The name Balcones originates from the Balcones Fault, a fault that runs from South Texas almost up to the distillery’s home in Waco, Texas. The distillery was founded by Chip Tate in 2008, and began distilling in 2009. Balcones garnered quite a bit of attention from whiskey aficionados as they were doing things differently, which included using stills Tate designed and built on his own. Unfortunately, after a controversial falling out, Tate and Balcones parted ways in 2014.
Originally released as a limited edition in July, 2011, Balcones “1” Texas Single Malt is the company’s flagship spirit. Balcones “1” is made with 100% malt grain, distilled in copper pot stills, aged in new American oak, and non-chill filtered. The bottle being reviewed is from batch SM20-1 and dated 3/6/2020.
Potent in its delivery, a malty aroma with an unusual hint of Italian sausage emanates from the glass. Scents of dark cherries, aged oak, and baking spices also come into play. Surprising and unique to say the least.
Roasted walnuts combine with cocoa, malt, and a touch of marzipan. Dark fruits, light oak, and tobacco round things out. Unusual and gripping, it hugs your tongue as you swish it around. Like the nose, it’s quite robust.
A flash of heat kicks in, then tapers off quickly giving way to sweet flavors of caramel and honey, along with toasted nuts and wet tobacco leaf. The sweet flavors linger, along with a savory tobacco note in the background. Similar to the nose and palate, the finish is unique and intense, allowing the sip to go out with a bang.
American whiskey, as we know it, is dominated by bourbon, and as a result American whiskey drinkers are often bourbon drinkers who find themselves exploring ryes, malts, finished whiskeys, and other whiskeys created by United States based distilleries. Located in Waco, Texas, Balcones “1” is undoubtedly all American, however being a single malt, Balcones “1” is more closely associated with scotch. However, it’s much younger than a typical scotch and aged in new oak barrels compared with scotch’s used barrel aging.
Even considering other American-made malt whiskeys such as Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey and Westland American Oak Single Malt Whiskey, Balcones “1” is as unique tasting as any. Its relatively high proof delivers the whiskey’s diverse flavor profile with a fierce intensity, although this combination certainly won’t be for everyone.
I’m fortunate to have a bottle of the original Balcones “1” to compare this to. The original “Chip Tate” bottle. Granted, the original bottle has been open since around 2013 when I purchased it, however the differences are surprising. The original is much lighter in color, and veers much closer to chocolate and caramel notes I often find as the backbone of American malt whiskeys, compared to the unique set of flavors found in the recent release of Balcones “1.” Good, bad, or indifferent, the original version is arguably more drinkable, but less complex. Regardless, the comparison further supports my assertion that Balcones “1” is a unique and challenging whiskey that is ideal for those seeking to push the boundaries of a typical American whiskey flavor profile.
The price of Balcones “1” has actually come down since its initial release, from the $90 I paid in 2013 to $70 (or less) you can find it for today. The original version also did not have an age statement, while the current version is stated at 24 months.
There aren’t too many American made single malts at our fingertips either, though the number of options is increasing at a rapid pace, and online availability is helping get them into more hands. As mentioned previously, a few that come to mind are Stranahan’s and Westland American Oak Single Malt Whiskey, with Stranahan’s retailing for a bit less and Wesland a bit more than Balcones. Ages and proofs vary, but relatively speaking the whiskeys fall in the same range. With that being said, the flavor profiles are each quite a bit different from one another, highlighting the fact that price comparisons in the American made single malt space are difficult, as flavor profiles are so varied. To that end, pricing for these unique American made malt whiskeys seems to come at a premium, and Balcones “1” is no exception making it reasonably priced within the marketplace.
Balcones “1” Texas Single Malt offers an intense rush of rich flavors derived from a unique creation style, challenging even the more experienced whiskey drinkers.
Balcones revels in being different, and their products exemplify that. Balcones “1” is a great example of how a unique process serves to deliver a unique flavor profile, and not surprisingly the flavor profile for the brand has morphed over time. As a result, it’s a challenging whiskey that won’t be for everyone, and its relatively high proofpoint amplifies that effect. However, for those looking to push the boundaries of flavor profiles they’re comfortable with, Balcones “1” delivers, albeit at a premium price.