Published on June 18th, 2013 | by Siz2
Henry McKenna Single Barrel
Let’s be honest, have you ever heard of Henry McKenna Single Barrel? Chances are if you live outside of Kentucky you’ve never heard of it nor seen it. It’s a pretty rare bottle to say the least. So when I went up to Louisville for my bachelor party a few weeks ago I walked into this mom and pop liquor store in an up and coming part of town. It’s called Taste Fine Wines & Bourbons, clever name ain’t it? Well we popped in to see what they had. I saw a bottle of Angel’s Envy Rye in the window and that intrigued me because it wasn’t supposed to be released until Father’s day and they had it about a month early. So I thought this might be a special place. After taking a few steps in we find out this place is pretty awesome. We take a small tour around and find the bourbon in the back. A pretty good selection of the boutique stuff then we spotted a bottle that neither me or my buddy Brian had ever seen before.
Henry McKenna Single Barrel, it was standing there on the shelf surrounded by three or four bottles and it was very intriguing. I wasn’t wanting to pay the $80 price tag for the Angel’s Envy Rye so this seemed like a better choice. Well, Brian went ahead and bought this bottle as a gift for me on my bachelor trip and I didn’t want to open it until we got back and I could do a thorough review of it. Plus we already had the bottle of Elmer T Lee so we were good with some boutique bourbon.
If you look around online you’ll notice a few different bottles of this Henry McKenna Single Barrel. In fact I haven’t seen very many pictures that are similar to the bottle I have. I love the look of this bottle. If you’ve read this site for any length of time at all you’ll know that I’m a huge sucker for great packaging and this bourbon has just that. The bottle is a typical bottle shape, similar to the Old Forester bottle. What I love about it is the cloth like paper on the front that is tilted to an angle. It makes it stand out a little bit more to me. It even has a folded flap that is enticing you to pick it up open it up and read it.
The next thing I noticed about this bottle was the hand writing on the label acknowledging the age and barrel number this bourbon came from. It’s a great reminder that this is a single barrel bourbon and not some mass made product. I love the fact that they take the time to hand label these. That’s something truly unique and gives a sense of pride to me when I drink this bourbon.
One thing that I liked about this packaging, lets be honest, it’s a little weird. There is a copper line wrapping the neck with a copper tag that says bottled in bond. I’ve added a link to the definition of bottled in bond because that Wiki link will explain better than I ever could. Basically it’s bottled in accordance to the Bottled in Bond Act of 1897. Then it’s stored in a bonded warehouse for a minimum of four years. I have never seen this before on any bottle of bourbon nor whiskey, this is however a list on the wiki page of other spirits that use this practice. So when you add all those things up, how could you not want to sit down and sip on this Henry McKenna Single Barrel?
Let’s dive nose first into this review. Boy, oh boy, I was using my new snifter glass when I was drinking this stuff neat (not the glass pictured by the way). The first thing I can tell you about this Henry McKenna Single Barrel bourbon is be ready for some spice. Holy smokes, the heat and spice coming out of the glass will make you stand up and look for a fire extinguisher.
What’s interesting is that behind the heat and spice I picked up on some pleasant smokey and peaty notes as well which to me adds a nice bit of complexity to the nose. I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say I don’t think I’ve ever had a bourbon that has this much spice on the nose. I remember Bookers having quite a punch up front, but for me this one takes the cake. After my first glass I cut it a little with some water to see if it would open more and thats when I began to pick out the peaty / smokey notes.
Well if there is one thing that is consistent with this Henry McKenna Single Barrel bourbon its the fire that it brings. When I took the first few sips of this neat, it set my mouth ablaze. The outer edges of my lips were tingling with a burning sensation. It was solid steady heat nothing out of this world like a habanero, but boy did it light me up. I definitely wouldn’t pair a spicy cigar with this because you’d be in a world of hurt.
When I cut this bourbon with some water it cooled the fire down a bit, but it was still there. Just like the nose when I cut this I began to pick up more of the smokey notes. I was also able to pick out some sweetness coming through, it wasn’t the traditional bourbon sweetness like caramel it was a bit more fruity, but I was able to pin point because my mouth was still on fire. I can’t say this is my favorite tasting bourbon, but it’s definitely a nice change of pace from some of the sweeter bourbons that I’ve been trying lately.
Surprise, surprise, the finish on this Henry McKenna Single Barrel brings the heat as well. It’s a long lasting finish for sure. What I thought was interesting though is that it doesn’t really go down into your chest. It stays on your tongue making it salivate begging for another sip in hopes that it will put the fire out. After letting it sit for a bit I began to pick up on some cinnamon notes that seem to be the main driver of the spice. According to the mash bill this only has 15% rye which is surprising given the amount of spice that it has. The finish even though it was spicy it was still enjoyable. I thought it ended the bourbon a solid and consistent note.
As I’ve said many times and probably over used this word, this bourbon has intrigued me for sure. I’ve tried it neat, cut, and on the rocks and I have to say I enjoyed it the most when it was cut. I feel like the water breaks it down and opens it up and really lets you experience all it has to offer. I’d love to go back to the Heaven Hill distillery and ask the master distiller about this blend and see where it gets all the spice from. I’m sure there are some secrets up their sleeves that let them pack that punch in there and I’d love to know all about them. So if you’re in the market for something different and with some spice then definitely pick up a bottle of this Henry McKenna Single Barrel. Hopefully you’re intrigued enough to give it a shot just like I was!