One of only a handful of distilleries to exist in Texas after prohibition, Balcones is an intriguing brand that is celebrating their 10th anniversary this year.
Balcones began life as a craft distillery that was hand made by its founders. Every bit of it was put together by its first distillers.
They started as an idea to do something new and challenge the old, and they have been doing just that over the past decade.
Based in Waco Texas, the distillery can be found in a charming old welding shop under a bridge.
In 2017 they opened their second distillery in Waco, inside a historic Texas Fireproof Storage Company building.
Today they are one of the most awarded distilleries in the world and have over 200 awards to their name.
Balcones is the brand that just keeps winning. As well as commemorating their 10th anniversary this year, they are also celebrating being awarded American Craft Producer of the Year for the third time (previously in 2012 and 2013) at the 2018 Icons of Whisky and World Whiskies Awards.
Their Whiskies were also awarded in three categories, World’s Best American Single Cask Single Malt for their Texas Single Malt, Best American Corn Whisky for their True Blue 100 and Best Non-Kentucky Bourbon for their Texas Blue Corn Bourbon.
Now in their 10th year of production, the distillery has decided to celebrate by releasing a Texas Rye expression. This will come in both a cask strength bottling at 62.5% ABV and a 50% ABV bottling that will become part of their core range.
Head Distiller Jared Himstedt said, “We are so proud to finally be releasing our first ever Texas Rye expression this year to celebrate our first decade as a Distillery.”
“The final rye mash bill that we’ve landed on is primarily made up of Texas Grown Raw Elbon Rye but also utilizes three different specialty Ryes from Weyermann Specialty Malts. If you’re familiar with the way we traditionally put mash bills together, you’ll see this is a slight variation on our standard method of producing a whisky made from only one type of grain in that while we did stick to a 100% Rye mash bill, we did so by using four different kinds of Rye for a rich chocolate character along with more traditional “rye spice” notes.”
Balcones Texas Rye 100 launched at the Distillery in March and is available in the US now. It will be available in the UK from October 2018. The Cask Strength release will be available in very limited quantities only from the Distillery and select UK retailers.
But that’s not all they’re doing. In fact they are going as far as releasing a total of 10 new expressions in the second half of 2018 to commemorate every year they’ve been active. These will be available on limited release in both the US and UK.
The newest addition to the Balcones family, this Texas Rye is packed with typical Rye flavours of sweetness and spice.
It has been twice pot-distilled and made up of a combination of 80% raw Elbon that includes Crystal, Chocolate and Roasted rye varieties.
The nose opens with malted grain, cinnamon spice and crisp apples. The flavours come together to form a dessert like quality with a lovely Rye warmth.
There is a gentle note of fresh cut grass, pumpkin seeds and a hint of caramel from the oak wood of the casks.
The palate has hints of tobacco and lots of wooded notes. Sweet nuts also join the mix, really helping to bolster the oak wood flavours.
There is a delicate hint of chocolate and more malted flavours. The caramel from the nose really grows and becomes thicker, with a hint of vanilla.
This ties in perfectly with the oak and cinnamon notes. Nutmeg and cloves also appear, offer a nice spice.
The finish is slightly smoky, with a soft cinnamon heat. Not a Rye to be missed.
Texas Single Malt, £92.95 from here
Taking inspiration from Speyside single malts, this expression is full of flavour and Texan heat.
It has been traditionally distilled and then aged in ex-Bourbon American oak casks.
The nose opens with tropical fruits including bananas and pineapples, with thick maple syrup and cereal notes. It is wonderfully sweet.
There is a gentle citrus tang with some lemons and limes, and the oak of the casks comes through with a lovely hazelnut and pecan note.
The palate has lots more oak notes, this time with a charcoal heat to them. The oak also brings in more orchard notes of dew covered grass and apples.
Cereal flvoura abound and are given life with some lovely orange notes and a hint of lemon and lime. Caramel also comes through, giving it a soft mouth feel and creamy texture.
The finish is long, with hints of cereal and spicy caramel.
Baby Blue, £72.95 from here
Balcones Baby Blue is made with perfectly roasted blue corn and has won several awards since it was first released.
The nose begins with lots of sweet vanilla and oak wood before moving into a buttery popcorn and toasted white bread note.
Caramel comes in and complements the vanilla and oak wood brilliantly. It turns to toasted white sugar as the nose continues.
The palate is rich and smooth, with more caramel and popcorn. The wood is especially strong here, with lots of tannins and vanilla notes.
There is a hint of bitter dark chocolate and coffee, which gives the dram a nice edge for the sweeter flavours to bounce off. These notes introduce a real depth to the Whiskey.
It finishes with lots of malted cereal notes and a hint of cinnamon and oak wood.
Brimstone, £82.95 from here
This is a really interesting dram that has been smoked with Texas scrub oak.
The smoking process introduces a thick, pungent smoke flavour that does not overwhelm but certainly makes itself known.
The flavours come together perfectly on the nose, which is packed with smoke, caramel and burnt toast. The malted cereal notes of different grains give it a lovely soft edge for the smoke to rise on its own.
It also has a soft sweetness that comes alive on the palate. Caramel, vanilla and apple crumble are all present and melt into the smoke and heat of the nose.
It is refined and elegant, with a little hint of smoky charcoal and some rich nutmeg flavours to add depth to the heat.
Oats and biscuits also appear adding yet more complexity and depth.
There is a tangy BBQ sauce flavour from the charcoal with a dash of citrus fruits and vinegar.
It finishes with peppery spice and a lasting waft of smoke.
In part two, I speak to Jared about the Distillery, their approach to distilling and some of his favourite Whiskies.