I’m working my way through the locally distilled brown spirits here in Austin, Texas. I first spotted this bottle at Easy Tiger in downtown Austin and it was pretty darn good as far as I could remember, but then again that was mixed with a couple other drinks. It seemed delicious at the time but there’s always room for a second opinion. And third. And fourth.
Prohibition was a huge wet blanket over the craft distilling industry. Not many businesses survived from before that era, and as a result the definition of the “oldest continuously operating” distillery in a given area can be surprisingly young.
Balcones Distillling is a relatively young distillery that claims the title for having the first Texas produced whiskey on the market since prohibition. Founded by a handful of local Texans in Waco, Texas in 2008, they started in an old welding shop and spent the next year renovating the space before finally producing alcohol in 2009. Today, the distillery is open to visitors for tastings and tours — so now I know what I’ll be doing next time my wife tries to drag me to Magnolia.
The Balcones Baby Blue is marketed as a corn whiskey, and fittingly enough corn is the only item on the ingredients list. Specifically, they are using blue corn — a variety of corn that is grown specifically in the southwestern United States and native to Texas.
I really do appreciate when distilleries alter their grain bill to include local crops. The whole point of enjoying small batch and locally distilled spirits is that you get to taste something different from each one, and locally grown crops is an important part of that.
Since this is a whiskey and not a proper “straight bourbon” the aging requirements aren’t quite as strict. In this case according to the bottle the whiskey has been aged at least six months in oak barrels.
Balcones has taken a very traditional approach to their bottles. They are using a rather standard round bottle with straight walls that tapers at the shoulder to a straight neck. The bottle is topped with a cork stopper and a plastic cap that makes it very easy to grip.
The labeling is also relatively simple, albeit colorful. Besides the separate label that proudly proclaims that this is the “The Original Texas Whiskey” there’s a big blue square label on the front with some basic styling and some verbiage on the back, but that’s it. It’s about as no-frills as it could be.
The very first thing you notice about this whiskey is the great amber color of the liquid. In the glass it’s a beautiful shade that feels warm and inviting, like a glass of honey. The first sniff of the glass reinforces the sweet notion, but also brings in some notes of corn as advertised on the bottle and a buttery scent as well almost like a corn tortilla. It’s like a churro in a glass (but very very light on the sugar).
Sipping the whiskey and that sweetness comes through immediately. In practice, it’s less of a sugary sweetness and more of a caramel flavor, with a warmth and smoothness provided by the corn forward mixture. There’s a slight bit of bitterness at the beginning of the taste that tails off as it develops in your mouth. After the initial burst of flavor, it seems to develop into a mild nutty spiciness that finishes very smoothly.
With the addition of a little water and chilling thanks to an ice cube or two, the bitterness that you get with a neat sip is completely disappeared. The flavor that remains is smooth from start to finish with the corn and caramel flavors more pronounced than ever. There’s even a note of vanilla that starts to develop once the burn of the alcohol has been tamed.
Despite that mellowing of the alcohol that comes from the ice, all of the bold and spicy flavors that were present in the neat version are still present and accounted for, much like a glass of Bulleit but with better results. You’re not ruining the drink with the ice — you’re improving it.
On some spirits the bitters and the orange can overpower and overwhelm the taste, but in this case it perfectly complements the existing flavors. The sweet and smooth flavors (the vanilla, caramel, corn, and nutty notes) perfectly balance the tangy citrus of the orange and the bitters. It’s a perfectly balanced drink that is absolutely delicious.
If you’re looking for what might possibly be the perfect Old Fashioned base, then Balcones is certainly in the running.
The reason why a rye-forward spirit like Bulleit works in a mule is because the bold and spicy flavors are strong enough to hold their own against the powerful flavor of the ginger beer.
In this case, the Baby Blue whiskey has a strong enough of a flavor of its own to be legible and clear no matter what you throw at it. Much like with the Old Fashioned, the flavors of the whiskey balance the tangy ginger to make a very well rounded drink.
For something that’s only aged about six months this definitely packs a punch. There’s a bunch of delicious flavors in here that
Balcones Baby Blue Corn Whiskey
Owner: Balcones Distillery
Production: Waco, TX
Classification: Corn Whiskey
Grain bill: Blue corn
Aging: At least six months in oak barrels
Proof: 90 Proof / 45% ABV
Price: $36.99 / 750ml ($0.04932 / ml)
Overall Rating: 4/5
I’m a fan. It’s a smooth sipping whiskey that makes for a great base for whatever drinks you might want to make.