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Thursday, August 7, 2014

Not Technically Whisky Report: Balcones Rumble Cask Reserve, NYC Edition

On Tuesday I reviewed the Balcones Rumble, a spirit first distilled from Texas honey, figs, and turbinado sugar and then aged in "small" casks.  A pleasant surprise, Rumble not only makes for a pleasant drink, but throws some entertaining curveballs with its fig eau-de-vie moments.

In that post, I forgot to mention two elements that may factor into Rumble's quality.  Firstly, batch variation.  Balcones runs a relatively small operation so unlike big whisk(e)y factories they don't have the luxury of too much tinkering, blending, or disposing in order to adjust inconsistent batches.  Batch R12-3 may have been one of the very good ones.  I could have been lucky.  Secondly, alcohol content.  Rumble is bottled at 47%abv, which means that it's much less watered down than most rums and brandies, which are often bottled at 40%.  Those extra points may have helped influence the liquor's great texture and potent character.

So, what if there was a more limited batch released at a much higher ABV?

The Balcones Rumble Cask Reserve, NYC Edition, is just that thing.  Now, this isn't exactly the cask strength version of the Rumble.  As per Josh's interview with Chip Tate, on The Coopered Tot, the Reserve receives additional maturation time in barrels larger than the ones used for the original aging.

Thanks again to Whisky Joe for sending the Reserve to me in a sample swap!

Distillery: Balcones
Region: Waco, TX, USA
Type: Not Whisky
Batch: NYC Edition
Age: ???
Distilled from: Texas wildflower honey, mission figs, and turbinado sugar
Maturation: "small oak barrels"  (possibly 20 liter barrels)
Alcohol by volume: 58.1%

The color is dark gold mingling with medium brown.  The nose is intensely woody (sap and bark).  Then there's furniture polish, caramel, corn syrup, and lots of vanilla.  In fact it's not too far from bourbon.  Then a burst of Bee Sting Honey 'n Habanero Pepper Sauce (I didn't know this stuff was still on the market. Oh, the memories...).  Towards the end there's a little bit of peanuts and a lot of hazelnuts.  On the palate, one could mistake this for bourbon.  Or maybe bourbon with a little rum added.  And by that I mean vanilla, caramel, corn syrup, oak pulp, and sugar.  When the big ethyl heat subsides there's a wallop of sugar.  Then dried figs and raisins.  The honey & pepper combo edges in, along with some salt.  There's also something oddly (young) armagnac-like floating around; a combo of wood spice, caramel, and dried fruit.  It finishes with lots of honey, vanilla, and caramel.  Rummy.  Sometimes almost smoky.

The nose has caramel, sawdust, subtle lemon, and a little bit of malt.  The palate is sweet but very drying and tannic.  I wrote "rum" down twice in my notes, including "vanilla rum".  A bitterness begins to show, though I'm not sure if it's from the wood or spirit.  It finishes with vanilla frosting, butter, and molasses.

This is schizophrenic stuff.  Sometimes it's a bourbon.  Sometimes a rum.  Then there's baby armagnac.  There was even something malty in the nose.  I'll bet it would be a fun stumper in a blind tasting.  And I do mean fun.  It's still entertaining and tasty.  It's just all over the place compared to its softer Rumble brother.  I tried to reduce it to 47%abv to see if I could find the regular Rumble in there, but the Reserve didn't hold water too well.  In fact, I recommend just taking it hot rather than hydrating it.

The Reserve can be very sweet.  Rum fans may not have an issue with that, but scotch fans might.  Personally, I would pick the regular Rumble over the Reserve, as the 47%abv version has less oak, less sugar, and more of the fig brandy.

(For a different take on this same Reserve batch, see The Coopered Tot's review.)

Availability - All batches are scarce right now
Pricing - $60-$80
Rating - 79


  1. Another overpriced and overhyped offering from Balcones... don't believe the hype on these guys. Take a look at the link to see the full writeup.


    1. Their company has plummeted in the year or so since I reviewed the Rumbles. The two I tried were bottled 3+ years ago. Since then there was a hostile takeover and completely different people are managing and creating their products. So now all they have is hype. I agree their stuff is overpriced. And the Rumbles are in no way "whiskey".