Join our Executive Bourbon Steward, John Coffee IV, as he shares tasting notes and insights across various picks, ranging from the readily available to the odd and obscure. You may discover that some bourbons are just not worth it. Others may pleasantly surprise you. But as always, we will provide unbiased, real commentary across reviews shared via Beyond the Barrel. Our goal is to inform and help you decide which next favorite bourbon to pursue.



Beyond the Barrel


There is a lot of press out there right now around Henry McKenna and I think it’s important to give an alternative perspective.

Sometimes I think it’s best to have another sip of bourbon before “hopping on the hype wagon”. Sure, the San Francisco World Spirits Competition (SFWSC) is no joke! It is one of the most coveted spirits competitions out there and has a tenured 19-year legacy. Over 40 judges came together to nose and taste over 3,000 expressions to conclude Henry McKenna came on top in the Thunderdome of whiskeys. They even take it a step further by wearing smocks and prepping for the exercise by not wearing perfume or cologne and tasting them all blind.

But here is where I think you can start to see things go awry, the panel throughout the day doesn’t just taste bourbon. In fact, they taste vodkas, brandy, tequila, mezcal, and rum to name a few others along with a variety of whiskey types. In my prerogative, it has to be a monumental task in tasting to come in clear-minded to a whiskey tasting from other spirits. Professional tasters know a few tricks of the trade to do this, acclimate with your own scent, cleanse the pallet with vodka, etc. I believe you leave it to faith that your tasting panel knows whiskey and also is in the right state to make such a crucial decision when the moment comes. The other factor I have to throw in the debate is the variable discussion. There are a lot of whiskeys that may not make it to the dance.

Craft distillers everywhere fight each year to bring their bourbon into the competition and sometimes they won’t quite make it. Another point to consider, larger distilleries could easily provide bottles from cherry barrels or they may even provide bottles that may be impacted by sunlight, travel, heat and cold, etc before they show up on the judges' table. These are things that I think are valid points but not the reason I personally feel Henry McKenna isn’t the best bourbon in the world. Let’s dive into a review and find out why.

Source: Heaven Hill Distilleries, Inc

Distillery: Heaven Hill Distillery, Bardstown Kentucky

Proof: 100 Proof (50% ABV)

Mash Bill: 75% Corn, 13% Rye, 12% Malted Barley

Age: 10 Years

Year Released: 2018

Type: Single Barrel, Bottled-In-Bond

MSRP: $30-40

Tasting Environment:

Indoors, room temperature, poured into a crystal rocks glass “neat”.


Light Amber, light viscosity, and legs on the thin side.


Clove and baking spice, light honey.


Oak and Rye, light pepper, and good overall mouthfeel, refreshing and not overly tannic.


A strong lingering spicy finish with a light heat on the back end. An oaky complexity sits still on the exit.

Worth It?

For $30-40 this bottle is definitely worth the price.


Where would you put it on your bar?

I’d set this one out to drink with friends. It’s a great price and at the time of writing this, it’s fairly easy to come by. This isn’t one you necessarily have to replace tomorrow before the allotment dries up! It would sit well between the unique rye and the higher-proof wheat options as a solid single-barrel drinker.

Overall Insight

So I know what you are thinking, how can I be so skeptical of this bourbon winning the best bourbon in the world award when I rated it well? Two words, availability, and presentation. What I mean by availability is that this bourbon is one of the sole survivors out there that you can still find with an age statement over 10 years that is still a recognizable brand! Nowadays you may see a bourbon for 12+ years from a label you may not even recognize because it’s a sourced bourbon. Heaven Hill did well to make a great stockpile of bourbon and to keep their coffers high when it counted. More and more you see the age statements go down and the selection of aged bourbons becomes scarcer. That in its own right gave it a leg up. Also, presentation is a factor because to understand bourbon you need to understand the terminology behind it. This is a SINGLE barrel expression. The distillery goes through great lengths and a QC tasting panel to make this as consistent to a profile as they want to be. But just like a fine vintage wine, one year over another, one season over another could slightly deviate.

My point? The bottle this team tasted may not be the bottle you have in your cabinet at home. It could be the bee's knees. But yours could be more of the bees wings… if you like that sort of thing. And maybe you do! To boldly state that bourbon is the best bourbon in the world I think it personally should take more probing and more weigh in from consumers like you and me across the globe to come to a consensus on what a world-coveted bourbon truly represents. That kind of focus group is the stuff distilleries dream of! But even if we couldn’t do that, the fact remains that the best bourbon in the world… might just be your daily drinker. The bourbon you share with your father or son, or best friend. It could be impacted by that nostalgic memory that comes to mind every time you take a sip, that one you save for yourself after a hard day's work, or as your weekend comes to a close. Henry McKenna 10 Year Single Barrel is a solid bourbon. Best bourbon in the world? You’ve heard my opinion, now I’ll let you decide!

John Coffee IV is the owner of Beyond the Barrel and a certified Stave & Thief Society Executive Bourbon Steward. He is passionate about assisting those who are bourbon curious.