McKenzie Single Barrel [Wheated!] Bourbon

Barrel No. 1284 picked by K&L (2020)

MASH BILL – 70% corn, 20% wheat, 10% malted barley

PROOF – 110.2

AGE – 6 years 6 months

DISTILLERY – Finger Lakes Distilling

PRICE – $87

BUY AGAIN? – This bottle? No, because: so much bourbon so little time. But another McKenzie SiB? Mmmaybe, because $$ not taste.

When the McKenzie Wheated Bottled in Bond came out in 2018, I liked it right away. Interesting, unusual, fun, thoughtful—it had so much going on, it was like a cocktail unto itself.

When a whiskey has such brash personality, it makes sense that a number of people don’t take to it and as many can’t get enough. Online commentary about the Bottled in Bond seemed to follow this pattern. For myself, I was delighted that a relatively affordable Bottled in Bond wheated bourbon had been added to the mix, providing another good alternative to the Weller-dominated wheated whiskey field.

So I was very excited when I heard that Finger Lakes Distilling was starting a single barrel program. I was equally disappointed that the price point would be roughly double that of the Bottled in Bond. But I knew I’d try it at least once.

So here are some notes in brief, taken the day after uncorking. This is the second pour I’ve had, tasted this time in a traditional Glencairn. I usually like to do notes on my third tasting of a bottle. It’s a testament to the excitement this bottle unleashed for me that I plowed ahead.

COLOR – a rich medium burnt-orange with lots of accents

NOSE – Wow. Bright, lemony, cedar wood, baking spices, ground black pepper corns, caramel, custard, cream…

TASTE – Wow again. A lot going on at once: savory, sweet, drying yet buttery, zingy, with caramel, bamboo, tropical fruits, old fashioned hard candies…

FINISH – leaves a soft and nicely textured pepperiness, along with faint waves of the tropical fruits, old fashioned candies, a bit of the caramel, and now some cinnamon

OVERALL – Unusual, bright, flavorful, and quite attention nabbing. I dig it.

Okay. So, like its blended Bottled in Bond predecessor, this single barrel #1284 is packed with flavors. This is a true thinker, but with party balloons and streamers. This isn’t an autumnal, leather chair, cosy by the fire, hardback book in hand bourbon. It’s intelligent and thought provoking, but outside in bright spring or summer sunlight.

Cedar wood is not always my favorite flavor in a bourbon. It can veer into qualities that I find too sharp or astringent. But here the cedar is soft and supple. There is a drying astringency at work, for sure. But I find it well balanced by a variety of sweet flavors, from the caramel to the lemon and tropical fruits.

When I first tasted this the night before, it was late—sometime after midnight! I’d set it up with a bit of Corner Creek 10 Year, itself followed by some Heaven Hill 7 Year Bottled in Bond. The Heaven Hill has been a bit of a “there’s no there there” experience for me. But it was very much improved by the lead-in from Corner Creek. That was interesting. Then I poured this McKenzie, and it was like a firework had shot off in a whole other direction. I was immediately taken with its bold independence. Not content to imitate Kentucky, McKenzie carves out its own unique, winding flavor-profile path.

For that reason, there’s no need really to compare it to wheater stalwarts like Weller or Maker’s Mark. Weller I like, even though it does taste like it came from a big mainstream factory—edges smoothed out and eager to please as expected. Maker’s Mark generally tastes like medicine to me, save for the Maker’s 46 variation and its store picks with their multiple flavor-stave options. Those I do like very much. McKenzie’s goal is different: strike out on a unique path and don’t be too certain about where you’re headed. Get lost and enjoy the journey. Weller or Maker’s 46 will never lose you. You’ll always know where you are, and generally it will be a lovely place. Whereas McKenzie dares you to run headlong down its rabbit hole of mad flavors.

Like Old Potrero Rye, another brash personality, I do absolutely understand why someone might not take to McKenzie. It takes you for a ride. I like rollercoasters, and getting lost on road trips or at carnivals. So the variety McKenzie offers in a single pour is exactly to my liking. In another mood, I can well imagine it being too much and I might want to pour a more straight forward bourbon like Weller or Knob Creek. Taste is at least part mood.

I look forward to following this bottle on its journey as it airs out over time. The price means I’ll not likely go on this journey often. All the more reason to enjoy this one while it lasts!


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