Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit vs. Henry McKenna Bottled in Bond: The Single Barrel Showdown Has Begun!

This was a great pairing with which to begin my Single Barrel Showdown.  Frankly, I don’t think I could have picked two better single barrel bourbons to begin this.  They were similar in some ways, the Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit (WTKS) was 101 proof, the McKenna was 100 proof and Bottled in Bond.  The WTKS is aged between 7 and 8 years, the McKenna was aged 10 years so they both had plenty of time in wood.  They were different in some ways, the WTKS is in a corked bottle (and its kinda fancy) the McKenna had a screw on cap (and is decidedly no frills).  The WTKS has a very light color, and the Mckenna is quite a few shades darker.  The WTKS is honey, vanilla and leather on the nose, and the McKenna is plum, cherry and a touch of citrus on the nose.   So lets get to the reviews and the winner of this challenge, but first the ground rules.

Ground rules:

1) I only drink the bourbon neat.  I think this is the purest expression of the distiller’s intent.

2) I only use Glencarin glassware.  We all know that the glassware can have a profound impact on the drinking experience, so the glencarin is an equalizer, and it also enhances the nose on each whiskey.

3) I will sample each whiskey individually until it is gone, then I will wait a minimum of ten minutes between whiskeys to allow my palate to clear before trying the next whiskey.

4) What I say goes.  You undoubtedly will find yourself disagreeing with me.  If you do, feel free to share it in the comments, but this is my showdown so who I say wins, is the winner.  No takebacks.

5) I’m gonna have fun.  This is not some serious judging exercise.  Some times my palate is all over the place, and other times it is more refined.  Oh well.  Refer to Rule 4.

I drank the Kentucky Spirit first.  Like I said before it is light in color, and does not have a substantial legginess to it.  Some of the bourbon clings to the side of the glass but not a ton.  The flavor of this whiskey is like an old friend.  Comforting and great to drink.  It is sweet with a honey and vanilla flavor, a touch of leather mid palate and a bold and smooth finish.  As you can see from the picture I like this bourbon a lot and this one is a great drinker.  Unfortunately it is a $50+ per bottle drinker, so I nurse my bottles to the very last.

After about 15 minutes I allowed my palate to settle and then began with the McKenna.  The WTKS is a hard act to follow, but the McKenna’s was up to the task.  It was a bit leggier than the WTKS, but not overly so.  It has spent between 2 to 3 years longer in the barrel than the WTKS, so it is a deep and richer color, and this did translate somewhat into the bourbon itself.  The flavor of this bourbon was quite unique.  It is quite sweet almost cloying, and tastes of plum and cherry.  It reminded me of a good sherry it was so sweet.  About mid palate it has a very unique flavor, almost like a citrusy fruit leather.  Not unlike a citrusy hop flavor.  Its finish was deep and smooth in the center of my chest, but short lived as it only went on for about 20-30 seconds.

All in all I liked each of these bourbons very much, but there are no ties here, so I would say by a very narrow margin I am declaring the Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit the winner, and moving it into round two.

Here is what the Bracket looks like now:

Note:  I decided to go ahead and use the Eagle Rare 10 year to round out the bracket.  I got a lot of love for both Blantons, and Elijah Craig 18 year old, but ultimately my pocketbook won.  I already had the Eagle Rare in the bunker, and with an upcoming Family vacation to Las Vegas I decided to go ahead with what was already on hand.  Refer to rule 4.

So there you have it, the first challenge is in the books.  Next up is Four Roses vs. that special Barrel purchase.  Congratulations to Wild Turkey, it truly is a great Single Barrel Bourbon.


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21 Comments on “Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit vs. Henry McKenna Bottled in Bond: The Single Barrel Showdown Has Begun!”

  1. johnking82
    July 20, 2011 at 12:19 pm #

    Good choice and good review. I was under the impression you would do this all in one siting with pictures or video throughout the whole process. Then the fans could judge on “guess how drunk Don is?”.

    In truth, looking forward to this. Your blog has peaked my interest in bourbon a lot more than before.

    • Don
      July 20, 2011 at 12:39 pm #

      Glad to hear it John! It is a great time, and you are in the best place on earth to explore the wide world of whisk(e)y. Have at it, and if you have questions feel free to ask. No I won’t be getting sloppy drunk, not that there is anything wrong with that, but I don’t think it is fair to the whiskeys that would come towards the back of the pack. After 2 or three my palate is blown.

      • johnking82
        July 20, 2011 at 2:03 pm #

        better your palate than the bottom of your underpants.

        • Don
          July 20, 2011 at 2:41 pm #

          I don’t like to talk about THAT John!

  2. Bryan
    July 20, 2011 at 12:29 pm #

    Good stuff! Looking forward to the upcoming reviews. I must say, Eagle Rare was my favorite for a long time. I have a case and a half of empties to prove it ;-). I just can’t bring myself to throw them out. I don’t mean to influence your scientific and objective process here, but the last couple of bottles of Eagle Rare gave me a screaming headache after the first glass. Looking forward to your analysis!

