I’m a reluctant fan of Balcones. Their Pot-Still rye and bourbon releases were pleasant surprises. I’m not sure where the reluctance comes from… maybe the fact that those “in the know” have been drinking Balcones for years… maybe the fact that the prices reflect the high quality and so you can’t really get good deals. Maybe all that stuff about blue corn threw me off.
Whatever it is, it’s misguided. Balcones makes excellent whisky, and I haven’t yet had a bad dram from them. Today I’m addressing a major gap in my coverage of American whisky. American Single Malt is a burgeoning category, and it could be said that Balcones is partially responsible for that. Their “1” Single Malt first launched in 2011 when “American whisky” and “single malt” were not things that anyone expected to see together on a label. Today we have so many American single malts on the shelf that I’m having trouble tasting them all. We even have vattings of American single malt from independent bottlers like Lost Lantern (which includes Balcones in its blend!).
Balcones Texas Single Malt Whisky is made from (you guessed it) 100% malted barley. According to sources on the web – since the Balcones website is a glossy brochure with no real information – they use 100% Golden Promise barley, much of it grown in Texas. This is mashed and distilled using their copper pot stills and then aged in a combination of new and refill oak barrels: American white oak, French, and Hungarian oak casks. The whisky is aged “at least” 22 months. For a malt with a high proportion of new oak, that’s not unusual.
The final whisky is bottled at a searing 53% ABV. I feel like the Muse is compelling me to make an “everything is bigger in Texas” joke, but I refuse. I won’t do it.
Balcones has made a wide array of variations on their core Single Malt whisky, including special editions, a cask-strength version, a peated version, and many single barrel releases for retail stores.
Nose: Bananas. Bananas everywhere. Smells like new oak: overbearing banana, not-quite-cloying caramel, toasted assorted nuts, melted vanilla ice cream. After a rest in the glass, the banana recedes and is replaced by root beer, rum, lychee, and a grassy note like ‘light roast’ coffee beans.
Palate: Robust body, not quite syrupy. Potent tongue burn, but very acceptable for 53% ABV. Palate is very consistent with the aroma notes, right down to the root beer and rum.
Finish: Medium-long. Something meaty, like teriyaki or grilled pineapple, is accompanied by the same consistent notes that have continued since the aroma. Fades slowly, but without evolving… except maybe a hint of dark chocolate.
With Water: A few drops of water increase the nutty notes, now like candy-coated peanuts. The palate seems a bit thinner, and the finish slightly livelier with more alcohol tickle. Take or leave water with this one.
Overall: Very good, but I strongly urge you to allow that banana note to dissipate after first pouring a glass… unless you like that kind of thing. Weirdo.
Overall, it reminds me of Cut Spike and Westward but with more rough edges and eccentric tangents. This is a good thing. American single malt can be a little one-dimensional if the new oak is allowed to dominate. That said, it’s expensive. You’re not getting a good deal here, but you can’t really get this level of potency and quality in American single malt for less, anyway. It shouldn’t be too hard to find a sample bottle or a pour at a bar to taste it if you’re not sure you’re going to like the flavor profile.