Posts tagged ‘Balcones’

Phil’s Favorite American Craft Whiskeys

There is no section of my local liquor store expanding quite so rapidly as American craft whiskey.  New distilleries seem to be emerging every day, as do new whiskeys.  I have to admit that I have not been impressed with all of it, but I have really enjoyed some of the craft whiskeys released in the United States over the last few years.

For the purposes of this series, some of these whiskeys could be included in different categories (i.e. Dad’s Hat is also a rye whiskey in addition to being a craft whiskey), but I stated at the beginning that each whiskey could only receive one nomination, so that is why each of these whiskeys appears here as opposed to on another list.  So, here are the nominees for American Craft Whiskey:

Name: Balcones “1” Texas Single Malt

Distillery: Balcones

Batch: SM 12-9

Age: No Age Statement

Proof: 106 (53% abv)

Price: $70-80/750ml

Notes: This was one of the first batches of Texas Single Malt released, and it did not disappoint.  This whiskey elicited rich banana bread notes, a nutty sweetness, and a rich berry creaminess.  This whiskey really worked to forge a new style all its own, and it worked beautifully.  The only caveat to this nomination is that I have tried a few successive batches of this whiskey that I have not liked nearly as much as I liked this first batch.  That said, this particular batch was brilliant whiskey.  “1” Texas Single Malt is available on a limited basis the further one gets from Texas.

Name: Corsair Triple Smoke

Distillery: Corsair Artisan Distillery

Batch: 84

Age: No Age Statement

Proof: 80 (40% abv)

Price: $45-50/750ml

Notes: This whiskey is a blend of three different malted barley samples, one smoked over cherry wood, one smoked over peat, and one smoked over beechwood.  The resulting whiskey is a unique take on smoked malt whiskey, yielding flavors of fiery peat, sweet barley, and freshly cut oak.  This is definitely a young whiskey that is a little rough around the edges, but the flavors are unique and they are bursting out of the bottle.  This is a hard whiskey to find, but if you do, it’s worth a try.  They are not too many like this one floating around.

Name: Dad’s Hat Pennsylvania Rye

Distillery: Mountain Laurel Spirits

Batch: N/A

Age: 6 months

Proof: 90 (45% abv)

Price: $35-40/750ml

Notes: This rye is made in the authentic Pennsylvania style, meaning that corn is not included in the mashbill as found in Kentucky ryes.  Dad’s Hat is then aged in new oak quarter casks for a minimum of 6 months.  You would probably think that after only 6 months, this whiskey would be hot and brash, but it is nothing of the sort.  Even at its young age, this is a quality whiskey, with cocoa dust, rich black cherries, fresh oak shavings, and white chocolate.  This is one of those whiskeys that is really good and gets you really excited about tasting such a well-made spirit at an older age (Dad’s Hat will be rolling out a 3 year-old rye this spring).  This whiskey was awarded “Craft Whiskey of the Year” by Whisky Advocate magazine for good reason.  It is widely available in the mid-Atlantic, but gets harder to find the further one is from Pennsylvania.

Name: High West Campfire

Distillery: Midwest Grain Products/Unnamed Scottish Distilleries – Blended and Bottled at High West

Batch: N/A

Age: 5 Years

Proof: 92 (46% abv)

Price: $40-45/750ml

Notes: I had trouble decided whether or not High West belonged in the American Craft Whiskey category or not, but as they were undoubtedly one of the pioneers of the American craft movement, I have included their whiskeys here.  This particular whiskey is a blend of a rye whiskey, a bourbon, and a peated blended malt Scotch from an undisclosed source.  The result is something both unique and special.  Sweet flavors such as caramel, honey, and vanilla are present, as are herbal flavors like pine and juniper.  All these flavors are accented wonderfully by a twinge of rolling smoke.  This whiskey is widely available; you can find it in almost any liquor store where High West products are sold.

Name: High West Double Rye!