    • Don
      July 20, 2011 at 12:41 pm #

      I’ve heard all sorts of thoughts about Eagle Rare from its crap to its awesome to its just so so. I’m actually looking forward to giving it a try to formulate my own opinion. However I think the ER more than any other bourbon in the showdown elicits the most visceral response from people.

  3. Jeff W
    July 20, 2011 at 12:34 pm #

    Looks like you enjoyed the Wild Turkey for quite a while after the contest was over. – Well done, sir.

    • Don
      July 20, 2011 at 12:43 pm #

      Truth be told Jeff, the WT was from a twitter session that I participated in about a year ago. So the bottle was mostly gone anyway. I was saving it for this occasion.

  4. July 20, 2011 at 1:50 pm #

    Looks like Rule 4 is going to come in quite handy as this contest unfolds.

    Anyway, I haven’t had the other, but I LOVE Kentucky Spirit, so I’m glad it won. Now we’ll have to see how Four Roses fares…that’d be quite a showdown!

    • Don
      July 20, 2011 at 2:40 pm #

      I’m pretty sure I’m going to do that one tonight, and I am looking forward to it as well. I don’t know what to expect out of the barrel purchase, and I know the Four Roses is great. I even think I did a pretty good job on the pairings in the bracket. Sometimes it pays to be stupid and lucky…in that order. And yes Rule 4 is quite handy.

  5. FatCatKC
    July 20, 2011 at 2:37 pm #

    I stared the Kentucky Spirit down at the liquor store last night for 20 minutes. Unfortunately I blew all of my drinking budget on craft brew earlier this month so I had to be the responsible grown up and walk away. Inside I threw a 6 year old’s tantrum though. I waaaaannnnnnttttt ittttttt! Great job on your review, looking forward to the rest of the bracket.

    • Don
      July 20, 2011 at 2:47 pm #

      I say next month hit up the liquor store first! Then if there is left over head to your bottle shop. The KS is a great bourbon, single barrel or not.

  6. July 20, 2011 at 5:44 pm #

    i think the last two will be wt and kc i have a bottle of four rose and it taste like someone poured liquid smoke in it if you like scotch you’ll like eagle rare and four rose smoky and foul

    • Don
      July 20, 2011 at 6:07 pm #

      You could be right Mark. I’ve had the four Roses before and loved it. It all depends on the barrel. Some will be smokier than others. Just as we all search for the “honey barrel” some are equally bad. That is the interesting thing about single barrel bourbons, its like a box of chocolates…you never know what you’re gonna get.

  7. Karen Wine
    July 20, 2011 at 8:31 pm #

    I just recently came across a “premium small batch” bourbon, with the Kirkland brand. Costco. Tried it, liked it. Have you, or would you try it? The origin is Kentucky, it’s usually a major brand knockoff. Clear Springs Dist. co.,Clermont, Ky. It’s aged 7 years, and is 103 proof….been a Wild Turkey 101 fan for 20 years, and I think it is close…

    • Don
      July 21, 2011 at 12:36 am #

      It’s a Beam product. On this blog type Costco bourbon into the search field and read all about it. There are some great comments too.

  8. July 24, 2011 at 4:53 am #

    i think if someone knows what they are doing even single barrels can be uniform i should say if they want it to taste uniform iv had three bottles of bookers they were all good and id say you couldn’t tell one from the other what i don’t understand about all the beam bourbon is how can they all be good and yet so different is it a different grain bill is it different barrels age what is it or is it everything all things i started drinking bourbon a few years ago because i wanted to learn about it and i have learned a lot from blogs like this and from tasting i have shoulder surgery and where i do physical therapy is down the road from the state store so twice a week id buy a bottle not that i drink that much i either have or have had every bourbon that Pennsylvania has caried in the past 2 years and iv learned 2 very important things #1 for the price its hard to beat WT101 and #2 they should outlaw Knob Creek its just to easy to drink i only buy it in 375 ml because if i got a gallon bottle id be out in the barn talking to the cows or dead as a door nail maybe both

  9. July 25, 2011 at 7:23 pm #

    Don – looks like you had a good time and it was fun reading your tasting notes. Looking forward to the next round.

  10. August 27, 2011 at 11:21 pm #

    Don: It would be interesting to learn what you paid for the Henry McKenna. You kinda told us what the Wild Turkey cost. And NO, the taste has nothing to do with the price. But I do drink the ‘regular’ Henry McKenna, and for ITS price, it is hard to beat.

  11. Rick in MI
    November 28, 2012 at 10:13 pm #

    I pay about $25 for single barrel in bond Henry McKenna. Frankly, for half the price of this Wild Turkey, to me there is no comparison. I prefer the McKenna… and at half the price it is a real value.


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