I’ve actually reviewed Henry McKenna whiskey before – specifically a 10 year-old single-barrel release from K&L from way back in 2013, which I enjoyed. 10 year-old bourbon isn’t nearly as easy to find these days, alas, and those McKenna 10-year single barrel bottlings are now fetching $80 to $100 after one of the single barrels was named Best in Show at the 2019 SFWSC. Yeowch. So, I thought I’d try the basic Henry McKenna Straight Bourbon to see if it lived up to its single barrel sibling. Of course, there is no Henry McKenna distillery – the brand is owned by Heaven Hill distillers, which distills and bottles a large number of brands, including Elijah Craig, Larceny, and Evan Williams.
In fact, Henry McKenna is made from the same mashbill (75% corn, 13% rye, 12% barley) as Elijah Craig and Evan Williams. Bottles can be found for $15 or less, and even 1-liter bottles are available in some markets for about the same. That’s some inexpensive whiskey, even though it’s definitely younger and lower ABV (40%) than its cousin brands. The bottle doesn’t have an age statement, and it’s Straight Bourbon, which means it’s 4 years or older.
Nose: Fruit punch and/or tutti-frutti. Bubblegum. Some nose tickle but no paint thinner or rubbing alcohol notes. Light, and one-dimensional.
Palate: Thin body. The fruit punch note returns on the palate, along with some marshmallow, bubble gum, cotton candy, and corn syrup.
Finish: Medium-short. Slight barrel char, and a hint of menthol. Not bitter. Fades without evolving.
With Water: A few drops of water amplify the ‘fake’ fruit notes a bit, which bodes well for mixability. The liquid is even thinner on the tongue, but the finish has more vibrancy and more fruit. Water isn’t a bad idea with this one, but certainly isn’t needed.
Overall: That fruit-punch note shows up in low-end bourbons, including Jim Beam, Smooth Ambler Old Scout, Rebel Yell and McAfee’s Benchmark. Aside: The interesting thing about that list is that they’re all made at different distilleries except for (probably) Rebel Yell, which is a wheated mash bill. In other words, “cheap fruit punch” is not a characteristic of a single distillery or mash bill, but instead seems to affect whiskies in the lowest price range.
Despite the common “light whiskey” profile in this price range, this one holds together just fine. Don’t expect heavy bourbon flavors (oak, spice) or any kind of power. This is just straightforward mixing bourbon without any major downsides except for its forgettable character. You could do way worse for $15, but I really suggest paying an extra $10 and getting something with more flavor. If $20 is your ceiling, this isn’t a bad option.
I marked it “Recommended” because it’s worth the money. If it were $30 a bottle, it would be a solid “Avoid”, so… there’s that.