By Richard Thomas
Another expression from those busy people at Finger Lakes Distilling in upstate New York, McKenzie Pure Pot Still Whiskey is their spin on the Irish style. American single malts and Irish-inspired whiskeys are a niche market in the United States, but certainly a growing one. The operative question for a whiskey lover interested in these whiskeys is “are they a good substitute for my favorite Irish whiskey or scotch?” Of course, there are as many answers to that question as there are scotches and Irish whiskeys, but one useful thing is to compare something like McKenzie Pure Pot Still to its counterparts across the Atlantic.
First off, unless the Irish whiskey in question says “Malt” on the label, it’s a blend of malted and unmalted barley (grain) whiskeys, and so is McKenzie Pure Pot Still. In fact, even though the Irish are famed for pot stills, most Irish blends have at least a proportion of non-pot distilled whiskey, whereas this stuff is all pot distilled. Following the local food attitude that infuses so much of what Finger Lakes does, the grain for their Pure Pot Still comes from area farmers.
One feature that separates the McKenzie Pure Pot Still from other American malts and blends is the aging. Instead of aging in charred new oak, as is usually the case for just about every whiskey made in America, this Finger Lakes whiskey recycles the distillery’s own ex-bourbon and -rye barrels. Since almost all Irish whiskey is matured in used casks of one sort or another, this puts Pure Pot Still much closer to its Irish roots than most other American whiskeys of this type.
Whereas almost all Irish whiskeys are triple distilled, McKenzie Pure Pot Still is double distilled (and thus like virtually all other whiskeys that aren’t Irish). Finger Lakes chose to do it this way to “keep more flavor in the whiskey,” and I think they made the right decision there, and pretty much straight on down the line.
McKenzie Pure Pot Still Whiskey has no additives, is not chill-filtered, and comes bottled at 40% abv. Although the label bears no aging statement, the constituent whiskeys in the blend are aged for a little over two years. The packaging is typical of the McKenzie line: a fat, pot still-shaped clear glass bottle with a label design reminiscent of an Old West saloon, and topped by a plastic, copper-colored stopper with an artificial cork.
In the glass, the whiskey has clear pale gold coloring. Taking in the nose, I found it oddly crisp and leathery at the same time, the former coming from the coppery tinge. There is a sweet apples and pears side to the scent, along with a slight oaky note.
On the palate, the whiskey has a lovely, silky texture. It has that malty, grainy kind of sweetness (not so apple-ish anymore), along with notes of caramel and oak, and sometimes I thought just a bit of fresh pine as well. The finish starts from the neutral, silky texture of the whiskey, taking its time and trailing off into a moderate, slightly peppery warmth.
Finger Lakes bills this whiskey as “a richer version of the commercial Irish whiskies on the market. It’s full of flavor, but smooth as silk stockings.” I agree for the most part, particularly about the silky aspect. I found it surprisingly complex for a two year old, so don’t let its youth throw you. It’s as good or better than a lot of the 10 and 12 year olds coming out of Ireland, and something I would recommend to any serious Irish whiskey fan in the States.
McKenzie Pure Pot Still Whiskey typically retails for $39.99.