husband, father, whisky lover, blogger, freelance whisky writer, and head of the New Jersey Whiskey Society & leading the USBG NJ efforts...currently the New Jersey Whisky Ambassador for Diageo & therefore leave the recent writing duties to guest bloggers, primarily that Bourbon loving fella named Gerard

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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Balcones Side By Side

It is hard to go anywhere these days in the whisky world without hearing about Balcones.

After putting out some fantastic whiskeys, Balcones has received much acclaim. 

Deservedly so!
Chip Tate and his team have truly outdone themselves time and time again, proving to be an anchored ship in a sea that seems to wash out most craft whiskeys.  They launched to even greater fame by beating out legendary Scottish distilleries Balvenie and Macallan in a blind panel taste test called Best in Glass. 

They piled on ever since, taking other awards including 2012 Craft Distillery of the Year by both Whisky Magazine and Wizards of Whisky, 2012 Global Distillery of the Year, plus others!
Generally, American whiskeys are based off of corn and rye type of recipes.  But Balcones puts twist upon twist inside their expressions, and they are truly making a name for themselves.  Along with other American offerings from  Long Island Spirits, Lost Spirits Distillery, St. George, and Tuthilltown (I could go on and on!) these craft distillers are truly shifting paradigms around the world about what American whiskey is and more importantly…what it can be.

I had the luxury of meeting Chip aboard the Spirit of the Hudson last year during a whiskey tasting event in NY.  Although our encounter was fairly brief, I got the vibe that he is one heck of a guy.  Chip and his team do everything by hand, from crafting the liquor to creating the stills themselves!   I was immediately struck by his passionate take on whiskey.  That passion is echoed in his whiskey.
Having gathered a small lineup of Balcones offerings I thought it may be fun to have a playful sit down.

Call it a Balcones Flight…ALL ABOARD!
Passengers, please buckle your safety belts...

Quick Description:  A fairly young whiskey from a craft distiller in the USA…that usually leads to disappointment in my experience.  However, this is Balcones we are talking about here!  This is one of the few teams that can harness something special in a short period of time.
Appearance:  Light Straw

Nose:  Doesn’t smell ‘young’ fairly complex, vanilla, oak, sweet caramel

Palate:  Not just corn but cornbread, tortilla chips, spices and more caramel

Finish:  Medium and sweet

Overall:  This whiskey is quite better than all of the ‘young’ whiskeys I have tried up to this point.  It has a welcoming warmth that rivals Grandma’s house on Christmas Eve.  This is evidence that you can still have a complex and flavorful corn whiskey without many years in the barrel.  86/100

Quick Description:   Lots of handwriting on this one.  The proof itself was written in silver marker, so there are likely to be some variances in ABV for each batch.  This is essentially the Cask Strength version of the Baby Blue, so let’s see how it stacks up.

Appearance:  Darker than the Baby Blue, more of an Amber brownish color
Nose:  Sweet, Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal, cornbread

Palate:  Dark chocolate, caramel, start to get the heat of the proof but that is not necessarily bad, more like a super hot cinnamon kind of thing
Finish:  Long and warming

Overall:  There is a lushness in this one that was not in the Baby Blue, but on the other hand there were more delicate corn notes in the Baby Blue.  This Cask Strength expression is highly drinkable and delicious, but if I had to pick a regular sipper, I’d likely take the Baby Blue over this one by a hair.  85/100

Quick Description:  This one is extra special.  The bottle notes that a special cache of Rumble casks was discovered and yielded some exceptional stuff.  Still based off of Rumble's style of being created from Texas wildflower honey, Mission figs, Turbinado sugar and Texas Hill Country spring water, this has all the makings of a stunner.

Appearance:  Deep Auburn
Nose:  Beautiful, Sweet and fruity, but yet there is a backbone of wood that is undeniable

Palate: Rich and thick.  Deep sugary sweetness (like crunching a packet of Sugar in the Raw), dark fruits, oak
Finish: Long and strong (in a good way) just the faintest chocolate note

Overall:  Man, I could drink this stuff all day and not be bored.  Another strong effort.  I may have to put this and the standard Rumble side by side for another tasting.  Rock Solid.  88/100


Quick Description:  This is the one that stole the show at BiG.  Another perplexing offer from Chip as this one has some classic Scotch like undertones, but still has some of that good old American ‘in your face’ barrel spiciness.  Very different from the Baby Blue and True Blue thanks to the Malt, but nevertheless completely outstanding.
Appearance:  Reddish Amber
Nose: Freshly cut wood, fruits, spices, oak (lots of fun)

Palate: Sweet, rich grains, Cinnamon, Caramel

Finish: Outstanding and long, spicy

Overall:  Balcones sets the bar high.  This is what most craft distillers are working towards.  It has the body of Scotch, the sweetness of a corn Whisky, the oak notes of a well aged Bourbon, and the spice notes of a Rye.  A true American Single Malt benchmark if there was one.  90/100

AT THE END OF THE DAY:  I love what Balcones is doing.  I can’t wait to see where they go from here…it is clear that they tend to their casks quite seriously, and that shines through in the juice.  Color me a Balcones Fan.  At this point I would likely try anything they offer.  I could read something like, “Chip recently found this old sweat rag from a basketball game he played five years ago, so we squeezed the sweat out and aged it in our bespoke casks”  Sign me up…I’ll drink anything these guys come up with.  But, as always, I encourage you all to give it a try and to form your own opinion.


  1. I agree with your overall assessment of Balcones. I think they are doing great things with American craft whisky.

    Have you tried their Brimstone? VERY smoky and a fun one to throw into your tasting rotation.

    1. Hi Matt!

      Good call, I did try their Brimstone once, at that whisky tasting late last year in NY. I agree, it was like a Texas BBQ in my mouth kind of smoke. (in a good way)

      Nice idea to throw it into the rotation, it is definitely on the shortlist. I have heard Balcones is coming out with 4 limited edition offerings soon to celebrate 5 years.

      One of them will be called Brimstone Resurrection...although I'd love to try their new straight bourbon & single malt the most!

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