Whiskey Name: Balcones Single Malt Rum Cask Finish
Whiskey Type: Single Malt
Release Date: 2016
Mashbill: 100% malted barley
Introduction/Background: Having said in the last review that Westland’s 2016 Garryana was my favourite US Single Malt to date, I thought it’d be best to double check. And I thought that the most obvious candidate to change my mind might be Balcones.
Based down in Waco, Texas, Balcones are bottling all sorts of wild and wonderful spirits, but Corn Whiskey and Single Malt are the masts to which their colours are most firmly nailed.
I thought their Cask Strength True Blue Corn Whiskey was rather superb, and in fact I’m struggling to think of a Balcones I haven’t enjoyed. But their Rum Finished Single Malt had somehow passed me by.
As malt fans know, rum makes for rather a finicky sort of cask to finish with. I also think that the term “rum cask” is about as useful as the term “sherry cask”, in that the breadth of rum styles is so vast that simply writing “rum” doesn’t take your consumer terribly far.
Balcones, however, have rather a neat solution. Being distillers of rum, they simply set a few of their used rum casks aside, and poured their maturing single malt into them. How’s that for assurance of provenance?
What’s linked all the Balcones whiskies I’ve tried in the past is “bigness” (totally real word). These are massive expressions; syrupy of body and uncompromising of flavour intensity. So let’s see if the Rum Cask Finish continues the trend.
Appearance: Conker. (Horse Chestnut, if you want to be boring, but this time of year is conker season, so I’m putting “conker”.)
Nose: The typical Balcones rhino-stampede of aromas out of the glass, but these rhinos are wearing eye-patches and brandishing cutlasses, because this whiskey is positively yodelling rum. Molasses, treacle, and so much tropical fruit you’d think this had also been finished in an Um Bongo cask. (Um Bongo is absolutely matured in cask. You heard it here first). There’s bags of dried fruit too – sherry cask fans can have a good time here – and just enough flutter of (burnt) cereal to remind you this is single malt after all. A big whoosh of booze, but not as much as you’d think for the proof.
Mouth: You need a spoon to get at this, it’s so thickly full-bodied! Once you’ve banged on the bottom of the glass enough to get some in your mouth, the carnival of rum flavour continues. More of that molasses character, and thick, dark treacle. (So thick you’re picking it out of your teeth later). More classic Balcones notes of burnt muscovado, caramels and oak, plus some raisin and date characters which seem to sit somewhere in between the malt and the rum. The brobdingnagian body (how’s that for a word du jour?) and insane intensity of flavour utterly dominate any alcohol burn.
Finish: All of a sudden the sweetness is blown aside by a waft of sugar puffs cereal.
Value for Money: Worth it, I reckon, in the grand scheme of things.
Summary: Of the (literally) thousands of craft distilleries popping up across America, only four or five can currently live with the obvious big players in Kentucky, Indiana, and Tennessee where quality is concerned.
Balcones is unquestionably one of those four or five. In fact, it may well be the best “craft” distillery in America. If it isn’t, it’s certainly knocking on the door. This single malt is absolutely superb, and their rum casks are clearly a perfect fit for their malt. It just works.
It doesn’t have as many dimensions as the Garryana, but every dimension it has is laser-beamed at the pleasure receptors in your nose and mouth. It’s an absolute joy to drink. And, not being peated, it probably appeals to a broader audience than the Westland does. They’re chalk and cheese really though, in flavour terms. Gun to my head I’d take the Garryana. But that’s personal. And really I want – no, I need(!) – both of them in my life.
Yes, it’s very expensive (in the UK). But if you’ve got that money to spend on a bottle, it’s worth it. If, like me, you probably don’t, then get a Drinks by the Dram sample. For the good of your soul, if nothing else.
Overall Verdict: An immense, wonderful, mouthcoating monster of a whiskey that would turn Jack Sparrow on to malt for life.
Many thanks (again) to Mark Latimour for the sample.
Words by WhiskyPilgrim