We’re in the midst of an alcohol renaissance in America. Fans of beer have over 8,000 breweries to choose from (compare that to a decade ago when there were less than 2,000). Spirits drinkers have over 2,000 distilleries, including more than 700 that primarily make bourbon and other types of whiskey. In the simplest terms — we have a lot of options when we drink.
This boom in whiskey — and even more specifically, bourbon — has led to states not normally associated with certain spirits surging to the forefront of the conversation. Texas is the perfect example, leading the craft spirits charge with the likes of Garrison Brothers, Firestone & Robertson, Still Austin, and Balcones. While Garrison Brothers was technically the first Texas bourbon, back in 2006, it’s hard to argue that Balcones isn’t the most well-known. Founded in 2009, the Waco, Texas-based distillery uses copper pot stills and often employs heritage blue corn to create Texas single malts and other award-winning whiskies.
With seven expressions on its “classics” collection (as well as the well-known Balcones Texas Blue Corn Bourbon), Balcones has something for every whisky drinker. There’s a smoky whisky, a sweet single malt, a rye whisky, and some of the best bourbon made outside of the Blue Grass State.
So which should you try first? That’s where the blind taste test comes in. Today, I’m nosing, tasting, and ranking the following:
- Balcones Baby Blue
- Balcones Lineage
- Balcones Texas Single Malt
- Balcones Texas Pot Still Bourbon
- Balcones Texas Blue Corn Bourbon
- Balcones Texas Rye
- Balcones True Blue
- Balcones Brimstone
Let’s get this Texas whisky party started! Click on the prices if you’re interested in trying any of these yourself.
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Part 1: The Taste
There’s a fair amount of oaky aroma on the nose that’s followed closely behind by sweet corn, caramel apples, and slight spice. The palate revealed a nutty sweetness along with more oak, sweet honey, pipe tobacco, and more caramel corn.
Overall, this is a highly sippable, sweet, rich whiskey.
At first sniff, the nose is a bit bland. There are hints of raisins, wood char, and slight vanilla, but not much else. Tasting it revealed a surprising nutty flavor along with toasted marshmallows and more oak. It’s not a bad whiskey by any means, but not all that exciting either.
I’m going to assume that this is the one rye whiskey on the list, as I was immediately struck with fragrances of peppery rye on the nose. This was followed by caramelized sugar and vanilla beans. The palate proved surprisingly light with charred oak, cracked black pepper, and pipe tobacco.
Overall, this is an okay whiskey but nothing to write home about.
A lot is going on with this expression. I noticed hints of sweet corn, caramel candy, butterscotch, vanilla, and dried fruits. Upon sipping it, I found notable favors of dried orange peel, caramel corn, treacle, and just a hint of spice and oak at the finish. Overall, this is a very complex, highly drinkable whiskey.
This whiskey’s nose is extremely fruity with hints of ripe berries, dried cherries, and raisins. There’s also a wallop of cinnamon and light corn aroma. Complex flavors of chocolate fudge, sweet corn, oaky wood, and vanilla are present on the palate. The finish is warming, fruity, and sweet.
This whiskey has a potent nose. There are hints of candied pecans, butterscotch, wood char, vanilla beans, and raisins. The plate is loaded with sticky toffee, vanilla frosting, brown sugar, and slight cinnamon spice. It’s warming, sweet, and rich.
Oh, boy is this an aggressive whiskey. The nose is like being engulfed in a campfire. That’s about it. There’s a little more going on with the flavor. Sure, the smoky flavor runs throughout, but there are also notes of caramel, vanilla, and dried cherries. The finish is all smoke.
The nose is all sweet corn. There are hints of caramel corn and subtle spices as well, but not much else. There’s a little more in the palate with the addition of caramel candy, butterscotch, sweet corn, and dried fruits. Overall, not a very complex whiskey.
From my notes: “tastes more like moonshine than an aged whiskey.”
