The first time I’d heard of Balcones was towards the end of 2014 when the news broke that the founder of the distillery, Chip Tate, had been ousted from his own distillery by the investors. This was apparently due to a disagreement regarding the direction the business was going in and its management. There’s actually no mention of Chip Tate on the website today but I'm guessing if you did a quick search on Wayback Machine, you could probably find some references.
It appears that as the business expanded, new investors were brought in to fund the building of a newer, larger distillery. Balcones originally started off in Waco in an old welding shop under a bridge in 2008 but moved to a new $14.5 million distillery in 2016. The costs of constructing this new distillery were constantly increasing and things started to become tense between Chip Tate and the business' investors. In short, it all went a bit Pete Tong which lead to Chip Tate accepting a deal offered by the board and, hence, leaving Balcones. There's a full write up by Clay Risen for the New York Times here: CLICK
But let's get to the whisky itself. And, straight away, there's a peculiarity; Balcones uses the term 'whisky' not 'whiskey'. The only other American whisky I can think of which also does this is Maker's Mark - the others all have the 'e'. But the spelling of whisky/whiskey is something for the twitterati to bump their gums over so I'm not going to go into it here. Likewise with the term 'craft'. There's the ongoing debate as to what a craft distillery actually is. Balcones has grown hugely since 2008 and some may argue that it isn't now in a position to still call itself as such. However, I personally don't see the notion of craft as running parallel with the size of an operation although I acknowledge that there are criteria in the US for breweries to label themselves as craft. Anyway, 'craft or not craft' is a whole other post entirely.
My first taste of Balcones was provided by Dave Worthington (aka Boutique-y Dave) when he was manning the stand for Maverick Drinks at the Edinburgh Whisky Festival a few years ago now. From memory I think it was the Baby Blue release and I thought it was a terrific whisky.
This Balcones Texas Rye is a new one for me, though, and is quite different to all of the rye whiskies I've tried before (most of them fairly recently, I have to admit).
It was released to celebrate the distillery's 10th anniversary and is made from a mashbill of 100% rye. The legal minimum in the US to be able to call a whiskey a rye whiskey is 51%; I'm guessing most distilleries don't go much above that as rye, as a grain, is well known for being particularly difficult to work with. Compared to other grains, rye lacks a hull and contains large quantities of beta-glutens and it's these sugars which create a sticky, lumpy goo in the mash tun which can later stick to the sides of the still.
The 100% rye mashbill is made up of several rye varieties: 80% is elbon grain from north and northwest Texas and the rest is made up from crystal, chocolate and roasted rye varieties.
The spirit is matured in new charred American oak barrels for at least 15 months. This doesn't sound very long at all but the climate of central Texas has quite an effect on the spirit. In the summer, temperatures can reach around 38°C and in winter, they are much lower (at the time of writing - 14th December - it's apparently 3°C in Waco). But there can be a difference of about 4-5°C in one single day which also has a significant effect. All in all, the climate 'accelerates' the maturation process which goes some way to explaining the younger age of the spirit.
So, here are my thoughts on dram 2 of the advent calendar (yeah, I know I'm behind but I value my liver):
Nose: something very herbal initially - maybe sage; there's a slight cheesy note in the background; there are hints of buttered Schwarzbrot and Coco Pops; red apple notes appear after a while and there are hints of cinnamon and cloves with some sweet popcorn.
Palate: well, this is a bit weird; this comes across as very ashy from the outset; there are heaps of dark chocolate and chicory flavours coming through as well; there's a rose water note emerging into the finish as well as fresh orange juice; the finish is quite lengthy and also quite dry.
Overall: after nosing this whisky, the palate was nothing like I was expecting it to be. It was really quite strange at first and I wasn't sure I liked it. After a while, though, it really grew on me. Although my experience of rye whisky/whiskey is still limited, this is nothing like any I've tried before. It's not overly spicy but it is unbelievably ashy. I have to say it took a while to get into this but by the end I really enjoyed it.
Available for £67.25 at Master of Malt: CLICK HERE
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