Corn Whisky

Review: Balcones Baby Blue Corn Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Balcones Baby Blue 2.jpg
ABV
46%
Aging
Used 5 Gallon Barrels
Recipe
Roasted Heirloom Blue Corn
Distiller Balcones (Waco, Texas)

This whiskey is made from double distilled heirloom blue corn, matured in used 5 gallon casks for a limited time. It is released young and youthful - intentionally - in order to display the character of the blue heirloom corn used to make the whiskey. The first whiskey released in Texas since prohibition, and perhaps the cornerstone whiskey which established Balcones as a leader in craft distilling.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

The nose is sharp and young – oily, unripe pear, jalapeno, white pepper, but is full of lots of toffee, mixed roasted nuts, and lots of tropical fruit. But – it evolves, with cinnamon, sunflower oil, dried corn, and terrific roasted notes. The palate has lots of toffee, with some spice, tea, and light oak – and rich sunflower and corn oil (which does a nice trick!). The finish is lightly sour, with more toffee and some pear – but rich and spicy - the spices on the end are brilliant. Young, but very well crafted – the distillate comes through beautifully and it is creamy, rich, and spicy – and a bit candied. It is terrific!

I really like it. The youthfulness on the nose does detract the score, though. But, that being said – I do like whiskies that show good underlying distillate – and this has that.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher). This really is unique, and shows the amazing depth that a young whisky can have, and, moreover, one made from the typically one-dimensional corn! This is rather unique in the world of whisky.

Value: Medium. At about 60$ USD, it’s a bit high in cost for what you get. I was between low and medium for this, but it gets the bump to medium for uniqueness.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: BB18-3

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

The nose is raw, rich, and so full of corn. It is awesome. Sweet, oily, and creamy – with vanilla, prunes, dried apricot, blood orange, clove, and baking cinnamon rolls. The palate is so creamy! What a wonderful mix of oak, berry notes, tobacco, cacao, and dried corn. The finish is slightly tannic, with lots of vanilla, oak, dried fruit, and light baking spice (nutmeg too). Awesome!

Highly Recommended. This really is unique, and shows the amazing depth that a young whisky can have, and, moreover, one made from the typically one-dimensional corn! This is rather unique in the world of whisky.

Value: Medium. At about 60$ USD, it’s a bit high in cost for what you get. I was between low and medium for this, but it gets the bump to medium for uniqueness.

Score: 87/100

Value: 63/100 (based on $93)


Review: Balcones Brimstone Scrub Oak Smoked Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Balcones+Brimstone+1.jpg
ABV
53%
Aging
>1 Day
Recipe
Roasted Heirloom Blue Corn
Distiller Balcones (Waco, Texas)

Scrub oak is a variety of small, shrubby oak present throughout the US. They are more shrubs than trees, so you wouldn’t make barrels from them, but Balcones found a use for this oak here! They smoke the distillate as part of a proprietary process, and it is aged for “at least one day” in accordance with whisky regulations in the USA (though I’m not sure how long it is actually aged, but it isn’t labeled a bourbon or straight bourbon, so it is presumably not aged that long).


Review (2019)

  • Batch: BRM18-2 (Bott. 3.28.18)

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

The nose is gorgeous. Rich woodiness and multifaceted oak, but this is offset by a light berry fruitiness and some rich dried fruit. Frying tomato paste, sandalwood, and rosewood. A home smoker at work…The palate has terrific mouthfeel and contains a terrific hit of smoke, black pepper, vanilla, and clean oak. There are terrific dried fruits throughout. The finish is smoky, rich, and woody. I do love this stuff!

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher). It’s the first non-peated smoky whisky I’ve really taken to. It has a rich woodiness, smokiness, and it’s distinctly smoky and non-Scottish.

Value: Average. It’s pretty good to get a unique, smoky whisky like this for about $70 US. It competes with some of the cheaper Scottish peated whiskies pretty well – but it really is in a category by itself. If you’re good to lay out 70 USD for a whisky, this is a decent pick, but it’s still 70 USD.


Review: Balcones 1 Texas Single Malt Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Balcones+Single+Malt+2.jpg
ABV
53%
Aging
19 Months
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Balcones (Waco, Texas)

This is another American Single Malt, but it is very American – it doesn’t taste Scottish. I appreciate distilleries that are forging their own paths, like American distilleries trying to create a different style, not just replicate Scottish single malts. It’s certainly seen a lot of oak, given the colour!


