You know that awkward feeling that you get when you attend a new school for the first time, especially in a different region where everyone talks funny? That’s how I feel right now. I mean, I can barely understand Jason when he talks, so he had to have Alexandra ask me if I wanted to contribute to Malt (at least there’s someone around here that speaks reals English.) After watching such a great site barely cover anything on the greatest type of whiskey in the world, BOURBON, I decided to finally to pitch in and spread the good word. I have never sat down to do a formal review, so today, I’m popping my cherry. I’m coming in loud and proud, like any true American, and starting off with a vanilla bomb.
For many years, Henry McKenna has been the bourbon enthusiasts’ hidden gem. It is a 10 year bottled-in-bond bourbon coming in at around $30-$35. Although in 2018, prices seemed to creep up after it won an award for best bourbon in San Francisco. Part of this was due to the fact that Fred Minnick, a man respected by bourbon fans and those who work in the bourbon business, was one of the judges. His word tends to carry some weight. Luckily, it was just a few bucks here and there in certain regions, and it seems like it’s here to stay in that price range, for now.
Henry McKenna, the man, was an Irish immigrant who came to the United States in 1838 and landed in Kentucky. He worked hard labor his first few years in the States, but was smart enough to seek out other opportunities that paid more, and were less physical. He eventually found a partner and went into business milling flour in the mid-1850s. Milling flour was a wasteful process at the time, and even after buying a farm with pigs to eat the waste, there was still an abundance, so he decided to start making, and selling, whiskey. He started out with wheat whiskey, but corn eventually came into play to make it more of a bourbon. In just a few years he was churning out so much whiskey that he hired a distillery manager.
Henry built a reputation for his whiskey by keeping his operations cleaner than most, by sterilizing his fermenters with boiling water regularly, as well as aging his whiskey for at least 3 years. With growing popularity, he opened a new distillery in 1883 and by the 1890s, his whiskey was available nationwide. He wasn’t around long to see his brand grow further because he died at the age of 75 in 1892. He was a smart man though, he had five children and sent the oldest ones off to college years prior. Two of his sons, Daniel and James, who by that time had graduated, began to help run the distillery by taking over management and marketing and helped to continue his legacy. The brand became well established and was very popular.
Unfortunately for the McKenna family, Daniel died in 1917, and then prohibition hit. They were not granted a medicinal license to distill, so the distillery sat idle during this time. They resumed production after prohibition ended in 1933, but the family ended up selling the distillery to Seagram in 1940 after James died. Seagram continued to sell Henry McKenna whiskey, but it is doubtful that they were given the original recipe and 1976 they shut down the distillery.
Henry McKenna is now distilled by Heaven Hill with a mash bill of 78% corn, 12% malted barley, and 10% rye. It shares this mash bill with many other bourbons from Heaven Hill such as Evan Williams, Elijah Craig, and Fighting Cock (Alexandra loves Fighting Cock). The distillery itself is owned and operated by a family of businessmen known as the Shapiras. They have no heritage or legacy in distilling themselves, so they purchased many of the labels in their vast library of spirits, including Henry McKenna, which was acquired from Seagram in the 1980’s. Realizing that they have no knowledge of distilling, the majority of their master distillers have had the last name of Beam, a family who has ties to almost every bourbon distillery in Kentucky and a family history in distilling.
In an era where a lot of bourbons have started to lose their age statements, McKenna has kept it’s 10 year age statement right smack dab on the front of the bottle. This one was bottled on 10/22/07 (the correct date format), from barrel number 3952, and is 50% ABV, or 100 proof, as all bottled-in-bond products are.
Henry McKenna 10 Year BIB Single Barrel – review
Color: 50 shades of amber
On the nose: A classic bourbon nose of vanilla, oak, caramel, milk chocolate reminiscent of a Kit-Kat, and a slight hint of rye.
In the mouth: It starts off with more milk chocolate and vanilla, followed by oak, and a hint of heat through the nostrils from the alcohol. Not thin by any means, and it really coats your mouth. A great balance of all these flavors play well together. There’s a nice medium to long finish that lets you know it’s not a 90 proof bourbon, but doesn’t smack you right in the face either.
If you can find it in the $30-$40 range, it is a very solid bourbon that should always be on your shelf. It can tend to be on the sweeter side for me, but the 10 years in the barrel bring a nice balance with oak to help tame those notes. There will be some variance from bottle to bottle, given that it’s a single barrel, but that should keep things entertaining when you get those stand out bottles from time to time.
Is this the part where I mention something about transparency and this bottle was purchased by me and photo was taken by me?