Texas whiskey is all about pushing the boundaries of whiskey production and trying new ideas. But what makes that experimentation is possible is the long and storied tradition of distillers across centuries of time, slowly improving the process and the craft to the point where it is today. Balcones’ Lineage single malt is designed to pay homage to that history, but with a bit of a Texas twist.
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 Distilling is a relatively young distillery that claims the title for having the first Texas-produced whiskey on the market since prohibition. Founded in 2008 by a handful of local Texans in Waco, they started production in an old welding shop and spent the next year renovating the space before finally producing alcohol in 2009. Now, the distillery is open to visitors for tastings and tours — which is the only thing that makes my day tolerable when my wife tries to drag me to Waco for everything Chip-and-Joanna related.
As a single malt whiskey, this spirit starts as a batch of malted barley. Some of that barley is imported from Scotland, and some of it comes from local Texas farmers. All those grains are cooked and fermented on-site before aging for a full week and then heading off to distillation. This allows the natural slower-acting yeast to take a crack at converting some of those sugars to alcohol instead of relying on faster, cheaper, and less flavorful industrial yeast.
Once the sugar in the grains has been turned into alcohol, the mixture is distilled twice in Balcones’ unusually designed stills — they sport an extra long copper neck, which works to remove sulphur impurities from the final product.
After distillation, the resulting spirit is aged in a combination of new and previously used barrels for 36 months.
Balcones has taken a very traditional approach to their bottles. They are using a rather standard round bottle with straight walls, which tapers at the shoulder to a straight neck. The bottle is topped with a cork stopper and a plastic cap that makes the cork easy to grip.
The label itself is in the same style as their other bottles, a square label smack dab on the front of the bottle with the branding clear and distinct. With this version, they chose a metallic gold ink for the logo — a slight departure from the other labels in their line and a welcome change which makes it stand out a bit more on the shelf.
The whiskey is significantly darker than a typical Scottish single malt — those spirits tend to be more in the light straw to gold color range, but this is almost… orange? More of a rusty iron, I’d call it. Deeper and richer than the old traditional spirits.
That depth and richness translates into other aspects of the spirit as well. The typical scents I associate with a Scottish single malt are the same as you’d get off a piece of lightly toasted bread with some honey on top — namely: some sweetness, a floral component, and a malty bread-like base. Those components are all here as well, but I feel like there’s also a depth and a saturation to this aroma that I don’t get elsewhere. Additionally, I’m getting a couple other accompanying fruity notes including peach, banana, and apple.
Taking a sip, the very first thing that comes to mind is banana bread. That fruity note is blending with the malty bread-like flavors in a way that is strongly reminiscent of taking a bite of a good, fresh loaf of banana bread. Once that initial hit of flavor has worn off, there’s some peach that comes in around the edges, which adds a bit of fruity complexity, and then finally some dried apricot that lingers at the end.
Usually, with a bit of added ice, any stronger unpleasant elements are toned down and mitigated… but often at the expense of more delicate flavors, which are often also dialed down to the point of complete disappearance. Fortunately, in this glass there are none of those unpleasant components requiring eviction, but that also means that the majority of the change isn’t necessarily for the better.
The fruity notes are still there and present, but pushed well into the background. What becomes the most prominent flavor is the more typical vanilla and light caramel from the oak barrels, although what remains of the fruit notes don’t take long to appear along with some of that malty smoothness. The result is that this becomes a drink that starts like a common highland scotch but finishes a bit like a orange creamsicle.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
I’m actually pretty surprised at how well this all comes together. The angostura bitters usually are a lighter note of fruit in an otherwise dark and rich bourbon, but in this case it is the bitters that add the depth. The spirit itself is already light and fruity, but rather than adding even more additional fruit flavor, the bitters instead balance the cocktail with a bit of depth and complexity that it needs.
What we have here is a lighter and sweeter take on an old fashioned, something that probably will do well on a warm summer night. I might actually try a slice of pineapple in here as a garnish instead of the traditional orange slice, just for a more unexpected citrus flavor.
There are two things I am looking for in a good mule: first, for the spirit to balance out the bitter and bright ginger beer, and second, for some added depth and complexity to the cocktail that you wouldn’t get in a normal, vodka-based mule.
For the first criteria, I think this hits the nail on the head. That creamy peach flavor balances very well with the tangy ginger beer, toning down the bitterness without dragging down the fruit flavors.
As for the added depth or complexity… well, there’s not as much depth as I’d like. If anything, this is just highlighting and reinforcing those bright notes. That said, it’s definitely still adding some notes you’d never get from vodka so I can’t fault it there. All in all, this is a great drink that would definitely go well on a warm Texas afternoon.
I think what really gives this whiskey its unique flavor profile is the fermentation process and the yeast that’s being used. Balcones likes to use local yeast instead of industrial yeast wherever possible and, while that takes much longer to work (speed = money here), it creates more of those interesting, fruity notes that come through so clearly in the whiskey.
You can clearly see the old world influences at work here, but also the influences of the new world techniques and the Texas climate. The result is something that seems familiar and new all at the same time– something which pays homage to its lineage while still making a unique statement.
|Balcones Lineage Texas Single Malt Whiskey|
Produced By: BalconesProduction Location: Texas, United States
Classification: Single Malt Whiskey
Special Type: Certified Texas Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 47% ABV
Price: $43.49 / 750 ml
Overall Rating: 4.5/5
A fitting tribute to the lineage of Texas whiskey.