This Balcones whisky tasting was organised by the Whisky Wire and was held online with the input from the head distiller Jared Himstedt and brand ambassador Winston Edwards. It’s a year since I participated in the 2015 Balcones tweet tasting event offering a snapshot of their varied range of whiskies. On paper you may have thought that it was very much the same again but with Balcones offering limited expressions, moving onto 2nd releases and the annual staff selection, it was very much five new whiskies and the opportunity to see what’s distilling in Texas.
In recent years Balcones has been in the news and minds of whisky (or whiskey if you prefer) enthusiasts for matters other than the spirit that really matters. Now things have moved on, its good to get back to the whiskey and how the distillery is looking to build upon its previous successes. From my experience of Balcones, its a producer that is willing to try and take risks and new approaches. They let the whisky do the talking rather than fancy packaging like we see with Compass Box and show a open-minded approach to distilling that I’m hopeful many new Scottish distilleries will take on-board. It’s better to try and fail than not try at all and whisky in Scotland could do with some experimentation and variety seen in the popular gin section.
The tasting as you’ll see comprised of 5 whiskies starting off with a gentle opener at 46% before remaining firmly entrenched above 60% for the remainder of the event. With their new distillery opening earlier this year featuring stills from those Speyside custodians (Forsyths) it’s an exciting time for everyone involved in Balcones. With the ability to produce more one may expect that Balcones will settle down into a comfortable slumber and churn out maintain a core range that is particularly safe. This is what we’d expect in Scotland and its a little tiring to be honest, however this distillery does do things differently so I expect their desire and motivation to push boundaries will continue whatever environment they are working within.
I hope you enjoy reading this tasting as much as I did taking part in it.
Baby Blue Whisky
Core range and first distillery release expect to pay around £70
A corn whisky made from atole which is a blue corn meal.
Nose: incredibly creamy with vanilla and a malted loaf characteristic almost rum-like in places. A spent chewing gum edge. A touch of spearmint, fennel and more toffee with chocolate, coffee and raisins noted. A dash of malted vinegar cuts through the freshness as well.
Taste: surprising as the corn mellowness wins out here giving it a bourbon-like nature with vanilla, caramel, damp wood, ground coffee beans and a chocolate finish.
Overall: a promising nose and nice finish are just let down by the arrival and main body of this whisky. An option for those unable to stomach the more foreboding entries in the Balcones range, or seeking something new. I expect you’re paying a premium here for the grain and unusual mash but it does feel a little too high.
Staff Selection Single Malt Whisky
The annual staff pick so a single barrel and only available once a year.
Cask strength at 63.7% and not chill filtered.
Nose: barbequed vanilla marshmallows, beef stock, liquorice and eucalyptus oil. Then more familiar notes with chocolate, syrup, treacle, cola cubes and cloves.
Taste: a little dark chocolate bitterness, cinnamon bark, cardamom and influence from the wood with a satisfying peppery roasted coffee bean finish.
Overall: a robust Texan whisky that you can appreciate went down well with the distillery team.
Rum Cask Finish Single Malt Whisky
An extremely limited release apparently so expect to pay around £116.
This one is bottled at a mighty 64.2% strength.
Colour: salted caramel
Nose: not the avalanche of aromas I was expecting, its almost muted. More resin features, pepper, all-spice and ginger. Some cloves and cola cubes but it requires more effort than other whiskies here.
Taste: again it feels as if the rum cask finish and the spirit here have knocked one another out. There’s some honey, chocolate shavings, cardamom and resin with a gentle lingering coffee bean finish.
Overall: sometimes you just have to say this one isn’t for you and this fella just doesn’t hit a home run with me.
A limited expression of 650 bottles and expect to pay around £100
Bottled at 63.9% vol and 4 types of casks were used in this creation two French oak, an American oak and a European cask.
Nose: aniseed and liquorice with plenty of molasses, pepper and caramel.
Taste: a really sticky marmalade, ginger again, liquorice and caramel. All nicely orchestrated it must be said and very pleasing with a lovely texture.
Overall: nothing big or bold here but rather enjoyable with a soothing voyage of flavours. Certainly one you’d be reaching for again with not too much persuasion it must be said and actually is better without water.
Balcones Blue Corn Bourbon 2nd release
A straight bourbon and the follow up to the 2015 hit expression.
Bottled at 64.8% and expect to pay around £105.
Colour: maple syrup
Nose: immediately this is more resin-like and oily compared to the Baby Blue. More of creamed corn feature is noticeable and the toffee has become more dense verging on treacle but the spices lean towards maple syrup. There’s cinnamon, vanilla custard, stewed plums, dark chocolate and a little all-spice present.
Taste: water is beneficial here otherwise the richness of the treacle, dark chocolate and strength swaps the palate. Water added the resin gives way to cinnamon, brown sugar, chocolate mint, more coffee notes and a peppery finish.
Overall: a richer more detailed nose than the Baby Blue sets this up and the palate has plenty of oomph. It has ultimately more to enjoy and saviour here but might a little brute-ish for some.
My favourite here is the Texas rum that retains a level of approachability alongside the cavalcade of flavours. After this? Well, the staff selection is more in keeping with what many would expect Balcones to be producing in the mould of a robust and flavoursome dram. All in all, a solid selection for 2016 and beyond with a varied portfolio of releases.