 
Seventeen years ago, I was working in the construction industry when I became aware of an open position for a distillery operator at Jim Beam. I have always enjoyed drinking whiskey, I thought this could be a great opportunity for a new challenge. I was fortunate to have been hired on as a third shift distillery operator. When I began the training process in milling the grains, mashing, fermentation, and distillation, I knew making whiskey was for me.

Michter’s has a “cost be damned” process when creating your whiskies. What else sets you apart from other American whiskies? 
Our goal at Michter’s is to make the best American Whiskey.  The “cost be damned” approach allows us to produce premium whiskeys even when some of the processes are less efficient or cost more. If it increases the quality of the whiskey, we have the support from our ownership.

Michter Distillery 

There are six key production methods we follow. The staves for our wood barrels are air dried and seasoned for 18-60 months. This is done to enhance the natural properties of the wood, which allows for better flavor and  reduces the levels of tannins imparted into the whiskey. We toast and char all our barrels for maximum flavor extraction. Michter’s barrel entry proof of 103 versus the typical industry entry proof of 125 allows for the concentrated sugars in the toasted and charred wood to dissolve more readily into the distillate as it cycles in and out of the barrel. The low barrel entry proof also makes for a much smoother whiskey. The aging barrels are then heat cycled which is an uncommon practice that is used to expand and contract the whiskey into the wood. This allows for more flavor extraction. After aging, a custom chilled filtration is used to create a rich, well-balanced, warm mouth-feel, and ultimately a smooth whiskey.

Your whiskies are all single barrel or small batch/limited production. How do you determine the output for the year?  
Currently we are allocating all our whiskeys. We don’t release whiskeys until they have fully matured and meet our taste profiles. We are not looking to release just on an age statement. This gives Andrea Wilson, our Master of Maturation, and I the ability to release our whiskies when we feel they are ready.

Michter’s has its original roots in Schaefferstown, PA and honors that with their Bomberger’s Declaration and Shenk’s Homestead products. You have the original pot still and cypress wood fermenter from the PA distillery. What was the story behind bringing that to the Fort Nelson location?
In 1989, Michter’s was located in Schaefferstown, PA, filed for bankruptcy and was lost to history. Their stills were sold a few times until the last owner, Tom Herbruck, of Tom’s Foolery Distillery in Ohio, reached out to Michter’s Distillery President, Joe Magliocco, and the stills were purchased and returned to honor the Michter's name. By then Michter's had been reopened in Louisville, KY. The legendary  stills and cypress wood fermenters are once again being used to produce beautiful whiskey at the Michter’s Ft. Nelson Distillery located in Louisville, KY.

If you had to give a quick elevator pitch on why an account should bring in your product for their consumers, what would it be?
At Michter’s, it’s our goal to make the “best American whiskey.” Our six key production methods of using wood staves that are air dried and seasoned for 18 - 60 months, toasted and charred American white oak barrels, a low 103-barrel entry proof, heat cycling, and a custom chilled filtration produces the highest quality whiskey. We were just named the World's Most Admired American Whiskey and the #2 Most Admired Whisky overall in the second edition of "The World's Most Admired Whiskies," an annual top 50 list released by Drinks International, voted on by whiskey experts around the world. 

Are there any new expressions on the horizon for Michter’s?
I’m excited about our future releases. We use traditional methods and innovation to create beautiful whiskeys. Our different mash bills and maturation processes allows for creativity. In 2014, we were the first distillery to release a toasted barrel finish bourbon which has been well received. Not every expression is released every year, we take great pride in offering the highest quality whiskeys to be enjoyed by our fans.

What is your go-to expression or drink of choice?
My go-to expression would be the Michter’s US*1 Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Rye. I really enjoy rye whiskey. I love the nice balance of sweetness and spice our rye whiskeys offer. It’s a great Kentucky-style Rye whiskey.