Probably the hottest small or “craft” distillery in the U.S. right now, Balcones in Waco, Texas is definitely one that is making its mark globally. Having recently won numerous awards for both its products and for the distillery in general, Balcones is poised to have the eyes of the entire whisky world on it over the next few years.
An insane amount of praise and publicity doesn’t typically go to a small, five-year old distillery without there being some quality product involved, so I have been keen to try anything from Balcones for a while. Muchas gracias to a retailer friend for sending me a bottle of this gem from out-of-state. Balcones has yet to make it to Nevada but with any luck they will soon (I hope).
It’s worth spending some time on Balcones’ recently revamped website as the stories and the videos are all worth watching. Here’s a little on their story:
Just five years ago, Balcones was little more than an idea fueled by a ruthless drive to create something new, something genuine, something worthwhile – a Texas whisky tradition. It all started with an old welding shop under a bridge. We hammered and welded our own stills, and sawed and nailed on that little shack to build the distillery that we use to this day. Since then, we have released seven unique spirits of which we are very proud and won 40 national and international awards from the world’s top judges and critics. We don’t just make whisky in Texas. We make Texas whisky.
Our commitment to hand crafting our spirits extends into the design and layout of the distillery and the engineering and construction of equipment. The benefits of building and installing our own equipment became clear to us as we put together our distillery. By building our own condensers, wash stills, heat exchangers, hot liquor tank, etc. we were able to build exactly the equipment we wanted to use to make spirits. We became extremely familiar with the tools of our trade. The equipment itself is one more level of the distilling process that we get to craft with our own hands.
We are very proud to not only taste spirit we made as it ages and matures, but to also work everyday with equipment that was painstakingly and lovingly made.
Craft distilleries are popping up everywhere. Half the time these ventures are initiated by business men who see a market opportunity. Balcones is the realization of a distiller’s dream, not simply an ambitious attempt to fill a profitable niche.
Let’s dig in to the first Single Malt Whisky from Texas I have heard of.
Balcones Texas Single Malt Whisky
NAS, 53% ABV, Batch SM12-10 (bottled 12/31/2012)
Color: Dusty Dark Gold
Nose: Warm buttered banana bread, malty biscuits, ripe figs and raisins, some cinnamon, honey, citrus and maybe even a hint of mesquite fire? Truly a wonderful, complex nose. I could nose this forever and not even take a sip. Ok, fine, I”ll take a sip…
Palate: Wow, it’s like a good, complex Highland single malt with some hot, cinnamon almost bourbon-like influence in there. Plenty of sweet malty and honey goodness, more banana bread, a hint of orange and some nuttiness comes through as well – walnuts and pecans.
Finish: Really long and a lot of buttered, cinnamon-sugar toast, oak and walnuts.
Overall: Wow. I was blown away. For an NAS (I’m assuming pretty young) single malt this is pretty rich and complex. Shows what hot Waco summers can do aging spirit in a mix of small and large barrels. This may be the best American single malt I have tasted.
It’s definitely a single malt profile but tastes unlike anything I have tried coming out of Scotland or anywhere else. At 53% this is surprisingly drinkable and balanced. A splash of water does add some creaminess and a little fruit but I would encourage trying it both ways as it is very drinkable neat.
Cheers to Chip Tate and the rest of the gang at Balcones. I should have some samples of the True Blue and the Brimstone soon and can’t wait to try them. If the rest of Balcones lineup is anywhere near as good as the Single Malt, all the awards recently bestowed upon them are well deserved.