Oh Taste & See: Henry McKenna Sour Mash Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Fact: Henry McKenna is not a top shelf bourbon. It sells for about $18 for a one liter bottle (750mL bottles are hard to find and come in around $15), and it doesn't even get its own website (or Wikipedia entry!), settling for a short blurb on Heaven Hill's corporate site. Judging just by the bottle though, Henry McKenna is intriguing, and given its price it seemed worth trying when I picked up a bottle a while back. My bottle has been almost emptied after much use as a mixer for whiskey sours, Manhattans and bourbon & cokes, so it seems like a straight tasting is in order before it's all gone.



What's intriguing about the Henry McKenna bottle? For one thing it has the moniker "Sour Mash Straight Bourbon Whiskey" as opposed to the more common "Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey." This might lead you to think it's not produced, aged, and/or bottled in Kentucky, but look at the bottle again, it also has the motto "Kentucky's Finest Table Whiskey Since 1855" in gold lettering. What to make of this? Also, the 1855 claim is interesting and implies some sort of history. According to Heaven Hill's website Henry McKenna the man was an Irish immigrant to Kentucky who opened a distillery in Fairfield, KY in 1855. The "Kentucky's Finest Table Whiskey" label was applied to Mr. McKenna's product and has stuck with his name all the way to the present day, even as the label has been passed around among the major spirits brands. I personally think "table whiskey" is a great term that should see more use - similar to the way "table wine" is used to denote inexpensive, but still good quality wines to be consumed on a regular basis. For now though, Henry McKenna is the only whiskey I know of that claims the "table whiskey" title.

So here's how this table whiskey shakes out in terms of taste:

Color: Medium amber/brown - perfectly average bourbon color, not too light, not too dark.

Nose: Sweet maple syrup hints, a bit of alcohol astringency, corn, caramel, and oak. A very pleasant, inviting nose actually, different from but just as enjoyable as some much more expensive bourbons.

Flavor: The flavor of this bourbon is very light and crisp - almost like a blended whiskey. A bit of the maple sweetness comes through and there's a decent amount of oaky taste with vanilla and caramel tones, but nothing too much going on flavor-wise.

Finish: Henry McKenna surprises before and after you drink it - the finish is just as nice as the initial aroma, even though the taste is nothing to write home about. It lingers with you for a while and has a dry, roasted nut character. The charred oak flavors hang around for a good while as well.

Overall this is a decent bourbon for the price. I might not choose it over Ezra Brooks or Ancient Age for an under $15 sipper, but it has a higher curiosity factor than either of those, and it certainly makes a good enough mixer. I can also see it living up to its 'table whiskey' moniker - serving as a go-to bourbon when you need a large quantity of passable whiskey that won't ruffle anyone's feathers. There's also a single-barrel, bottled-in-bond version of Henry McKenna that sounds quite promising. Now that my bottle of table whiskey is almost empty I'll be keeping my eyes peeled for that one.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Glad to find a review, I find Henry McKenna to be quite nice at a reasonable price. Not the best, but certainly not some rotgut..give it a try!

Anonymous said...

A good solid working man's table whiskey. Mixes well with cola and goes down good in a shot glass. A little known product that satisfies.
B. MaCoy

Anonymous said...

I'm not even a whiskey drinker, but found it went down smooth sipping on the rocks.

Anonymous said...

I've given this one serious thought and had gallons of it over the years. I'm convinced it is better than Makers Mark and Woodford Reserve, which are a bit hot on the palate to start, and not quite as good as Basil Hayden or Knob Creek. After those two, I vastly prefer it to everything else I've had. And then there is the price. Do yourself a favor and try Henry. I'm mystified that Heaven Hill gives it no copy.

Anonymous said...

I must agree, I have tried every bourbon on the market that sells for less than $40 a fifth, and I honestly have never found one I like BETTER than Henry McKenna. Sure, i have found a couple I like AS WELL, but they are FAR more expensive.

Anonymous said...

My favorite for many years, I was turned on to it by a head waiter at a fine new york hotel restaurant who told me me if I like bourbon try Henry.

Anonymous said...

Henry McKenna is without a doubt the best "table whiskey" that is available.
I have been drinking it for years and compared it to many whiskers side by side...
There are none better at it's price point and few (if any) are better at twice thee price.

Try it. You will be pleased.

Anonymous said...

Drank it for years but the new label looks cheap!

Anonymous said...

I tried Henry McKenna and it's good for the price. I am a hard working man and at times when I get home I need a drink. Money is not a given thing in my house so I tried it and love the taste, not to hard or weak. It's a great bourbon for the price to take a good drink at night!!!

Anonymous said...

I'm a women that loves Henry McKenna. Its hard to find were i live, never understood that. I have to hunt it down in different states liquor stores. Sure wish it was more available.

Anonymous said...

My favorite since 1972. Nothing like it with a very cold coke; 50/50. Fine to sip as well. I special order it from the state liquor store.

Timothy Earwood said...

Very good. Like all spirits, taste varies from each enthusiast. I had no idea that Henry McKenna had a bottom shelf bourbon. I've been a GREAT fan of the Bonded bourbon, and when I encountered this huge 1.75 liter glass bottle for $20, I paused. A bit too long. But I went with my instinct and made the purchase. Great taste. Straight or with Coke (Zero) ;)

Anonymous said...

The perfect boilermaker bourbon -- particularly good as a straight shot taken with Henry Weinhard lager. My drink of choice in graduate school.

Joe Byrne said...

I fell in love with this bourbon immediately. It is well balanced, smooth, and flavorful to drink. The price point is very reasonable too. This bourbon is great for sharing with family and friends, as long as they're over 21 that is, LOL! You might want to keep this bottle to yourself to enjoy for it is a very taste worthy libation. Go get s bottle and taste for yourself, you won't be dissatisfied, CHEERS!!!!!

Mike Mullins said...

Great review! I've been drinking Henry McKenna Sour Mash Straight bourbon table whiskey for 40 years. I recently offered my just turned 21 son a bourbon and branch and he said he didn't drink cheap rot gut, it gives him a headache. I just smiled and sipped on my umpteen thousandth smooth as silk, 2 fingers of Henry. You can send 'em to college but you can't always make 'em as smart as the ole man.

Anonymous said...

I have a bottle of henry mckenna sour mash straight bourbon whiskey. Its over 30 years old. Unopened. Original label. Sealing label. 750ml bottle. Produce of usa label on back. Just wondering what this would be worth? I libe in adelaide. South Australia.

Anonymous said...

My best answer to that...It would be worth a try..