Whiskey Review: McKenzie Bourbon Whiskey

Sometimes the worst thing that a bourbon can be is boring. There are plenty of craft distilleries producing bourbons that are all within a margin of error from each other, and it takes something new and interesting to break out of that peloton. The Finger Lakes Distillery is one of a handful of craft distilleries that are truly adding a unique twist to their spirits, and the results are something you really need to taste and experiment with to understand.


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History

The Finger Lakes Distillery started thanks to a chance meeting between two McKenzies: Brian McKenzie and Thomas Earl McKenzie (who are not actually related to each other in any way) met at a craft distiller’s conference in 2007. Brian was a banker from upstate New York, and Thomas was a brewer and winemaker from Alabama. Combined, they had all the experience they needed to open the business and they decided on opening their distillery in the heart of New York wine country just on the shore of Seneca Lake.

Following in the footsteps of other craft distilleries in New York, they decided to go the “farm distillery” route, in which the majority of their raw materials are sourced from the state of New York. Thanks to their location in the wine producing Finger Lakes region of the state, they have not only been able to distill the usual whiskies, but they have also taken to making grape-based products such as brandy, grappa, and liqueurs.

Product

As a craft New York distillery, the majority of the raw materials are required to come from New York farms. In this case, the raw materials are roughly 70% corn, 20% rye, and 10% malted barley, all of which are cooked and fermented to make a mildly alcoholic beer.

That base is then distilled in their copper column still to produce the new make whiskey, which is then piped into new charred oak barrels to age.

Packaging

The bottle design is a pretty standard one we’ve seen from other distilleries, but it’s one that I do like very much. The body is roughly cylindrical in shape, with a rounded shoulder, and a medium length neck. That bottle is capped off with a wood and cork stopper.

What is somewhat unique is the labeling they used here. There are actually three labels: one main label around the belly of the bottle, one around the neck, and a small stamp-like one at the bottom with the majority of the legally required information about the contents. Its a nifty setup which still leaves an acceptable amount of transparency to see the whiskey itself — but despite all of these labels, there’s very little information actually communicated. In my opinion, this label concept just isn’t unique or useful enough to outweigh how much of the body of the bottle they are obscuring.

Neat

I don’t say this very often, but the aroma coming off the glass actually threw me for a loop. It isn’t the usual bourbon profile you’d expect — it’s something more complex and a little different.

The first flash of recognition I get is (believe it or not) mint! Or possibly a bit closer to fresh basil. It isn’t super clear, muddled together with some of the other components, but a strong herbal aroma is still identifiable. Surrounding it is some brown sugar, a bit of vanilla, and caramel. It’s like someone bottled a mint julep, just without the ice.

Those aromas translate perfectly into the flavor. I get the mint, the brown sugar, the caramel, and I also some baking spices and a hint of orange citrus. On the finish is a bit of black pepper spice thanks to the rye content, which lingers throughout the otherwise smooth end to the taste.

On Ice

Usually, with a bit of ice, things calm down. The lighter and potentially funkier aspects of a spirit disappear, leaving behind the boldest and loudest voices in the choir.

In this case, the overall volume is definitely reduced, but the profile remains almost exactly the same as it was before. There’s that clear herbal mint note that stands out, accompanied by the more standard bourbon components and the peppery spice. Overall, this holds up impressively well with a bit of ice.

Cocktail (Old Fashioned)

Well, this is funky and interesting.

What we have is definitely a lighter take on the old fashioned. It isn’t the rich dark chocolate flavor I typically like to see; instead, this focuses on the herbal notes and the brown sugar from the bourbon. But the end result is something that is guaranteed to make your taste buds stand up and take notice.

Off the bat, there’s plenty of sweetness in the bourbon itself to balance out the bitters. A touch of sugar might make it more enjoyable, but (at least for me) isn’t required.

The flavors are really where things get interesting. That herbal mint flavor is still present, and the combination of that and the other aromatics in the bitters creates a cocktail that really makes you stop and think. It’s complex and interesting in some new and different ways, and as someone who thought they’d seen it all… I appreciate that.

This is a lighter, crisper, more interesting take on an old fashioned, which I’d drink any day.

Fizz (Mule)

You’d think that, at some point, the mint flavor would fade into the background. But you’d be wrong. And while it worked nicely in the old fashioned… I think this may have gone a bit off the rails.

The bitter ginger flavor is definitely put in its place here, but the mint is even more overpowering. It adds some unique aspects that I think clash with the other components of the ginger beer and lime juice, and unfortunately leads to an overall poor experience.

Also unfortunate is the fact that the black pepper spice doesn’t necessarily make it through those other flavors to make an appearance here. It’s a smooth finish, but as touch boring. Don’t waste this bourbon on a mule — make a mint julep with it instead, and thank me later.


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Overall Rating

I don’t know if this is something I would necessarily sip all on its own. There are some funky flavors going on here, and I can’t see it pairing well with a cigar or a mellow night on the back porch. But this is a truly interesting component in a mixer.

Emphasis on the interesting, there. This isn’t the most versatile whiskey I’ve ever tasted. You’ll definitely need to experiment a bit to find where it works well and where it falls flat, for your own personal tastes. But rest assured that when you do find something that works, it has the potential to knock it out of the park.

Finger Lakes Distilling McKenzie Bourbon Whiskey
Production Location: New York, United States
Classification: Bourbon Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 45.5% ABV
Price: $41.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating:
All reviews are evaluated within the context of their specific spirit classification as specified above. Click here to check out similar spirits we have reviewed.

Overall Rating: 3/5
A strangely mint-y bourbon that makes me want to break out the mixers and start experimenting like a mad scientist.


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