Chip Tate of Balcones Distilling is a rising star in the American whisk(e)y world. He’s taken on the amiable task of starting a new Texas Whisky tradition (they drop the “e”). Recent winners of many awards, Balcones was founded in 2008 in Waco TX and specializes in corn whiskey with a few other products including a rum-ish spirit called Rumble which is distilled from mission figs and Texas wildflower honey. But like I said most of their output is corn whisky, but this isn’t your distant cousin-who-has-a-connection to that guy who lives in the shack up the hill mason jar corn whiskey. Instead of using easily and cheaply obtained bulk run of the mill corn, Balcones imports Hopi Blue Corn from New Mexico. From the Balcones’ website:
“While Hopi blue corn we use has an extremely interesting history, there is really only reason one we prefer it to all other corn for our whisky– taste. Its gorgeous midnight blue kernels are packed with a rich, roasty nuttiness that is truly exceptional. Unlike most of the blue corn on the market, Hopi blue corn is not just white dent corn which has been specially crossed to give it a blue tint. There is a lot of quality corn in this category, even some nice organic examples. But in a blind taste test, we could not tell the blue from the white corn. Hopi blue corn, however, has been grown with the same rich color and flavor for thousands of years and is the only corn that could impart the rich character we require for our whisky.”
Along with distilling in Tate’s hand-built copper still, yes he built it, they also age their corn whisky in small barrels in a non climate controlled room in the distillery that speeds up the aging process. The constant changes in temperature brought on by distillery production forcing the liquid in and out of the barrel combined with the greater surface area contact of the whisky in the smaller barrels allows them to get more bang for the aging buck. While you can technically call their whisky bourbon it really falls more as a refined middle road between the sweet aged character of bourbon and a more earthy corn whisky of moonshine. Balcones’ first whisky Baby Blue is billed as “not only the first Texas whisky on the market since Prohibition, but so far we know the only blue corn whisky made anywhere.” Baby Blue’s big brother True Blue is a cask strength also lightly oak aged version of the Baby Blue corn whisky, and damn good. I’ve yet to try the Baby Blue but if True Blue is any indication, Balcones is doing things right. I chose True Blue over Baby Blue because almost as a rule I go for cask strength versions if I can get my grubby hands on them.
Aroma: floral, orange, light and tight wood, some slight vanilla, nutty corn, finishing with more orange citrus candy and leather
Flavor: big first punch of syrupy orange, spicy pepper, and some cinnamon. Then that familiar corn whisky profile, but different. Sweet, nutty, spicy, but deep, dark and earthy corn with some chocolate thrown all under it. The Blue Corn has a noticeably different flavor than the cheap mass produced corn found in other “corn whisky”.
Finish: has some drying heat that comes in mid palate and hangs around all the while surrounded with more corny corn corn and dried chili spice with thick orange and dark honey sweet notes.
Ok so my impression of Balcones True Blue is: I’m ordering more now and will do my damn best to have it on hand all the time. Unfortunately I can’t get any in SC but that’s why mail-order whisk(e)y might be the second best human discovery behind fermentation. It’s such a new whisky experience. Powerful, and while young, refined, complex, deep and outrageously good. As many other reviewers have noted, it is a very American whiskey. It screams it. If you’ve been turned off from other corn whisk(e)y offerings, give this powerhouse a try. I’m sure it’s not for everyone as it does have a different and more forward flavor presentation than any mainstream scotch, bourbon or other whisk(e)y you’re going to find and it will no doubt turn off the less open and adventurous. But if you have a palate that expands past what you find at the generic neighborhood bar and you want to try something you’re likely not to find elsewhere, this should be on your list. I’m so pissed my bottle almost dry. *ring *ring Hello Binnys? Might as well grab some other Balcones while I’m at it…. Brimstone here I come.
Highly Recommended 63.00% ABV