Monday, September 17, 2012

Craft Whiskey Week - McKenzie Bourbon & Rye from Finger Lakes Distilling

The Finger Lakes Distilling Company is located in Seneca Falls New York. Founded in 2007 by two unrelated guys named McKenzie, Brian from New York and Tom from Alabama, it likely wasn't hard to come up with a name for their whiskeys: McKenzie. Finger Lakes makes bourbon, rye and an Irish style pure pot still whiskey under the McKeznie label as well as Glen Thunder Corn Whiskey and White Pike Whiskey, a white whiskey made from corn, spelt and malted wheat. As with many craft distillers, they also make a variety of other spirits, including vodka, gin, grappa, pear brandy and liqueurs.

Today, I'll be sampling their McKenzie Bourbon and Rye. Both are aged first in small barrels and then finished in wine barrels (the bourbon in chardonnay casks and the rye in sherry casks).

McKenzie Bourbon, 45.5%, Batch 7/2012 ($35)

The nose has young wood and licorice. The palate has that craft taste of young spirit aged in small barrels. There is a lot of raw wood but not too much else. The finish is slightly minty and just a little bitter.

McKenzie Rye, 45.5%, Batch 8/2012 ($46)

The nose on the rye is quite new makey, with some pine/fir type notes and lots of wood, like walking through the lumber aisle at Home Depot. The palate is sweet up front with some fruit. Rye spice comes in mid palate and into the finish, which is a nice sweet an spicy balance from the rye and sherry.

I liked the rye better than the bourbon, but both of these fit my stereotype of small barrel aged spirit. They taste very woody and very young (there is no age statement on the bottles, which should mean they are at least four years old, but I'd be surprised if that were the case, and knowing the TTB these days, who knows).

The rye, in particular, shows a lot of promise. You can tell it's really good distillate. It's one of the better small barrel whiskeys I've had, but I would love to taste it aged for six years in traditional sized casks. Hopefully, the McKenzies will consider it.


sam k said...

I think these would have to be labeled as "straight" to require four years of aging, so they are probably in compliance.

I'm looking forward to visiting these guys in the not too distant future because, like you, I think they have a lot of potential down the road. They're innovative and technically competent, and make some interesting stuff in a beautiful facility and setting.

AaronWF said...

I like the rye. I agree about being able to tell it's a good distillate, and agree again that the barrel lends an undesirable taste to it. The rye flavor is prominent, but comes off a little sour. I haven't tried their bourbon. There is something disingenuous about calling such a young 'craft' whiskey a bourbon, as it raises expectations for the whiskey that it might be better off without.

sku said...

Sam, the designation "straight" requires two years of aging, but the regs provide that any whiskey less than four years old must carry an age statement so no age statement means at least four years old. That assumes the TTB is enforcing the rule which these days is a big if.

Anonymous said...

From today's FLD e-mail newsletter:

"We will begin bottling from our 53 gallon barrels exclusively in the next 6-12 months. For over 3 years we have been aging rye, bourbon and a wheated bourbon in standard whiskey barrels made from the same wood as our 10 gallon casks. All are showing fine flavors, similar to our whiskey currently on the market."

sam k said...

I guess I've got some digging to do, but if the generic term "whiskey" requires four years' aging without reporting the age unless younger, what is the differentiation between that and "straight?"

Now I'm really confused. There are a LOT of short-aged "whiskeys" out there these days that don't have an age statement.

sku said...

Sam, they are really two different rules, one dealing with the composition of the whiskey and one dealing with label requirements. Straight whiskey must have been aged at least two years and may not contain any coloring or flavoring. Any whiskey, straight or otherwise, which is less than four years old must include an age statement on the label. As you note, however, there seem to be lots of young whiskeys that aren't doing this. My guess is that, as with most things, the TTB makes no effort to verify label information of this sort.