Balcones Tweet Tasting

In what could be my final tweet tasting participation of 2015 we’re having a mini-vertical tasting of Balcones distillery in Waco Texas. Organised by the Whisky Wire this was billed as ‘A Taste of Texas’ live but sadly didn’t include flight tickets or accommodation or even a barbeque! It’s certainly somewhere in the States I’d like to visit, but maybe not this season seeing how the Cowboys are doing. Maybe one for my next American road trip or a diversion when I return to Wild Buck whiskey country.

We cannot mention Balcones without thinking of recent events regarding ownership and the direction of the distillery. Thankfully things have moved on and we’re now able to get back to the whisky, which is what matters most at the end of the day. This particular tasting features 5 drams that will be available via Master of Malt as a limited edition set for Christmas. Priced at £29.99 if you find my comments below of interest then you can purchase the pack right here. As an ad hoc user of their dram sample service I find it a viable option for experiencing whiskies before you buy or offering a taste of a bottling that in reality is priced beyond your wallet, or in this case a series of releases that have mostly sold out. Labelled nicely and dispatched in a tightly protective box, you can use the empties for other samples and even send out sample drams to friends or make your own Christmas whisky package. Actually that reminds me I’ll have to do this for Mark at Malt Review this week.

Onto the whiskies themselves that provide a snapshot of their core ranges and some rather special versions. Balcones hasn’t been shy in trying new approaches and pushing back traditional boundaries. This challenging approach has created a field of strongly distinctive and memorable whisky experiences so I’m expecting more of the same here. Note the prices quoted do apply to slightly larger 75cl bottle sizes.

True Blue 100
50% vol, roasted blue corn whisky, £79.95 available here
Colour: honeycomb
Nose: a little shy at first but given time some honey, syrup, raspberries, vanilla and sitting at a polished work bench with pencil shavings. Returning for another sniff mint matchsticks!
Taste: sweet fudge, caramel, burnt sugar and sucking on a wooden skewer.

Overall: a pleasant corn whisky opener with the nose winning out but in the context of this field seems rather timid.

Blue Corn Bourbon
64.5% vol, aged in charred 225 litre American oak casks, £108.95 and sold out here
Colour: a warmed treacle
Nose: some charcoal mixed with a Highland Toffee bar (those with the Highland cow on the wrapper), then spices with cinnamon and cloves. Dark chocolate, currants, smoked vanilla pods, freshly scrapped resin and Ribena.
Taste: molasses, cracked black pepper and cinnamon. Toasted brown bread with lots of seeds, cherries and more dark chocolate.
Overall: a thumbs up goodness and drinkable at cask strength.

Texas Rum
69.3% vol, various oak types and toast profiles utilised by Balcones Cooperage program, £99.95 and sold out here
Colour: cherries
Nose: in word intense! Burnt sugar, malted brown bread, venison, cloves, juniper berries, memories of rum balls and those distinctive Black Jack chews.
Taste: more aniseed and liquorice. Treacle, stewed black tea, cola cubes, coffee beans and green peppercorn.

Overall: at first it felt too much but then grew on me. If anything it prompts me to try some of the rums that Cadenheads stock on a regular basis as the price of whisky continues to rocket.

53% vol, rather than peat a Texan oak fire is utilised, £81.95 available here
Colour: charred steak
Nose: reminiscent of walking past a stall of Arbroath smokies with large open casks smoking the fish within; its density and all encompassing nature. Smoke dominates the airwaves. A bourbon glaze, vanilla, mace, cinnamon, maples syrup, all spice and a well fired barbecued burger.
Taste: well sizzled bacon, beef dripping, liquorice and Jakeman's blackcurrant menthol boiled sweets.
Overall: a dram that will divide opinion. I know a few friends who find this far too much off the smoke scale. You have to embrace and step beyond this frontage to really discover what the Brimstone can offer. Soak up that brutality.

Staff Selection Limited Edition
62.5% vol, aged in Hungarian oak casks, selected by the Balcones staff, £99.95 and sold out here
Colour: ruby red
Nose: cranberry juice, a liquorice assortment, cinder toffee, balsamic plum reduction, lots of chopped oak, decaying foliage and Black Forest Gateau so lots of cherries, rich dark chocolate sponge and a little creaminess.  
Taste: orange zest and Terry's Chocolate orange. A lovely texture with molasses, a hint of raspberries and black pepper.

Overall: I enjoyed the nose more on this one more than the palate. 

A challenging selection of whiskies (plus a rum) from Balcones. My favourite here? It is a difficult decision but the Brimstone wins it just overall. Extreme in places but also surprisingly detailed it won't be for everyone but it'd be something I'd enjoy come the weekend during these winter months.

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