Distillery: Midwest Grain Products/Barton 1792 – Blended and Bottled at High West

Batch: N/A

Age: 2 Years

Proof: 92 (46% abv)

Price: $40-45/750ml

Notes: Double Rye! is made at the High West Distillery in Utah by marrying two different whiskeys – a 95% rye mashbill, 2 year-old whiskey from MGP in Indiana, and a 16 year-old, 53% rye mashbill from the Barton Distillery in Kentucky.  The resulting whiskey is a tour-de-force of rye flavors.  All the spice cabinet range of a great rye is present here, but it is all buttressed by rich honey and vanilla notes to round out a great profile.  The great part about this rye is that it is available almost everywhere in the United States, and it won’t break the bank.

Getting Weird with Homemade Blends: Some Thoughts

If you’ve ever been unlucky enough to spend some time with me, you are probably aware that one of my favorite sayings is, “If you ain’t gettin’ weird, weird is gettin’ you.”  And, it is upon that basis that a few years ago, I began to take to experimentation with blending my own whiskeys at home.  If you are one of those folks who believes that each whiskey you buy should be drank neat, then you’ve got to expand your horizons, my friend.  And, as opposed to leaping straight into making Laphroaig cocktails, why not do some dabbling with homemade blends (especially around the holidays when you’ve got all sorts of in-laws blowing up your spot)?

The biggest reason I started working with homemade blends is because of whiskeys that I was not the biggest fan of on their own merits, but saw potential in their flavors.  The first ever blend I created at home (and I always recommend starting with a glass and then working up to a full batch) originated from my having a bottle of Willett rye that was a little hot for my tastes, with some heavy herbal notes that were not my favorite.  To be sure, this Willett was not bad whiskey, merely not my favorite.  So, to bring in some sweetness, but not too much, I created a glass of whisky with 1.5 ounces each of Willett rye and Wild Turkey Rare Breed.  The result was a fantastic dram, but big vanilla and spice, backed by a whispering herb garden.  I was hooked on blending.

My favorite blend that I have ever made came out of the search for good uses for Balcones Brimstone, a Texas Scrub Oak whisky that resembled a mix of gasoline and barbecue sauce.  The flavors were intense and powerful, but hot and unpleasant (it turned out to be a great cooking whiskey, too, but more on that in another post).  At around this same time, somebody gifted me a bottle of Old Crow Reserve bourbon, hardly my favorite bourbon, but decent bourbon at $15/bottle.  I started teaspooning full measures of Old Crow Reserve with Balcones Brimstone, and magic happened.  The result was a bold, brash, and balanced whiskey wafting back and forth between spicy, earthy notes, and sweet cereal flavors.  If you’ve ever thought sweet corn would taste good smothered in caramel and a Cajun dry rub, this was the blend for you.

Not every blend I have ever tried has worked out, but not every person you date ends up being your spouse, but that’s why you date them.  The reason I blend whiskeys at home is because whiskeys are like people – sometimes that friend of yours growing up that always gets the group into trouble just needs to find the right person to be with to smooth out those rough edges and create a masterpiece.  Happy blending, y’all!  Let it ride!

Balcones Texas Single Malt Whisky Review

Balcones Texas Single MaltI am capping off my little mini-series on American craft whiskeys with one of my very favorite whiskies, Balcones Texas Single Malt Whisky.  This whisky is made from malted barley that is mashed, fermented, distilled, and aged at the Balcones Distillery in Waco, TX.  Like most Balcones whiskies, there is no age statement on the bottle, but that is not a case of Balcones trying to hide bad spirit.  This is truly a case of Balcones bottling their products when they are ready.  Like most Balcones products, their single malt is bottled in small batches (this is batch #SM12-9) and without the use of coloring or chill-filtration.  Like the Balcones Brimstone, Texas Single Malt is bottled at 106 proof (53% abv).