Part 2: The Ranking
8) Balcones Baby Blue (Taste 8)
Average Price: $40
If you’ve only tried one Balcones whisky, it’s probably Baby Blue. The first Texas-made whisky to hit the market since prohibition, Baby Blue is made with roasted blue corn. It’s a very young bourbon (hence the name) and isn’t as nuanced and complex as many of the brand’s other offerings.
I’d be surprised if this isn’t the youngest whisky on this list. It wasn’t a bad sip by any account, it just didn’t taste as mature as the others.
7) Balcones Texas Single Malt (Taste 2)
Average Price: $69
If you’re a Scotch drinker, this is the closest you’re going to get in the Balcones range. This non-chill filtered whisky is made from 100 percent malted barley, copper pot distilled, and is aged for two years in American oak barrels. The result is rich, nutty, sweet whisky.
There’s a richness and nuttiness to this whisky that makes it pleasurable to sip, but it’s not as exciting as I would hope from such a renowned distillery.
6) Balcones Texas Rye (Taste 3)
Average Price: $39
Obviously, Balcones is most well-known for its bourbon so it should come as no surprise that it only makes one year-round rye. Distilled using Texas-grown Elbon Rye, this whisky was first produced to celebrate the distillery’s tenth anniversary. It’s aged in a combination of new and charred American oak casks.
If you’re looking for a simple, easy to sip, subtly peppery sipper without much else going on, this is a great whisky for you. If you’re looking for something more potent with a more complicated flavor profile, try something else from the brand.
5) Balcones Brimstone (Taste 7)
Average Price: $54
With a name like Brimstone, you pretty much know what you’re in for when you take a sip of this unique whisky. This smoked corn whisky is just that — supremely smoky. It gets its bold flavor from smoking using “sun-baked” Texas scrub oak. The result is a whisky that bridges the gap between Texas and Scotland.
If you don’t enjoy smoky whiskies, don’t open a bottle of this expression. It’s like sticking your head inside a barbecue smoker and taking a sip of the air. If you enjoy that (and some do!), you’ll love this.
4) Balcones Texas Pot Still Bourbon (Taste 1)
Average Price: $30
This is an interesting bourbon. Made with New Mexico blue corn, Texas wheat, and Texas malted barley, this pot still distilled bourbon is matured on new, charred American oak barrels. It’s bottled at 92 proof and is well-known for its sweet corn and caramel flavors.
This is one of the most interesting whiskies on this list. It has complex yet simple flavors. Corn is at the forefront, but there’s enough going on to keep it from being one-dimensional.
3) Balcones Texas Blue Corn Bourbon (Taste 4)
Average Price: $54
One of the most sought-after expressions from Balcones, Texas Blue Corn Bourbon is an annual release from the distillery. It’s cask strength, bold, and rich. It tastes the way you’d expect a Texas-based bourbon to taste — potent and BIG.
This is a great sipper that’s so filled with flavors that it’ll take you multiple tastings to find them all. Subtly spicy, very smooth, and somewhat beguiling thanks to the blue corn, this is a truly memorable bottle.
2) Balcones Lineage (Taste 6)
Average Price: $40
This is a truly global single malt whisky. It’s made using both local barley as well as Simpsons Golden Promise malts from Scotland. It’s distilled in a copper pot still before being aged in a combination of new and refilled American oak barrels.
This whisky has everything you’d want in a nice, end of summer or early fall sipper. It’s rich, sweet, and has notable oak and nutty flavors that leave you wanting more.
1) Balcones True Blue (Taste 5)
Average Price: $54
This is like the ramped-up version of Balcones Baby Blue. It’s a 100 proof, bold blue corn whisky. Perfectly suited for mixing or slow-sipping, it’s fruity, slightly spicy, and filled with complex corn notes. It might carry the less-than-respected moniker of a “corn whisky,” but it’s so much more than that.
This is the richest, most complex whisky I’ve tried today. It has a nice kick of roasted corn that plays well with various other flavors like butterscotch and spicy cinnamon.
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