Review (2019)

  • Batch: SM18-3 (I think; hard to read; bottled 5.8.18)

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

The nose has strawberry jam, roasted grain, blanched tomatoes, and charred oak. There is a real rich woodiness present here. Loads of wood too – sandalwood, rosewood, and oak. The palate is loaded with strawberry jam, astringent oak, wood charcoal, chocolate malt, cacao, and pear. It’s still very woody, to great effect. The finish has lightly roasted grain and a light astringency.  

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher). This is another great example of an American single malt – it’s unique and tasty, full of oak and grain.

Value: Low. You can certainly get better value products in the American market, or the Scottish market, for the price. However, it is on the cheaper and better side of American single malts.


Review: Balcones Texas Rye 100 Proof Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Balcones+Rye+1.jpg
ABV
50%
Aging
18 Months
Recipe
100% Elbon Rye
Distiller Balcones (Waco, Texas)

This was produced from 100% Texas Elbon rye for Balcones tenth anniversary celebration. There was a cask strength and a 100 proof version released. The rye was grown from farmers who were approached by Balcones to see if they would grow some rye for them as a cover crop, and harvest the grain for them, rather than just let them be eaten by cattle etc. as part of crop rotation. It is made from rye, roasted rye, crystal roasted rye, and chocolate roasted rye. I believe it’s the first roasted rye grain whisky I’ve had.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: RYE10018-2 (Bott. 6.7.18)

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

Loads of fruit – mandarins, pear, prunes – and loads of rye grain – roasted grain, wet grassy fields, and some dry marsh. Roasted nuts and roasted malt notes, too, and a touch of cauliflower. There is so much earthy grain packed into this! The palate is sweet, and full of a rich roasted character (think chocolate malt), chocolate, and dried apricot. The finish is full of deep dark chocolate, and a rich earthiness (damp, rich, earth). The finish is hot and spicy, too – I quite like it. With water added, it opens up well – especially the fruitiness. But you lose some of the dense grain character. Very nice!

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher). Not only is the flavour great, but the roasted character of this rye really comes out and is rather unique.

Value: High. A price of $44 USD for a rye like this, with its unique character and rich flavor, is pretty good.


Review: New Southern Revival 100% Jimmy Red Corn Straight Bourbon Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

High+Wire+Revival+Jimmy+Red.jpg
ABV
50%
Aging
Charred Virgin Oak; Aged 2 Years
Recipe
100% Jimmy Red Corn
Distiller High Wire (Charlestown, South Carolina)

If you talk to any chef in a critically acclaimed restaurant, they’ll always tell you that good food starts with quality ingredients. It’s odd, then, that

Anson Mills is a company which started as an endeavor to explore heirloom grains for the good of both land and flavour. Originally, it came out of a desire to resurrect old strains of rice used in southern cooking renowned for flavour. If you want to try some of the best oats of your life, order some from Anson Mills and cook according to their instructions. It’s a “wow” moment.

Anson Mills worked to resurrect one strain of corn, Jimmy Red, which was a red variety of corn which became popular among moonshiners. Originally, there was not even enough corn to make a batch, so High Wire partnered with Clemson University and Anson Mills to generate the seed stock and produce some corn. They describe it as the most flavourful corn they’ve ever distilled, with a rich 3 inch oil cap on top of the fermenter! The heirloom grains typically have deeper roots, which bring more trace minerals (and flavour) into the grain (as older vines would for wine). This whisky is similar to Balcones Baby Blue, similarly an heirloom corn with loads of flavour.

The bourbon was first released in November 2017.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: 5

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

The nose is rich and grain forward – very diverse – semi-dried tomatoes, rich spices, buttery polenta, thyme, caramel, vanilla, oaky spices, nut oils, apple sauce, and mixed grain porridge. Complex, interesting, and it doesn’t smell too youthful. It’s a whisky I would enjoy spending significant time with on the nose, which is a rare compliment. The palate is warm and rich, where a dense corn character unfolds with lots of mineral notes and a pleasant, fall marsh earthiness developing on the finish. The spiciness in the palate is subtle, but excellent in terms of where it sits. The finish has nice spices – nutmeg, hot cinnamon, and more semi-dried tomato and a light herbal character.

