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Friday, March 3, 2017

BARD Friday: Henry McKenna (1984) versus Henry McKenna 10 year old Single Barrel BIB (2015)

Today I'll be comparing two very different Henry McKenna bourbons.

--Bottled in different decades/centuries/millennia -- 1984 vs 2015
--Distilled at different distilleries -- Four Roses vs New Bernheim
--Distilled by different companies -- Seagram's vs Heaven Hill
--ABVs -- 40% vs 50%
--Ages -- ≥4yrs vs ≥10yrs

--Both are from the Henry McKenna brand
--Both are straight bourbons

In addition to the above differences, these two whiskies probably have very separate mash bills. So they really don't have anything in common except corn and a name.

Henry McKenna Straight Bourbon Whiskey, bottled in 1984

Thanks to Ryan for the sample from his bottle
Brand: Henry McKenna
Distillery: Four Roses, Lawrenceburg, KY
Owner: Seagram's distilled it, Heaven Hill bottled it (probably)
Type: straight bourbon whiskey
Age: at least 4 years
Mashbill: ???
Bottling Year: 1984
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
(Sample from top third of bottle)

Its color is very dark, darker than the 10yo, with a cherry wood red tint to it. The nose is musty and dusty, with a note of furniture polish. Vanilla, barrel char, crème brûlée and loads of caramel. With time it develops rubber cement, heavily buttered toast and maple syrup notes. The palate is loaded with vanilla and more vanilla. Hints of creamed corn and musty oak. Caramel and whipped cream. A bit of prickly heat even 40%abv and 30+ years in the bottle. It finishes with vanilla, caramel and cream soda. A little bit of heat and mustiness. Maybe some mesquite smoke in the far back.

A simple but big bourbon, very vibrant and loud for its ABV. It's also much better than I'd expected. The Four Roses whiskies made under Seagram's are often not very good, so my expectations were set low. But this beats most current bottom shelfers, a number of mid-shelfers and—in this un-expert opinion—a few fancy pants bourbons. There's no nuance to it, but it drinks well enough. And I wouldn't doubt if there was some older bourbon in the mix.

Availability - this has to be haunting shelves somewhere in the country
Pricing - probably not much b/c it ain't sexy
Rating - 80

Henry McKenna Single Barrel 10 year old Bottled in Bond, barrel 2310

Though today's sample came from my bottle,
the bottle in the picture is of a different bottle and barrel.
I don't have a bottle pic of barrel 2310.
Brand: Henry McKenna
Distillery: New Bernheim, Louisville, KY
Owner: Heaven Hill
Type: straight bourbon whiskey
Age: at least 10 years
Mashbill: 75% Corn, 13% Rye, 12% Malted Barley (maybe)
Distillation date: March 24, 2005
Bottling Year: 2015 (possibly 2016)
Barrel: 2310
Alcohol by Volume: 50%
(Sample from bottom third of my bottle)

The nose is gentle, almost floral, certainly less oaky than the 1984. Roasted corn, brown sugar, cherry juice and dried cranberries. Slight smoke and barley notes. The very spicy palate holds ginger, cinnamon and pepper. It also has a creamy side to it, with plenty of brown sugar. Has a little bit of acidic citrus and flower petals to it. It finishes long and spicy, similar to the palate. The oak starts to show here, but no vanilla.

WITH WATER (~40%abv) - to compare to the 1984
Water wakes up more dried berries in the nose. Some more oak too. A slight barbecue note and a big roasted grain note. The palate gets sweeter, keeps the same spice. Some smoke and barbecue. In-season citrus. Halvah. The sweet and spicy finish with more tannins, dried berries and citrus.

My bottle of this bourbon went very quickly this past hot summer, which is why I don't have a photo of it, and why I almost didn't salvage a sample in time. It performed well in cocktails, too. I prefer it neat, where the oak is quieter than in most bourbons its age. The fruit and grain characteristics were welcoming. There are ZERO vanilla and caramel notes, making it a very different bourbon than the 1984. It has great complexity, while drinking very easily for 50%abv.

We all have different palates, but I'd take this bourbon over Eagle Rare any day. You might not feel the same. I wouldn't be surprised if we'll be seeing an end to its 10yo age statement while it has a ~$30 price tag. I can't think of another bourbon that offers such a great age/price ratio. Its cousin, Elijah Craig, lost its age statement recently and then got a face lift. I like EC12 more than this bourbon, but HM10 still delivers a lot of quality. I'll picking up another bottle soon, as it's one of the few good whiskies the state of Ohio actually carries.

Availability - It's still widely distributed as of the date of this review
Pricing - $25-$35 (another example why scotch is losing to bourbon)
Rating - 84