McKenzie Straight Rye

Oof this one is a little hard to write. The whiskey/whisky market is so freaking huge now, with so many distilleries and NDPs and independent bottlers selling so many different labels, that consumers really require some kind of crutch to make purchasing decisions. Reviewer scores, awards, blogs (gulp), forums, word-of-mouth, something or anything to navigate the maze that is the modern whisky aisle. Probably the best such strategy is to lean on past experience. It’s usually safe to assume that if you like one bottle from a given producer, you’ll like others from that same producer, as long as you’re not dropping down into their “value” tier after enjoying a premium expression.

So, I thought I was relatively safe to purchase this McKenzie Straight Rye after being impressed by their bottled-in-bond wheated bourbon. It’s a real distillery (not sourced), so you’re not at the whims of the local secondhand market for barrels that could suddenly go downhill, and the price is comparable. Lesson learned: rules of thumb are not infallible. I just… I just didn’t like this at all.

For more background on the distillery, read the wheated bourbon review. Finger Lakes Distilling (Burdett, NY, DSP-NY-15020) is a small farm distillery located in the Finger Lakes Wine Country region of New York state, and has been making vodkas, gins, and other spirits since July 2009. Most of their production now goes into whiskies: They have a couple of bourbons, ryes, a white whiskey and a single malt.

This straight rye is made from a mash bill of 80% rye and 20% malted barley. It’s bottled after a minimum of 3 years in American oak without chill filtration.

Nose: Initial aroma is grassy: somewhere between nopales (cactus) and wheatgrass. After a rest in the glass, there’s a wine-like note of partial fermentation. An even longer rest in the glass clarifies the aroma: tart white wine, green apples, sourgrass, maple sugar. It still doesn’t smell much like rye at all.

Palate: Thin body. A bit of malty sweetness, a moderate tongue burn, and vanilla-forward oak with hints of those tart grape notes from the aroma. Pleasant, but still bears little resemblance to classic rye whiskey.

Finish: Medium length. A reprise of palate notes, plus bubble gum, very mild barrel tannin, and very mild charcoal bitterness. Fades slowly without evolving.

With Water: Several drops of water seem to have little effect on the aroma. The palate is a little thinner, and the finish a little livelier, with more fruit. Take or leave water with this one.

Overall: Huh. I expected more, after my experience with their wheated bourbon. I feel like I can taste the malted barley, but the rye limps across the palate and provides few of the associated flavors. To me, it’s like Lot 40 with much of the character stripped away, leaving a few twigs and berries.

It’s not bad, per se, but the aroma of partial fermentation that persists, plus the slight vegetal notes and the lack of depth suggests to me that this is insufficiently matured.

McKenzie Straight Rye
45.5% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $35 - $45
Acquired: (750ml bottle) Total Wine & More, San Jose, CA. $36

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  • Interesting review. I purchased and opened a bottle of this about a year ago. I still haven’t finished it. I’ve been trying to put my finger on why…your sour grass note explains why. It’s not drain pour but like you I expected much more. I mostly drink Scotch or some American single malt. I like to have a bottle of Rye has something different. Yeah I’ve been looking forward to my next bottle of Rye for about a year. I’ve decided to obtain it soon whether or not this one finished.