August 4, 2018
Distillery: Heaven Hill
Type & Region: Bourbon, Kentucky, USA
Alcohol: 50%, bottled in bond
Composition: 75% Corn, 13% Rye, 12% Malted Barley
Aged: 10 years, aged in virgin American white oak (barrel 4772)
Color: 1.2/2.0 on the color scale (burnished)
Price: $30 MSRP (750mL)
From the Heaven Hill website
“Henry McKenna Single Barrel is the only extra aged Bottled-in-Bond Single Barrel Bourbon. This high proof, Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon was named for Henry McKenna, the Irish immigrant who adapted his family’s whiskey recipe to work the grains he found in Kentucky. Henry McKenna is the longest aged Bottled-in-Bond available today, resting in the barrel through 40 Kentucky seasons. Critics agree that this is perfectly balanced Bourbon.”
Henry McKenna 10 Single Barrel is a bottled-in bond bourbon by Heaven Hill (click here if you want to learn more about what single barrel and/or bottled-in-bond mean). This is part of Heaven Hill’s line of whiskeys, including Elijah Craig and Evan Williams, both highly regarded bourbons. Henry McKenna 10 won “Best Single Barrel Bourbon” at the 2018 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, an absolute coup for an affordable bourbon with so many other strong competitors. Elijah Craig Small batch even won “Best Small-Batch Bourbon” at the same competition. This is my first time buying and drinking Henry McKenna 10, so I have high expectations.
Edit: As of 3/25/19, this also won best whiskey at the 2019 San Francisco World Spirits Competition.
Alcohol immediately rushes my nose. Once I’m able to recover, I can smell a little bit of wood, pine, brown sugar, and sweet corn, but it’s still bathed in alcohol. This smells like moonshine, but without the sweet and slightly sour smell of mashed corn. There is also a strong, unpleasant metallic smell from the alcohol.
When I’m almost finished with the glass, I smell a little more grass, but that’s about it. I wonder if this barrel came from lower in the warehouse, where there was less fluctuation in temperature and humidity leading to less vigorous aging in the barrel. When the glass is empty and only the heads are left, I smell a little wood and pine, and a little honey sweetness with possibly some maple syrup. With the strong alcohol fumes, this doesn’t smell like bourbon or one that was aged anywhere near 10 years.
The first taste is fairly sweet, which is nice for a change. There’s caramel, a little mint spice from the rye, and a lot of alcohol. On my second taste, there is a little more pumpernickel bread, wood, and some caramel and honey. The alcohol still overpowers much of the flavor. It’s inescapable. I was hoping that the alcohol was mainly contained to the smell, but it permeates every part of this bourbon and also doesn’t “air-out”, even after a few weeks.
The aftertaste is nondescript. There’s a little bit of wood, something bitter from the wood, and grass. The alcohol shockingly disappears in the aftertaste. After a few minutes, there is a lingering dryness that leaves my mouth dry and puckered.
There is no way this was aged for 10 years. It’s drinkable and not terribly unpleasant, but this should be so much more. Drinking this makes me feel like I’m in Bizzaro World where younger whiskeys taste mature (such as Old Line’s Cask Strength American Single Malt) and the older ones taste new and raw. This is the Benjamin Button of bourbon: it starts mature but gets younger over time.
This bottle of Henry McKenna 10 is not good. Based on this bottle alone, I don’t understand the acclaim. Then again, single barrel offerings vary, so the bottles for the SF competitions must have been the best ones that Heaven Hill had on hand. The smells and tastes in my bottle were absolutely dominated by alcohol, to the point that I questioned that this was even aged for 10 years. Even when I was able to overcome the alcohol, there wasn’t much else there to enjoy. The only positive thing I can say is that it’s drinkable.
I’m sure there are better barrels of Henry McKenna 10 out there to buy, but it’s a gamble. There’s no way to really know which barrels are good until you try them. Until I can try a different barrel without having to buy one, I’m not buying this again. Who knows, maybe you’ll get lucky with your barrel. For a similar price (especially because now prices have gone up due to these awards), I instead recommend that you consider buying Knob Creek Single Barrel (one of my personal go-to’s), Eagle Rare, or Wild Turkey 101.