Whiskey Name: Balcones Blue Corn Bourbon
Whiskey Type: Straight bourbon whisky. (I’ve literally just noticed that Balcones drop the ‘e’.)
Release Date: This one was bottled in October 2017
Price: In the UK, expect to pay £110 or thereabouts. In the US it’s probably 50p or something ridiculous like that. I don’t even want to check – I’ll end up kicking things and crying.
Age: 30 months
Mashbill: ‘A mash of our cherished corn’ is as much detail as I got from their website.
Introduction/Background: We’re massive fans of Balcones at the British Bourbon Society. I am, at least, and I write most of the reviews so there. Yes, they’re not cheap in the UK, but they tend to punch at least at their price point, and if you get them in the US they’re very good value indeed.
All of which means that the standards by which I’d judge Balcones are now set very high indeed. Today it’s their bourbon in the glass. It’s over two years, which means it qualifies as ‘Straight’, and, being a bourbon, it has been aged entirely in new charred oak, unlike their corn whiskies. No idea what the mashbill is, but even if it were 100% corn, that wouldn’t prohibit them from labelling it ‘bourbon’. See Reservoir for confirmation.
This sample actually popped up blind, so I had no preconceptions whatsoever before tasting. Which is always nice.
Appearance: Classic Balcones dark chestnut.
Nose: Viscous with caramel and molasses; lashings of fruity dark chocolate and spice. Very rounded and very, very deep. Fresh black cherries as well as cherry jam, and a slight funky sharpness almost reminiscent of old brandy. Coffee bean. The most miniscule waft of germoline. Heady stuff.
Mouth: Huge mouthfeel. Tonnes of chocolate and roasted nuts and caramel. Similarities to both well-aged pot still rum and sherry-cask single malt. Very raisiny. Lashings of nutmeg and black pepper. Liquorice and fennel. My God it’s thick; you can practically pick bits of it out of your teeth. Alcohol is fiery and thunderous, but just about held together by that immense body and intensity of flavour.
Finish: The sweetness dries after some time into chocolate-coated coffee bean.
Value for Money: Worth UK price. A bargain at US.
Summary: Craft whiskies just don’t get bigger than Balcones. Except, possibly, at King’s County, right at the other end of the country. It’s practically alcoholic sauce; delicious, delicious alcoholic sauce.
We tasted this blind, but I reckon most people around the table had it pegged as Balcones right away. Right up there with the two we’ve already reviewed, and the antithesis of yesterday’s E.H. Taylor. This one’s all about the overt, boisterous, enormous personality. You just can’t sip it without smiling.
The rhetoric on the websites of craft whiskies would have you believe that the established names in Kentucky (and Tennessee and Indiana) are a bunch of cack-handed no-hopers; cutting corners, doing things wishy-washily and not giving much of a toss. In reality, there are almost no craft distilleries who can currently compete with the quality put out by the bigger players, with their vast libraries of stock.
Balcones are one of the very very few who can. And what’s brilliant is that they do so on entirely their own terms, carving their own niche into the flavour wheel. If every craft distillery was even half as good, the whisky world would be a far tastier place to be.
Overall Verdict: What do you think?