Remember when people would be announced, even trumpeted into a room? Someone would stand at attention and shout your name to an awaiting crowd, announcing you like you’d just slain a giant. A grand entrance, to be sure. But how is one supposed to live up to the hype? What if you fall down the steps descending to the party? Perhaps you rip your elegant threads?
Most importantly: what if you’re just not that interesting?
While this way of entering parties has, for the most part, died out, the hype profession is alive and well. From billboards to Instagram feeds, everyone is trying to tell you, “Look how great this is!” whether it is great or not. It can really numb the senses and our expectations.
I get a similar twinge every time I investigate a whisky or distillery. My eyes are swiftly bombarded with cheesecake bottle shots, scores, and advert copy. Which, the more I see, the less impact it seems to have. So, I’m left looking at a wall of words that seems to be, mostly, puffering in lieu of hard fact.
The “Our Story” tab on any beverage company/distillery website seems a head-fake towards honesty, put there to explain how they got their start. But, all I can hear in my head is, “Ok, here’s how we’ve managed to spin it.” This is not a good gut reaction, as I’m sure many companies are genuinely trying to give you the straight dope. However, after decades of “only the finest quality,” “smallest of batches,” and “hand crafted on a farm and tenderly brought to a table,” (pardon the hyperbole) I’ve become distrustful.
Balcones, even in the scope of American distilling, doesn’t have a long history. However, since they began production in 2009, they’ve managed to establish themselves. If I were to drop their name in conversation, most whiskey drinkers would know who I’m talking about. That’s not easy to do when new distilleries and sourced whiskey brands have been popping up all over the U.S., creating a whiskey market thick with noise.
So how did they get a foothold in an industry that continues to be bursting with offerings? Perhaps it’s because Balcones has a breadth of products that’s distinct from the swath cut by others. Little differences, like using exotic grain, old techniques, or unusual casks has built a lineup of products that stand out.
Today’s bottle falls into the latter category.
The Mirador single malt from Balcones is unusual. It’s aged in second-fill casks. Admittedly, before I got this bottle, I was intrigued by the idea. In American whiskey, new and first-fill barrels are the aging vessels of choice, as the Bourbon category requires new wood or “it ain’t Bourbon.”
Not to mention the places that tend to make the most whiskey in the U.S. are hotter and drier than the warehouses across the pond. So, the angel’s share slips through a distiller’s fingers even faster. Also, as an American living amongst Americans, I think I can safely say we like bold flavor, and lots of it. So, it’s no surprise American distillers reach for the more influential casks. “Slap a lot of color and flavor on and bottle that puppy,” so to speak.
Knowing that, to see a company compete for drinkers’ attention by reining in the wood – rather than continue a wood arms race – deserves a tip of the cap.
This is the 4th release of Mirador since it first came out in 2018. It’s a blend of whiskies that have been aged three to five years in second-fill casks. It’s bottled at 53% ABV, and has a suggested retail price of $79.99.
Balcones Mirador Single Malt – Review
Colour: Golden Honey
On the nose: Despite the high ABV, the aroma is delicate and very pleasant. Vivid autumnal notes of red apples, cinnamon, cooked peaches, nutmeg, and allspice. It’s almost like a stress relief candle. Let it aerate, and sandalwood emerges beneath the top notes. As you get used to the bouquet, the spices take over. Adding water accentuates this, and the fruit practically disappears.
In the mouth: The palate is a pared-down version of the aroma: mostly cooked apples and warmed baking spices. There’s a punchy heat that I expected to smell but didn’t, making me think I was going to dive into something dainty. However, the alcohol is difficult to avoid on the palate. That said, it makes for an oily texture that coats the mouth like a stout scotch whisky. Tinkering with water didn’t alleviate the heat, drowned out the fruit, and only left sharp wood spices.
I’m first impressed with the cask selection. The whisky has plenty of influence from the vessel but none of the gritty bitter tannin from freshly hewn wood. More importantly, it’s firmly its own. It isn’t bourbon in malt’s clothes, nor is it masquerading as a European. It’s an American malt.
The inviting bouquet is, undoubtedly, the best aspect of the whiskey… though please don’t think the rest is rubbish. While the palate isn’t as complex and articulate as the aroma, it still offers a nice package of complimentary flavors. In fact, I had written in my notes, “if apple pie was a stick of gum.” However, it’s a hard chew with so much heat from the alcohol.
I didn’t go out and buy this bottle. It was sent to me. While that is, of course, its own form of marketing, it shows faith in the product. Balcones didn’t sound the trumpets and expect everyone to come running; they put the bottle on the table and opened it.
As noted, this bottle was provided free of charge by Balcones, which does not affect our notes or score.