Perhaps the most flavorful 100% corn whisky that isn’t more than 15 years old, although Blacones Baby Blue is worth a shout too. This is a bit richer and has more oak, and it’s not quite as creamy, oily, or “raw” corn as the Baby Blue. I really appreciate the investment into quality corn – it does show. Also, this will get even better if it continues to sit in a barrel a few more years.

A great tasting besides Balcones Baby Blue, Westland Single Malt, and Glen Saanich Ancient Grains – all great, young, grain driven whiskies.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher). On a taste level, this might drop down to “recommended” but it’s extremely worthwhile to try the complexity and uniqueness in a corn whisky like this. It’s rather fascinating.

Value: Low. On a value standpoint, paying north of $100 USD for a product like this - you are paying for something unique, local, and more expensive to make - but on a taste perspective, you can do better for flavour and complexity from some larger producers.


Review: Entrapment 25 Year Old Canadian Whisky (Orphan Barrel) by Jason Hambrey

Image courtesy of Crown Royal.

Image courtesy of Crown Royal.

ABV
41%
Aging
25 Yrs; Refill Barrels
Recipe
97% Corn, 3% Malted Barley
Distiller Gimli (Gimli, Manitoba)

Orphan Barrel's first release of Canadian whisky from Diageo's Crown Royal distillery in Gimli. It is old - 25 years, and used the batch base whisky distilled at Crown Royal (for more, see my post on Crown Royal's Five Distillates). The batch base whisky is an intensely creamy corn whisky distilled in a column still and then distilled again in a copper kettle and column still (something like a column still sitting on top of a copper pot still).


Review (2018)

  • Batch: 0630

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

A creamy nose - lots of custard, coconut, white grape, vanilla, blueberry, corn husks, oak, light moalsses, and light earthy undertones. Lots of nice aged whisky note. Classic, rich, well-aged Canadian whisky. It may seem simple at first, but if you keep nosing you’ll notice layers of richness. The part that sets this whisky apart is the rich creaminess that you don’t find in the old corn whiskies from highwood (i.e. Ninety 20) or Wiser’s (18 year old, etc.).

The palate is full of those creamy notes, with some brilliant underpinning oak, custard, and creme-brulee. However, it isn’t sweet – don’t get me wrong. There’s a very slight tannic edge to it which is quite nice, though some may not like it. Very easy, and I actually like it with a splash of water in it, though it gets a bit light. The finish is lightly sweet and creamy, with a touch of bitterness and white pepper – vanilla, custard, blueberry, apple, and corn husks.  For those who like „smooth” whiskies, this is about as smooth as it gets. And it’s very rich.

I’ve seen some reviews of this from reviewers who favour big bourbon-flavours. It’s no surprise they aren’t high – this is a soft, long-aged corn whisky (nothing like a bourbon) which I greatly appreciate, and is a style which has become a favorite of mine as I have had more of it – subtlety abounds in such a style. It’s a whisky that favours slow, small sipping not quicker drinking.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Low. Good whisky, but $200 is quite a price tag.

Note: I reviewed this whisky a few months ago, but it was from a sample which I suspected (rightfully) had oxidized a bit. I re-reviewed a fresh, proper sample here, hence the rating change.


Review: Ironroot Hubris Straight Corn Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

Ironroot Hubris.jpg
ABV
60%
Aging
24 months
Recipe
100% Corn
Distiller Ironroot Republic (Deniston, Texas)

This whiskey is making this distillery famous - a straight, complex 100% corn whiskey with loads of flavour. It has won best corn whisky awards already - not the typical unaged or barely aged corn spirit called "corn whiskey" (there are no regulations around aging corn whiskey in the USA).


Review (2017)

  • Batch: 2017 Edition

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

The nose is very playful and fruity – full of flavor. Grape, bubblegum, spices, cinnamon, oak, fresh pizza dough, celery, and an oily richness. The palate is sweet, full of candy-fruity notes (pear, candy grape) and finishing with oak and porridge – but balanced with the complex fruit character. It’s a delicate balance – the youth is present, yet wonderfully shows the interesting distillate. The finish has some spicy oak, welcomed by me. The complexity blooms if water is added, but it is nice, big, and rich at cask strength. The best American corn whisky I’ve ever had (it’s hard to compete with the old Canadian corn whiskies, if you like that style as I do).

