Texas

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: Ironroot Icarus Straight Corn Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

Ironroot Icarus.jpg
ABV
53.75%
Aging
24 months; Virgin Charred Oak Finished in Peat and Port Casks
Recipe
>80% Corn
Distiller Ironroot Republic (Deniston, Texas)

This is one of the most interesting whiskies I've ever come across. A straight corn whisky (rare), finished in peat casks (rare, if not the only American to do so yet), and port casks. The only thing mildly in the category is High West's campfire, but even that is quite a bit different.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: 14K20-A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

One of the most unique noses I have encountered. Sharp, smoky wood, sweet fruits, sharp mineral notes, crushed glass, caramel, and corn. Very complex, and very interesting. The palate is full of that sweet, smoky character with lots of vegetal character, including milkweed and dandelion stems (very interesting!). The complex underlying corn distillate character is present, too – as seen in their Hubris bottling. The finish has rancio, smoke, oak, and corn. The closest thing to this is High West’s campfire, but they are very different in  terms of casks and distillate, so it is a weak comparison – but there are just not many spirits in this category. Quite nice at the release strength – and the complexity and intrigue is brilliant. However, it is slightly out of balance – the rich fruitiness of the port combined with a light sourness means I enjoy one dram, but probably won’t reach for a second.

Regardless, I view this as a very interesting whisky for pushing the limits, and, again, very complex and interesting.

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

Value: N/A (I was given a sample by a friend and I’m unaware of pricing)

 


Review: Ironroot Harbinger Straight Bourbon Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

Ironroot Harbinger.jpg
ABV
58.4%
Aging
18 months; Virgin Charred Oak
Recipe
Yellow Corn, Peruvian Purple Corn, Bloody Butcher Corn, Flint Corn, and Rye
Distiller Ironroot Republic (Deniston, Texas)

Another big beast from Texas...


Review (2017)

  • Batch: 14K20-A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

The nose has a broad array of grain notes – sweet oatmeal, rye flakes, pear, sea salt, icing sugar, and vanilla. The palate is very similar, driven by rich grain notes, reminding me very much of a mixed grain porridge, but still retaining an icing-sugar like confectionary character. Mixed grain porridge, red river cereal, caramel, and a light touch of mixed spices on the finish. For those that like very grain forward – I quite like the style, and lots of micro distilleries are producing it these days. It’s reminding me quite a bit of Ottawa’s North of 7 Whisky.

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

Value: Average to Low, based on $96)


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.