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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

NOT Single Malt Report: Balcones True Blue Cask Strength Corn Whisky, batch TB13-3

Okay, one last Balcones big fella before I move onto another American distillery.  This time I have an actual bottle:

Balcones True Blue Cask Strength Corn Whisky
When my friend Daniel gave me his bottle (Thank you, Tetris!), it was more than 90% full.  He had no further use for it.  Could that be be foreshadowing...?

One might ask why is True Blue not labelled "bourbon"?  Bourbon whiskey needs to have a mashbill that's over 51% corn.  Corn whiskey's mashbill needs to be over 80% corn.  So technically there's an overlap north of 80% (Buffalo Trace's low-rye bourbon mashbill floats around there).  From a marketing standpoint, bourbon is selling like crazy while "corn whiskey" tends to ring of moonshine.  People are buying oceans of Elijah Craig bourbon, but Georgia Moon corn whiskey, not so much.  So there's something else going on that's keeping Balcones from calling it True Blue Bourbon.  And that something is oak.  Bourbon must be aged in brand new American oak barrels.  Corn whiskey can be matured in used barrels.  According to Balcones's Brand Ambassador Winston Edwards, True Blue is indeed aged in "used charred casks".

(.......and please see the comment section below for the Federal Regulations subpart that renders much of the above paragraph pointless......Winston Edwards, if you ever read this please weigh in!)

Similar to bourbon, rye, and wheat whiskies, corn whiskey can have the Straight (2 years or older, one distillery) or Bottled in Bond (4+ years, 100 proof, and aged in a bonded warehouse) designations.  True Blue has neither of these designations, so I'm thinking this is a young spirit.

(The usual disclaimer regarding American whiskies: If I have my facts confused, someone please let me know.  Thanks!)

Distillery: Balcones
Region: Waco, TX, USA
Type: Corn Whisky
Batch: TB13-3
Age: ??? (bottled May 30, 2013)
Mashbill: 100% Hopi blue corn (Atole)
Maturation: used charred casks
Alcohol by volume: 57.2%

These notes are the result of three separate tastings:

Its color looks a lot like an oloroso sherry (unlike that glass full of sunshine in the pic up top).  The nose leads with corn syrup, maple syrup, mint, and vanilla ice cream.  Sometimes the mint reads more like basil candy.  There are also notes of creamed corn, Bowmore FWP lavender, caramel candy, and lemon-scented cleaning solvent.  It's very desserty and smells as if it's going to be an enormous bourbon.  But then the palate shifts gears.  Twigs and branches floating in caramel.  Barrel char and black pepper.  Toasted nuts and honey butter.  It's both very very tannic and muted in tone at the same time.  The finish grows sweeter.  It's slightly minty and corny and has some length to it.  But it's mostly oak: pulp and plain caramel.

WITH WATER (approx. 35-40% ABV)
The nose has changed.  Candy corn, licorice, peanut brittle, and mothballs.  And then the tree-related stuff: bark chips, pine needles, toasted staves.  The palate is salty and oaky with a green wood resinous bitterness.  Its sweetness is only momentary.  The bitterness grows in the finish.  Some corn and caramel show up.

The nose is very good, bursting with character.  The palate is flat, flat as the I-40 in north Texas.  It's fascinating that refill casks were used because the tannins in this whisky stomp down everything else.  Adding water shows off the nose from a different angle, but again the palate nearly vanishes.  Whatever you do, DO NOT try this as a highball; of which the best I can say is that it's reminiscent of cold bubbly burnt corn cob.

To clarify, this is not bad whisky.  I could nose this all day.  But its palate leaves a lot to be desired; part of that might be the nature of a whisky devoid of a flavoring grain like rye or wheat, but most of it has to do with an overabundance of muting tannins.  All (or most) of Balcones's products are known for their big wood, but this is the first one where the oak really doesn't work for me.

For what it's worth, here's how I rank the Balcones stuff I've tried:
1.  Texas Single Malt (batch 12-4)
2.  Rumble (batch R12-3)
3.  Rumble Cask Reserve (NYC Edition)
4.  Brimstone (dunno the batch)
5.  True Blue Cask Strength (batch TB13-3)

I'm in the middle of some blending experiments to see if I can turn this thing into that killer bourbon I found in the nose.  If I'm successful, I will report back.  If not, I'll only reveal the epic failures.

Okay, in the next review, I'll get the hell out of Texas.

Availability - All batches are scarce right now
Pricing - $60ish?
Rating - 76