Thursday, November 01, 2012

Finger Lakes Distilling - McKenzie Whiskeys and Bourbon (NY)

The Finger Lakes Distilling story begins in 2007, when Brian McKenzie of Elmira, N.Y., met Thomas Earl McKenzie of Monroeville, Ala., at a craft distiller's conference.

 The two men aren't related, but they did discover they shared a passion for high-quality, distilled spirits.

Brian, a former bank vice-president, had experience in finance and was interested in starting his own business. Thomas Earl's background included wine-making, brewing, farming and consulting for distilleries. It was a fateful meeting - and a great match of talents to start a new distillery.

I’ve know these guys a while, having visited the distillery three years ago while attending the Finger Lakes Wine Festival in Watkins Glenn. I am a big fan, but haven’t had the opportunity to get a chance to visit. So I was thrilled when I recently saw Brian at Governor Cuomo’s Wine, Beer & Spirits Summit in Albany. And had the chance to try three of their whiskeys!!

The first and lightest was the McKenzie Pure Pot Still Whiskey. This is the McKenzies’ take on an Irish-style whiskey – soft, smooth and easy drinking. They use a combination of locally-grown unmalted barley and malted barley. The whiskey is aged in used Bourbon and Rye barrels and bottled at 80 proof. Master Distiller Thomas Earl says: “Our Potstill Whiskey is a richer version of the commercial Irish whiskies on the market.” That’s a proud producer. I liked this a lot! A very nice, light, smooth whiskey, but with a lot of nose and a lot of flavor.

The next was McKenzie Rye Whiskey which is made from NYS grain and distilled using old-time techniques. They age it in new charred quarter casks and finish it in sherry barrels from local wineries. The sherry balances the spiciness of the rye and also gives a nod to the wine region where this whiskey is produced. Notes of orange peel, cardamom, mint and butterscotch all come through as promised. If the last one wasn;t bourbon, this would have easily been my favorite. It’s incredible. It’s the most floral whiskey I have tried in a long, long time.

 Last, but not least, McKenzie Bourbon Whiskey is a very rich, double-pot distilled bourbon. A local, heirloom variety of corn makes up 70% of the mash bill. They age in very small 10-gallon, new charred barrels and finish in local Chardonnay casks which gives the bourbon a round, buttery finish. This was a really floral but lovely bourbon. Cereal comes through, almost CapNCrunch like, with a smokiness, and some other spices as well. A beautiful nose. And smooth as silk. Incredible! Loved it!

The product at Finger Lakes Distilling has always been consistent. But these whiskeys show the maturity of a company and of especially whiskey maker coming into his prime. Fantastic!