Wheated Surprise

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The McKenzie whiskeys from Finger Lakes Distilling in upstate New York were favorites of mine during my retail buying days, largely because they’re made 100% in-house and fairly-priced compared to other small brands in the general market. In an era when numerous “craft” labels are marketing another distillery’s whiskey in disguise, it was both refreshing and exciting to taste an array of well-made and affordable products from a micro-producer committed to value-priced excellence. Over the last year, I’d somewhat forgotten about the McKenzie portfolio until hitting a few appointments today with my colleague Tyler. As we tasted through some of our newer arrivals with a retailer this morning, a bottled-in-bond, 100 proof, 4 year old wheated Bourbon emerged from his sample bag, and I leaned in to get a better look. A new bottle, label, and McKenzie whiskey stood on the counter before us, and I politely asked if I could join in with the tasting. I’d never seen a bottled-in-bond release from New York.

We didn’t have the spec sheet with us, but according to the press release the new McKenzie BIB is made with a mash bill of 70% local corn, 20% winter wheat, and 10% malted barley. While those in search of a Weller replacement might take note of the wheated recipe, the Bourbon’s fantastic flavor had me doing a double take, regardless of which cult whiskey I thought it most resembled. What should be of paramount interest to whiskey fans is the fact that for a tad more than $40 you can taste one of the best new Bourbons to hit the market since….well…since I left the industry back in the Spring of 2018. I can’t remember ever tasting a non-Kentucky/Indiana/Tennessee whiskey that tasted as much like a classic Bourbon release than this one. If you’re a veteran of the American craft whiskey scene like me, then you’re likely jaded by all the quarter cask (or smaller)-aged, over-oaked, overtly-dry, pre-mature editions that have flooded the market over the last decade, doing the genre a complete disservice, while simultaneously scaring off would-be drinkers with sky-high price tags.

The McKenzie, however, has a lovely sweetness on the initial palate, with notes of candy corn and toasted oak, bolstered by baking spices and a bit of 100 proof heat on the finish. I went back throughout the day for seconds and thirds, making sure that my mouth wasn’t being tricked or influenced by my biased desire to believe in this whiskey. If you’ve wanted to believe in the future of American craft whiskey, but have found the value proposition difficult over the years, I invite you to pick up a bottle of the McKenzie BIB. I’m willing to bet you’ll be as impressed as I am. It’s balanced, refined, and it tastes like real Bourbon, for a price that makes sense, despite the fact the whiskey was made in upstate New York from all local ingredients.

More please.

-David Driscoll