McKenzie Bourbon Single Barrel

Single Barrel #1431 selected by Seelbach’s (2022)

MASH BILL – 80% corn, 10% rye, 10% malted barley

PROOF – 107.2

AGE – 8 years

DISTILLERY – Finger Lakes Distilling

PRICE – $109

WORTH BUYING? – Yes, though I hope the pricing doesn’t continue to climb…

My introduction to McKenzie was their inaugural 2018 standard-release McKenzie Bottled in Bond Bourbon. Its barrage of quirky and complimentary flavors struck me as a full cocktail in a glass, and it became an insta-fave, providing a decently priced addition to the bourgeoning wheated bourbon market.

Next came a 2020 McKenzie wheated bourbon single barrel store-pick from K&L, aged 6+ years, and offering an unusual, bright experience that suggested a pattern for the brand: flavor explosions! This pattern was then fully confirmed by a later 2020 McKenzie Rye single barrel, selected by Seelbach’s. Aged a respectable 4.5 years and bottled at an undiluted, un-chillfiltered cask strength of 101.8 proof, that rye was zingy and wild, virtually leaping out of the glass to command attention.

So it was with genuine enthusiasm that I picked up Seelbach’s 2022 selection of this McKenzie bourbon. The corn-heavy mash bill promised sweetness, with respectable quotients of rye, not wheat, and malted barley to bring on the herbaceous spice and nutty fruit. Aged a full 8 years and bottled as ever at cask strength, this outing also offered maturity in addition to the usual McKenzie SiB purity. How might age impact that McKenzie penchant for unrestrained rambunctiousness?

So here we are, one week after uncorking and four pours into the bottle. These brief notes were taken using a traditional Glencairn.

COLOR – soft hazy oranges with fiery glints

NOSE – dusty oak and cedar, bay leaf, a spiced caramel fudge, dried vanilla, dried king apricots, dried bing cherry, mandarine orange in fresh water, dry cinnamon

TASTE – very like the nose, with the sweet candy and fruit elements more forward to balance the range of dry aspects, along with a nice syrupy quality further helping to wet the prominent dryness

FINISH – that dusty dry quality coating the bay leaf, caramel fudge, and mandarine-citrus notes

OVERALL – as flavorful as I’ve come to expect from McKenzie, yet generally darker and more relaxed, creating an antique quality

Given that antique quality in combination with the simple label’s old fashioned design, which comes off almost like grandma’s summer apron, I imagine myself seated in an old kitchen, well trodden cream-white linoleum tiles underfoot, a solid wood table with long faded wood grain polished by time and use, the counter and walls studded with experienced cooking utensils adding their distant metallic aromas to the air.

There is a lovely dusty-dry motif running through the whiskey—dusty like stone and wood and brushed metal buckets, dry like all the same in late summer. The arid Northern California landscape is conjured for me, with its beige fields of long stemmed grasses swaying around derelict God Rush era relics, old stone buildings and rusted iron field equipment left to decay over the generations.

Of course my sense go there, to where I grew up, and not to rural up-state New York. I have no sense memory of rural up-state New York. But if this whiskey is any reflection of that part of the world, I imagine I might feel quite at home there.

One aspect of terroir less considered than landscape and weather is intentionality. How do the makers gather and put to use the ingredients they select, and what do they intend the outcome to be? Things won’t always turn out as planned. But experienced distillers know how to guide the developing spirit within certain dependable degrees, and then how to vat any surprises into a blend to create their expected standard release whiskey.

Throughout, their tastes are also driven by values. Finger Lake Distilling’s commitment to locally grown up-state New York grains, and their overarching intention to create as little waste as possible in the course of their process, must account in no small measure for the almost overly abundant flavors of their whiskeys. Barreled at an uncommonly low entry proof of 100 for less flavor dilution (most distilleries barrel at 115-125 proof) and always bottled unfiltered, not a single molecular flavor ester is wasted!

And a single barrel release, of course, must stand on its own, not tempered by any other barrel’s influence. A carefully selected single barrel arguably makes the best opportunity to experience the full impact of a distillery’s sum-total terroir (ingredients + weather + intention) in its purest form.

Though I still appreciate the younger McKenzie whiskeys I’ve enjoyed, I must say the extra few years on this one, in combination with the wonderful mash bill made from rugged and rambunctious grains, offers something more settled that I ultimately prefer. It’s vibrantly flavorful and yet relaxing, like old fashioned homemade baking. No science or other slight of hand. Just natural ingredients and that sense of authenticity that grandma brings to her kitchen intuitively, after years of trial and error. It’s a surprising experience from a still relatively young distillery, opened in 2009.

All these qualities make this McKenzie SiB particular. Of course, for the very reasons I appreciate it, someone else might not. It is distinctly not from Kentucky, Indiana, or Tennessee. It’s most like some northern California whiskeys I’ve had—namely Home Base Spirits—and yet even that comparison only goes so far. My four experiences with McKenzie to date have been unique overall, each maintaining some relationship to cedar notes, to certain “zingy” qualities, citrus aspects, variations on dry and dusty herbal and wood notes. The notable difference with this latest single barrel is that its flavors do not explode. They’re more confident, more patient, yet still lively. I dig it.


4 thoughts on “McKenzie Bourbon Single Barrel

  1. Loved the saga of the Gold Cadillac! I should have asked someone to make a drink in honor of my VW Super Beetle, Darling Clementine! Since she was orange, no doubt Grand Marnier or maybe Cointreau would have played a role.


    1. Well I think a Darling Clementine cocktail shall have to be created! Maybe with some of this McKenzie bourbon, it’ll pair great with orange citrus. Cheers!


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