The outlook for the Kentucky construction paper and glue stick industry is bleak. Now that Henry McKenna no longer has the “arts and crafts” project bottle, the demand for forest green felt construction paper, swirly blade scissors, gold crayons and brown twill has all but dried up. The bourbon in the new McKenna bottle is the same as before, but the new bottle should make this value brand far more appealing to newcomers.
Henry McKenna (McK10) is a ten year, 100 proof, single barrel rye mashbill bourbon from Heaven Hill that sells for about $26. Aside from the Evan Williams 23 Year, Heaven Hill has some of the best priced brands on the market. Buffalo Trace offers Eagle Rare in the same category, only at 90 proof instead of 100, and charges about $5 more than McK10. You can also get another ten year old Heaven Hill single barrel for $22 with the annual Evan Williams Single Barrel. While Eagle Rare has a profile that is much more appealing to a broader range of whiskey drinkers, if you enjoy the flavors that come from high rye contents, McK10 is a smart buy at only $26.
While the new label is impressive, the most exciting thing about this particular bottle is the barrel selection label on top.
In Colorado, there is no store better for hand picked barrels than Davidson’s in Highlands Ranch. They usually have five to ten American whiskies at any given time that was hand picked by the staff. While not every private barrel is guaranteed to be better than the standard offering, if you frequent a store long enough you can gauge their preferences and figure what characteristics might motivate them to pull the trigger on a barrel.
I just polished off my second bottle of a nine year Willett bourbon that was picked by Davidson’s, and I have a Blanton’s and Elmer T. Lee open in my cupboard. I tend to find a little more rye spice and barrel influence in the Davidson’s picks than the normal offerings, but they are usually far more lively than the standard stuff as well. I am not in love with their Blanton’s, but the Elmer T. Lee and Willett are top notch, and I hear the Eagle Rare barrel they have right now is also fantastic.
Davidson’s Henry McKenna 10 Year Review
Color: Dark apple juice.
Nose: Apples, honey, vanilla bean, and a sharp rye zip. Cinnamon, pepper, and a faint mint.
Sip: About a medium thickness, but it is perfectly proofed. A lot more barrel in the palate than the nose. A burnt sugary caramel and vanilla blends with an apple and sharp citrus in the front to make a pretty standard sweet profile for Heaven Hill. Sharp cinnamon, rye toast, black pepper, mint in the form of menthol, and charred oak create a very robust rye profile that is finished off with loads of dark, bitter baker’s chocolate way in the back.
Finish: The finish is long, dry, and heavy on the spice. A vanilla and red berry are quickly dominated by the cinnamon, rye, and more of that rich dark chocolate.
Overall Grade: B
The Davidson’s McK10 is a solid pour for fans of heavy rye bourbons. I haven’t had a McKenna in a few years, but as I remember, this barrel is a pretty big step up from the standard “off the shelf'” single McKenna barrel. The rye back doesn’t overshadow the sweetness so it isn’t a bourbon I would recommend anyone stay away from, but I strongly recommend it for the fans of heavy rye bourbons. The chocolate in the sip and finish is very unique, and warrants a bit of a drive if you are a fan of McK10. But, if you are looking for a balanced grain/barrel bourbon, there are other bourbons that might fit a more balanced profile.
Drink this, not that: The rye in the McK10 is a much more pronounced rye than the other “heavy rye” mashbills at Buffalo Trace. If you are looking for a more balanced bourbon with a decent rye kick, the Elmer T. Lee at Davidson’s would be a safe bet. If you are looking for a traditional, soft and sweet bourbon, Eagle Rare or even Elijah Craig would do well.
If you are looking for a high rye kick in a bourbon with a bit more polish, try and hunt down an OB– recipe from Four Roses. Their single barrels are normally out of this world, and offer a bit more fruit and balance to the profile.