McKENZIE STRAIGHT RYE WHISKEY
single barrel #1855 selected by Seelbach’s (2020)
MASH BILL – 80% rye, 20% malted barley
PROOF – 101.8
AGE – 4 years 6 months
DISTILLERY – Finger Lakes Distilling
PRICE – $75 (that includes shipping)
BUY AGAIN? – No, but future single barrels, certainly!
My first experience with McKenzie was their standard release McKenzie Bottled in Bond wheated bourbon. “A cocktail in a glass,” I wrote. It was an insta-fave for me, offering a decently priced alternative to the Weller dominated wheated bourbon market. Not that it tasted anything like Weller. The McKenzie wheater was its own experience, featuring a barrage of quirky and complimentary flavors.
Next up was a McKenzie wheated single barrel store pick from K&L, another flavor explosion. So when I saw that Seelbach’s, the handy online craft-centric whiskey seller, was offering their own pick of the McKenzie Rye, I jumped on it. Aged a respectable 4.5 years and bottled at an undiluted, un-chill-filtered cask strength of 101.8 proof, I anticipated yet another flavor bomb, this time in the rye grain direction. And at 80% rye, I suspected McKenzie would not disappoint.
It didn’t. But let’s get to the details. Here are some brief notes taken about three weeks after uncorking and three pours into the bottle, tasted in a traditional Glencairn.
COLOR – a spectrum of straw yellows and orange ambers
NOSE – Boom! Right away with the craziness: freshly cracked cedar wood, honey, bread dough ready for baking, marzipan, some savory pine sap
TASTE – mouthwateringly tangy and tart, with cedar, vanilla-caramel, lemon zest, tropical and Winter fruits, some creamy custard beneath it all
FINISH – warm with a faintly tingling pepperiness, the tropical fruits, sweet cedar and pine, butter and lemon on breakfast pastry bread
OVERALL – another wild and zingy flavor explosion from McKenzie
This ain’t no background sipper, that’s for sure. This McKenzie single barrel rye leaps at you and commands attention. It’s bright and crisp, clear and unusual. The proof is just right—strong enough to pronounce those crazy flavors but easy enough to allow them to linger without burning them out.
I can imagine it might be challenging to maintain a conversation about anything else when sipping this whiskey. McKenzie whiskeys are bold and unique. I could understand someone not taking to them, for the same reasons I understand why some people don’t go for Old Potrero or Westward Single Malt. When a whiskey is so decisive in walking its own flavor path, anyone seeking the comfort of familiarity might be put off. But anyone seeking the adventure of the path less taken won’t be disappointed.
“Path” makes an apt metaphor here. This McKenzie rye indeed conjures up images of pine forests near sunlit mountain lakes. There is a Spring and Summery enthusiasm to the tasting experience that makes me want to grill hotdogs with friends near a lakeside beach, or stand knee deep in clear mountain water, taking in the view while sipping at a glass of this stuff. It’s not an everyday sipper. It’s too wild for that. It’s fun like fireworks. It will cheer me up, for sure, when I ever need cheering.
If Seelbach’s still has any bottles in stock, and the experience I’ve described sounds intriguing to you, I recommend nabbing a bottle before they’re gone. And given my experiences with McKenzie have been pretty consistent thus far, if the Seelbach’s pick is gone then I would recommend picking up any other McKenzie product. I can’t speak to their younger standard releases. But their single barrel picks and that standard McKenzie Wheated Bottled in Bond are certain to entertain any adventurous, fun-loving whiskey fan.