August 5, 2013
This is a bit of an unfortunate review, today. I often jump at the chance to get value whisky from K&L (as my regular readers know, my favorite whisky retailer) when they get in single barrels and closeouts and so forth. This isn’t very useful for you all, since this is a single barrel expression of Henry McKenna that is gone and isn’t coming back. There’s no point in me recommending it (or not) because you aren’t going to be able to buy it. However, I paid $30 for it and damned if I’m not getting a blog post out of it. My hope is that if you see another single barrel of Henry McKenna on a shelf somewhere, you might be inclined to pick it up (or not) based on my review. There, that’s my rationalization and I’m sticking to it.
A word about K&L. I think it’s very important to develop a relationship with your primary source for whisky. For many of you, that may not be possible if that source is BevMo, Costco, another big-box retailer, state-run liquor store, or online retailer. Even then, it might be worth getting to know their spirits buyer (by asking intelligent questions or making informed but humble suggestions) in person or via email. When you find someone in the industry whose tastes you can trust then it will be a lot easier to drop big bucks on a bottle you’ve never tasted based on their recommendation. That’s how I feel about David at K&L. If he thinks I’ll like it, experience has shown that I probably will. I bought this ugly little bottle based on such a recommendation, and because it was only $27. Value AND a recommendation from a trusted source? Sign me up!
Henry McKenna Single Barrel is a Bottled-in-Bond 100-proof bourbon from Heaven Hill distillers. This same mashbill (corn with a small percentage – perhaps 10% – of rye, and some malted barley) is used to create Elijah Craig and Evan Williams. I’m not usually fond of high-corn bourbon, but here 10 years in an exceptional barrel turned an ordinary mid-level bourbon into something special. For reference, this is Barrel #982, chosen by K&L Wine Merchants, Distilled 10/8/2002.
By the way, I meant it when I said it was an ugly bottle. It looks vaguely like a gradeschooler glued random bits of classroom materials onto the bottle. It’s got gobs of solidified glue dripping down from a useless bit of wound copper wire with a very unofficial-looking stamped copper tag proclaiming “Bottled in Bond”, a slab of actual green felt, and a flip-open booklet that serves double duty as the front label, yet often hangs drunkenly open. Judge a book not by its cover…
Nose: Pecan pie, heavy spices (cinnamon, clove) and a hearty dose of cherry liqueur. After a rest in the glass, there’s a yeasty bread note and apparent oak.
Palate: Sweet corn up front, with a distinct woodiness – not unpleasant. Some initial burn, but not too harsh for 100 proof. Cherry cola, cough syrup, and marzipan. A hint of bitter herbs.
Finish: Long. Sweet notes, including the oak, linger. At the tail end, a suggestion of mint and charcoal. Slightly more bitterness than I like in the finish.
With Water: Water adds some perfume to the nose – the cherry becomes cherry blossoms – and the oak becomes sappier and sweeter. The palate also benefits from the water, becoming a little better integrated and a bit more tart. Here’s a great example of a mediocre whiskey that blossoms into elegance with just the addition of H2O. I highly recommend dosing this with a few drops of water.
Overall: Cost $27 but drinks like a $45 bourbon. A hefty 100 proof gives weight, and the rye-inflected standard bourbon notes are all accounted for and in the proper proportions. I could wish for a little more silkiness in the body and a bit more caramel and less charcoal in the wood notes, but all around a decent workhorse whiskey. A few drops of water elevate it to a $55 bourbon. Did I mention it was $27?
Note: The rating below applies to Henry McKenna Single Barrel bottlings in general, since this one is no longer available.