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average (based on $96)


Review: Balcones Blue Corn Bourbon Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

ABV
64.9%
Aging
~2-3 yrs; Virgin Charred Oak
Recipe
N/A
Distiller Balcones (Waco, Texas)

This bourbon is made with blue corn as the primary component, rather than the typical mass produced yellow corn in most bourbons.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2017

The nose is slightly sour- but shows a competition between oak, fruit, and grain. The grain is terrific – I love it when craft distillers really try to showcase the grain. Lots of sandlewood, too – it is terrific. Vanilla, toasted black pepper, celery seed, and toasted clove – an interesting , and well crafted, nose. The palate has white oak, green grape, nutmeg, rye bread, and a rich array of spice. There is some marmelade and a complex, almost, umami character. It is described as rich at mid-palate – no kidding! Lots of oak, spice, and fruit there. Terrific at cask strength. The roasted character is so central, and so strong – I love the myriad set of notes which are toasted, which fit into the grain and the oak. The finish is lightly drying, with nice tannins, white pepper, creamy corn, and pear. A nice whisky, but still, a bit less complex than the baby blue distillate. Somehow, the new oak doesn’t seem to serve balcones. But, I suppose it’s what you like.

Why lower than baby blue? Less complex. But, when it hits 5 years of age – I can only imagine!

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value:: Low. It’s a fairly expensive, even compared to other Balcones whiskies which are quite good, like Baby Blue or the Rye.


Review: Balcones True Blue Cask Strength Corn Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
65.7%
Aging
~2 yrs
Recipe
100% Roasted Heirloom Blue Corn
Distiller Balcones (Waco, Texas)

This whiskey is older than Baby Blue, but still only about 2 years old - and made of the same 100% roasted heirloom blue corn.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

What marvelous color! The nose has some nice, rich fresh oak – with spicy, competing grains underneath. It is quite nutty – lots of walnut – but the nose seems a bit stuck on nuts and oak, without the underlying complexity in the distillate shown in baby blue. Roasted, rich, pecan, too. The palate is rich, but grainy – with lots of dark cacao, dark coffee, and charred oak. Sweet and slightly confectionary – the roasted character actually reminds me of some mezcals, with some roasted jalapeno notes. At cask strength, it is big – and the spices are terrific. It has quite a bit of great woody character – like gentian, but not bitter. The finish is full of nuts and spice, but it remains sweet and ever so lightly creamy.

Corn whisky is often fairly plain – they are showing that this isn’t the case here! In Texas, they do things big – no surprise to find this, then.

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Low. A bit pricy for what you get in the glass in terms of flavour.

 


Review: Wiser's 15 Year Old Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Wiser's 15.jpg
ABV
40%
Aging
15 Years in refill casks (that have been used at least three times)
Recipe
Corn and Rye whiskies
Distiller Hiram Walker (Windsor, Ontario)

This whisky is largely double distilled corn, but with some rye blended in - similar to an older wiser's deluxe (there is both column distilled rye and double distilled corn in this). It is a recent addition to the lineup since it "fits in the family" as a go between, making a bridge from deluxe to the 18 year old. Sadly, it has replaced Legacy, a terrific whisky - and this is quite different.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: L17228EW1129

  • Bottling Date: 2017

The nose is full of aged corn whisky – oily, lightly floral, with a corn oil type note to it. Light oak, and light old baking spice in the mix (especially nutmeg) – easy, well integrated, and complex – terrific aged whisky notes. Slightly rubbery, even. More broad and vibrant than the 18, with not as defined fruit and spice characteristics. The palate is sweet, with vanilla, blueberry, green apple, nutmeg, white pepper, and beeswax. The finish is sweet, slightly tannic, and drying with nutmeg, polenta, green grape, and green peas – it dries terrifically. A great addition to the lineup.

Definitely not what Legacy was, which it is replacing in the lineup, but not bad at all. It is similar to the 18 year old, but broader in profile and a bit more vibrant, and not quite as deep.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: High. Not quite what Legacy was, but this is still a very nice buy for the price. I like it more than the 18 year old, generally.