In the glass, Balcones Texas Single Malt Whisky is a rich, deep mahogany color.  The nose is a classic single malt, but wholly unique at the same time.  It reminds me of rich, freshly baked banana bread, with the balance of toasted sweet breads, bananas, walnuts, tangerines, chocolate pound cake, and a light whiff of cinnamon spice.  The nose on the whisky is unbelievably delicious.  The palate is medium to full-bodied, fruity and buttery, with notes of pears, strawberries, cinnamon sugar, and toasted bread.  The finish is warming and relatively long, with some spiced oak, cinnamon, and vanilla custard.

Overall, this whisky is absolutely brilliant.  It is unlike anything else on the American whiskey scene today, truly in a class of its own.  It is sweet, fruity, malty, spicy, and lightly wooded.  Everything you would want from a single malt whisky is present, and yet this whisky sneaks into the realm beyond words.  It also opens up beautifully in the bottle and with a few drops of water.  It is slowly becoming more readily available, but still not the easiest whisky to find.  Snag a bottle if you see one.  My grade: A-/A.  Price: $50-60/750ml.  This is a little pricey for its youth, but the juice in the bottle is worth every penny.  Balcones is definitely doing some great stuff with whisky, and letting it ride!

Balcones Brimstone Whisky Review

Balcones BrimstoneIn continuing my thoughts on some American craft whiskeys, I am reviewing Balcones Brimstone, a whisky (Balcones does not use the “e”) made with 100% blue corn.  Balcones is a distillery out of Waco, Texas that has quickly swept the American whiskey scene with its innovative, brilliant line of whiskeys and whiskey liqueurs.  The subject of today’s review is Brimstone, a whisky made from a mash of 100% blue corn and smoked with Texas Scrub oak.  Chip Tate (master distiller at Balcones) has kept his secrets regarding this whisky under wraps very well, but Brimstone is smoked differently than most peated whiskies coming out to Scotland in that Balcones smokes the whisky, itself, not the grain.  I suspect that this whisky is not very old, but I do not know that for sure, as there is no age statement on the bottle.  The whisky is bottled in small batches (this review is of #BRM13-3) and bottled at 106 proof (53% abv).

The aroma’s of this whisky come leaping immediately out of the glass, with dry-rubbed barbecue spices, burning wood, toasted corn chips, rock salt, and caramelized onions.  The palate is medium to full-bodied, and it follows up on what the nose started.  Sweet corn, mesquite barbecue, and a big bonfire smoke note make up what is certainly a unique palate.  The finish is long, longer than most whiskies I have encountered.  Seriously, try two glasses of this whisky at about 8 pm, and see if your breakfast doesn’t taste like Brimstone whisky.  The finish reminds me of a combination of barbecue smoke, wood smoke, and pipe smoke, the flavor that might linger after eating some barbecue potato chips and smoking my pipe.

I do not care for this whisky too much with water added, as it really thins the whisky out too much, rendering the whisky disjointed.  However, I do really like blending this whisky with bourbon.  Pouring a full 2 ounce measure of bourbon, and adding just a splash of Brimstone makes a delicious homemade blend that brings a great combination of sweet and smoky to bear.  I love doing homemade blending, and I am always excited when a combination works as well as this one does.  Brimstone is also a fun whisky to have in the cabinet because of how it bends your palate, and changes the flavor of whatever whisky you may taste after it.

Overall, Balcones Brimstone is certainly a unique and innovative whisky.  It is hardly a whisky that one can drink often, but there are some nights (and some foods) that go really well with Balcones Brimstone.  It also makes a fantastic whisky to cook with, for all its spicy, flavorful qualities.  This is well-made whisky, a trend indicative of the quality of Balcones’ products.  Look forward to a few more reviews of their whiskeys here at Bargain Bourbon.  My grade: B-.  Price: $50-60/750ml.  Even though the price is a bit steep for such a young whisky, you should give Brimstone a whirl; it is a memorable whisky experience.  Let it ride!