Henry McKenna single-barrel, Kentucky straight, bottled-in-bond bourbon is a 100-proof memory of an Irish immigrant who brought his family’s whiskey recipe to America and made it work with the grains found here.
Today McKenna is produced by Heaven Hill Distillery, family-owned and operated since its founding in 1935. It was started as an investment by the Shapira family, which operated department stores, and was run by members of the Beam bourbon-making family.
The company opened its original distillery in Bardstown, Kentucky on acreage owned by William Heavenhill. A typographical error in the state’s paperwork separated the name to Heaven Hill and rather than correcting the error, they left it as is and the operation that went on to become the world’s largest independent, family-owned bourbon distillery got its name.
In November of 1996, a fire that was suspected to have started by a lightning bolt struck the distillery ‘s warehouse, resulting in flaming rivers of whiskey running downhill to the company’s distillery. The loss was valued at $30 million, including 92,000 barrels of whiskey. Incredibly, the company’s bottling plant reopened the next day, shipping product to customers from their remaining stocks of whiskey. Desperate to either build or buy a new plant and resume distilling, their patience was rewarded in 1999 when United Distillers offered Heaven Hill the opportunity to purchase their Bernheim Distillery. The deal was made and today the operation pumps out well-known brands like Elijah Craig, Evan Williams, and Henry McKenna to name a few.
Whiskey University, an organization that educates and encourages knowledge of Kentucky bourbon and Tennessee whiskey, reports in its biography of Henry McKenna that he emigrated from County Derry, Ireland, in 1819, and moved to Nelson County, Kentucky, in 1838.
After working manual jobs for many years, he married Lizzie McGuigan, also from County Derry, and opened a flour mill to grind his neighbors’ wheat. The process produced so much waste that McKenna set up a still in the back and turned out a barrel of wheat whiskey a day. He later added corn, the predominant grain in the area.
Three years later, his whiskey business had expanded to the point he hired a full-time distillery superintendent. Along with practices that ensured his batches wouldn’t be contaminated, McKenna became known as unique among Kentucky distillers for refusing to sell whiskey before it had been aged at least five years. While highly popular, the business remained relatively small, producing no more than nine barrels a day.
Heaven Hill recognizes the value to customers of being labeled “bottled-in-bond.” To earn such a label, bourbon has to be a product of one distillation season for a single distiller, stored in a federally-bonded warehouse under U.S. government supervision for at least four years, and bottled at 100 proof.
The mash bill for Henry McKenna and other bourbons produced by Heaven Hill shows a heavy corn, light rye mix of 75% corn, 13% rye, and 12% malted barley.
The bottles of Henry McKenna also carry the barrel number and the date the whiskey was barreled. A recent bottle is dated 8/29/12, indicating it was put in the barrel for aging almost 11 years ago. This designation allows drinkers to compare the whiskey from different barrels to experience the variation that is bound to occur.
The McKenna 10-year was named “Best Single Barrel Bourbon” at the World Spirits Competition in San Francisco in 2018 and again in 2019. Its brother bourbon, Elijah Craig Small Batch, was named “Best Small Batch Bourbon.”
– Pairing by: Erik Calviño
Wonderfully intense and complex on the nose featuring cinnamon, Christmas cake, caramel, and a touch of oak spice. On the palate, you’ll find a medium to full-bodied spirit with a creamy mouthfeel with notes of toffee, sweet spices, and dried fruit balanced by just the right amount of oak tannins. The finish is long and warm with the spice turning into a tobacco note.
Cigar Pairing: Fuente Fuente OpusX 20 Years
The medium to full-strength cigar is loaded with balanced flavors of cedar, sweet cinnamon, dried fruit, and a delicate touch of spice on the retrohale. After a sip of the whiskey, the flavors of the cigar are hard to find. We suggest taking the sip and holding off on the puff until the whiskey is getting to the finish; that’s when the magic happens. The toffee and dried fruit incorporate beautifully into the profile while the oak and cedar interchange.