Monday, 28 January 2013
Having the Blues isn't All Bad...He Says
He Said...The Master’s Class is an area of personal joy where you often get to hear straight from the people who make the whisky that we all revel in. So, as odd as this sounds, I’m going to take a moment to tell you about a whisky brand that we did not see represented during our recent trip to the Victoria Whisky Festival and a Master Class that I have never been to…no really.
I present to you Balcones. There is a reason why there has been a flurry of blog post about the whisky from this small Waco, Texas distillery. It’s really good! There is also a reason why they were not in attendance at the Victoria Whisky festival and I can only assume hit has something to do with the fact that Balcones is not yet available in Canada. I can only hope there is something in the works to change this and SOON! In the mean time let this heed as a warning to those of you in the United States and United Kingdom. Balcones is coming to Whisky Live New York and London and you really should do yourself a favor and take any opportunity you have to speak to or attend a Master Class with Chip Tate, the Master Distiller for Balcones.
As an aside for a moment, I proofread my posts as I write. I go back, read things over sometimes editing, sometimes starting again. Reading back over this post I am now fully aware that this reads like some sort of paid marketing for Balcones. I’m not paid by Balcones and I don’t care if that’s how it sounds. I am passionate about good whisky and I think this is good…moving on.
There are three main reasons that I like Balcones. 1) As I just said, its good - In my opinion, very good (my tasting notes will follow my ramblings). 2) Chip is a whisky geek…a proper nerd; the kind of whisky geek that you learn from. The kind of whisky nerd that is more than happy to share his knowledge, give you insight into the nitty-gritty of what it takes to make their product and what goes on behind the scenes. Through my research on Balcones the one constant theme that kept reoccurring was Chip’s love for what might be called “whisky geekery.” The in-depth discussion of aldehydes, acetates, and other esthers that make up the hallmark aromas that we know and love in our drams. I presume or at least hope that all Master distillers have the same level of understanding of what is actually happening as they mash, ferment distill and mature their product and where the aromas come from in the process. Chip is one of the distillers that takes you down this road and gives you the in-depth information…be prepared (for an insight into what I mean see this Master Class hosted by Chip, recorded by Whiskies of the World and posted on YouTube)! On a similar vein other bloggers have written about Chip’s love for the science of distilling, see Josh Feldman’s post from September 15, 2012 “Chip Tate's Mad Geeky Genius”.
The whisky industry is full of professionals but I think one of the things that make Balcones different from a consumer and blogger perspective is that Balcones is relatively new. They do not make their product the way they do because “that’s how it has always been made.” There is no Balcones tradition to follow, they are building that tradition as we speak. I had the opportunity to speak to Chip two weeks ago and we discussed this concept briefly. One of the impressions I have often received from other distillers in the early stages of creating a product is they don’t exactly know how their whisky is going to turn out. This is not the case with Chip. The impression I received is that Balcones products are turning out exactly how they planned, period. Every part of Baclcones’ process was specifically engineered and designed to create the “their” profile.
The third reason I like Balcones is I love rooting for the underdog…the little guy; especially when the little guy is doing big things! So what’s next you ask? To begin with, they are growing, not just in popularity but in size as well. The first step in their expansion was acquiring new space that they are currently using for maturation with the intention of creating a second distillation site. The plans are in the works so stay tuned on that front. As I mentioned earlier about product availability, their market is expanding into the UK with an appearance from Chip coming up at Whisky Live in London. The Balcones product line seems to be constantly expanding and evolving as well. Currently they have a Texas Single Malt (careful examination of the back label will reveal different maturation styles between batches), four different Blue Corn Whiskies including a cask strength release and the much lauded and intensely smoky Brimstone. Stepping away form whisky they also have a distilled spirit line called Rumble and the cask strength version, Rumble Cask Reserve made from Texas honey, turbinado sugar and Mission figs. According to Chip they also have plans to release a rum, hopefully within in the next year.
So, on with the tasting. I originally chose these whiskies as part of the series I was doing about what I think you should be drinking for the winter months. These whiskies were a bit of a diversion from what I would normally associate with comfort on a cold evening. I present to you Balcones Baby Blue, True Blue 100 Proof and True Blue Cask Strength. So, what makes these whiskies from the sun drenched state of Texas something you should be drinking on a cold winter’s eve? The word that comes to mind is comfort. For different reasons these three whiskies evoke a snugness associated with cooking on cast iron outside on a cold dark evening or the warmth of a hearth in a log cabin with your wool socks pointed toward the crackling fire.
I chose these three whiskies because I was intrigued by what I considered to be an obvious progression and made an assumption that it was a series based on the common blue corn theme with progressively higher alcohol by volume. I was surprised at how different a leap there was between the Baby Blue and the True Blue 100 until I spoke to Chip about the products. As it turns out the Baby Blue and True Blue releases were intended to examine the different ways the blue corn could be taken and examining the various possibilities in flavor profiles. In other words they are not about their similarities, but rather their differences.
Baby Blue - 46% abv
Nose: Buttered Popcorn and then Caramel Candy Corn. This whisky is so sweet and silky on the nose I started to salivate immediately. There is caramel and vanilla as you might expect with barely a titch of cinnamon and fresh wood shaving in the background. With this whisky I can decide between going to the movie or the county fair?
On the pallet the buttery sweetness continues and finishes very fresh. This is a very easy drinking dram…a little too easy.
True Blue 100 Proof - 50%abv
Color: Amber to brown.
Nose: As the color deepens so does the flavor. More bold, more intense. Mexican Drinking Chocolate, the delicate combination of velvety chocolate, cinnamon and chilies. Corn notes are still there but not nearly as pronounced as in the Baby Blue. More toasted corn as oppose to the round sweet corn.
Pallet: Some caramel, brown sugar with a touch of corn meets the bitterness of dark chocolate. Takes water very well to knock off the edges and round out the flavors.
True Blue Cask Strength - 60.1%
Nose: Mesquite BBQ. Burnt Sugar and sweet corn bread.
There is a petroleum note there as well (This smell takes me back to my grandfather’s workshop in the barn where he parked the tractor. The thick floorboards were soaked with oil, grease and diesel fuel. The smell was always a tug between earthy organic smells of wood, hay and soil and the industrial smell of the fuel. This may sound off-putting but it is actually just the opposite. Think of other organic, earthy or petroleum smells that appeal like worn leather, old furniture, old books and damp moss and you’ll have an idea of where I’m at here).
Pallet: Heavy hit on the pallet as you might expect from 60.1%. Water really brings out the bitterness of burnt sugar and BBQ but doesn’t eliminate the petrol as I might have expected.
Conclusions are that I love these three whiskies for three different reasons. They are not simply three of the same with progressively higher abv’s, they are three different drams to enjoy for three different moods. If they are coming your way, do yourself a favor and give them a try.