Forgive us for ignoring the Boutique-y whisky range of late here at MALT. Subscribing to any online retailer mailing list nowadays prompts a deluge of information about new or incoming releases. These emails aren’t to Domino’s or Abercrombie Fitch proportions in their sheer daily bombardment, but instead they underline just how much ‘stuff’ is being released.
Under such an avalanche of new whisky, you can switch off and more often than not, overlook something special, or at least interesting. I’ve certainly missed out through a combination of ignoring or general whisky fatigue. However, there was a recent release from That Boutique-y Whisky Company that caught my attention and immediately prompted a purchase. Yes, this Balcones three-year-old whiskey that is available for £69.95, or doing the 70cl conversion maths, at a chunky £97.93 for a traditional size.
This news appeared literally a couple of hours after I had finished the Starward Ginger Beer cask article, which will follow at a later date. In this, I had discussed the Diageo’s ability to influence the rules of the Scotch Whisky Association, and to some onlookers, seemingly change the law to suit its own needs, a recent example being the change in regulations that now allowed the use of tequila casks. We await with baited breath the arrival of a tequila-finished whisky from the mega corporate giant. Chances are it won’t be too long and, in the meantime, we can look beyond the strong arm of the Scotch law, to Balcones in Texas.
This release is just three years old, but has been fully matured in a tequila cask, giving us a possible indication of what this new marriage may produce. I remain always eager for new discoveries, and we’ve always been appreciative of what Balcones deliver here at MALT. Sometimes it can be uncouth or a little wide of the mark, but always primed with dedication and a certain Texas attitude that a Scotsman can appreciate.
Whilst we’re talking about tequila, which is a poor man’s mezcal, some have welcomed the above news with open arms. Quite rightly, they have highlighted new avenues of experimentation and potentially flavour outcomes, perhaps fuelled by the boring torrent of whiskies we are currently drowning under? This I understand, but there is a potential downside. Whilst tequila is a growing market worldwide, you cannot say with any conviction that it is setting the UK market alight, and I’ve never had a conversation with an individual in a bar about tequila. I doubt I ever will. However, there is a traditional Scotch market here, and they appreciate the flavours that an ex-bourbon or sherry cask can provide. Beyond these flavours, they are not interested whatsoever in anything new. They are motivated by price and the brands that they have relied upon for years. Adding a tequila finish to the formula is of little interest and may prompt repulsion.
Then, there is the argument that such finishes or casks can attract new drinkers to Scotch whisky (especially other continents), which is facing growing pressure from other spirits including gin and the American vanilla stuff. This is a similar message employed by William Grant & Sons around their IPA Glenfiddich, which was a half-hearted attempt, or—and I apologise for swearing here—the Haig Club. Neither of these have transformed Scotch, which is currently fuelled by investors, collectors and those that buy too much and never break the seal. These individuals are the icing on the cake that was stripped bare during the 1980s and 1990s. The core drinkers and bulk of Scotch drinkers don’t care for fads or finishes. They are driven by price, a recognisable distillery and an age statement. These are the guiding lights of whisky for the majority and not some convoluted cask that is now suddenly legal, because Diageo decided their tequila casks needed a new home.
This Batch 2 release is an outturn of 212 bottles at the aforementioned price and bottled at 51.2% strength. The labels are always interesting with Boutique-y and this release features very little information. I did try to find out more, but was unsuccessful.
That Boutique-y Whisky Company Balcones 3 year old – review
Colour: cinder toffee.
On the nose: treacle, blackcurrant jam, beef jerky and leather that’s gone crusty and is starting to peel. Squashed redcurrants, cinnamon bark and a worn staircase. Fennel, cracked black pepper, fig rolls and memories of black tar paint are revived. Very woody, but there’s honey, ginger and all-spice all wanting to break free. Water softens the impact delivering more wood and a rich dark chocolate.
In the mouth: oddly different but not divisive. I’m kinda drawn to it with all my whiskey shennaigans of late. Treacle, chocolate, roasted vanilla, honey, sawdust, liquorice and a herbal edge. There’s a sooty nature, agave, plump cherries and dried fruit. Water showcases sweet and sour, red lettuce, chard and chicory.
A difficult whiskey to contemplate and score. I’m around a 5 or 6, with the short finish and limited palate keeping me firmly on average mode. I also wonder how heavily the cask has been toasted prior to being refilled? Tequila casks can be roasted and some of the characteristics I’m picking up, suggest a heavy char.
As for the question of tequila casks and whisky? It is worth remembering that this is a whiskey. A rugged Texan spirit that has stood up well to a forceful host. I doubt many distillates from Scotland would be as successful after 3 years. Arguably only a handful could carry it off, suggesting that the majority of tequila casks will be short-term finishes. It can work, but requires relentless supervision.