No matter where in the state they’re from, there are a few brands that all Texans absolutely love: HEB, Bluebell Ice Cream, Bucc-ee’s, Whataburger, and… Shiner Bock. Every Texans (and many non-Texans) favorite beer. Taking their Lone Star credentials up a notch, the folks at Texas-based Balcones Distilling are paying homage to Shiner Bock in their latest whiskey release.
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.
It’s for just this reason that Balcones Distilling, a relatively young distillery, 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, Texas, 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 have a place to go kill time while my wife spends the day living the dream at Magnolia.
This is a rather unique collaboration with Shiner which, as mentioned, is a well-respected staple of the Texas landscape. The Spoetzl brewery in Shiner, Texas has been cranking out Shiner beer since 1909, and honestly I can’t imagine what Texas would be like without it. Their best selling and most famous beer is their Shiner Bock, which is the one Balcones partnered with them to try and turn into a whiskey.
They started by using the exact same grains that go into Shiner Bock, which is a malted barley based beverage. That malted barley is cooked and then fermented using the exact same strain of lager yeast that Shiner uses to make their beer.
Interesting to note is that the process for making beer and the process for making whiskey is remarkably similar. The fermented mash that comes out of this step is commonly referred to as “distiller’s beer,” which is pretty much the same thing that you’d get from Shiner. The difference here is that instead of filtering and bottling the beer immediately, Balcones has about two more years of additional work to do.
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 new charred oak barrels for at least two full years (as per the “straight” designation).
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 on this version is pretty much a Shiner Bock label. The same ram’s head that appears on their bottles is here as well, as is the traditional yellow background. Which is a bright and shiny contrast to the deep amber contents of the bottle. It’s a beautiful rich and deep color that seems to have some reddish tones around the sides, and is very much in step with how the beer version looks.
Pour a little bit in your glass and you’ll be surprised at the dark and rich color that Balcones has given this thing. It looks amazing, a deep amber with a red tinge. The smell is fantastic as well — the first thing I get is that malty deliciousness from the barley that’s very similar to the aroma you get from Shiner Bock the beer, and in this case it’s followed up by some serious sweet caramel and honey notes.
Taking a sip, overall it’s a smooth and delicious experience. There’s a little bit more of an alcohol kick than usual, which is about right from a 50% ABV spirit (most whiskey is in the 40 to 45 range). That said there’s no bitterness or unpleasantness beyond the alcohol burn.
As for the flavor, it’s delivering on the promise. I get some of the heavier and richer tones from the charred barrels initially, specifically some chocolate and caramel swirling around. But as the flavor develops, that malty smoothness starts creeping in as well, and by the end I could almost swear I was drinking a bottle of Shiner Bock. Those malted barley notes really strut their stuff and leave you with a pleasant aftertaste after the whiskey has disappeared. The flavors are rich and deep, just like their Pot Still Bourbon but not quite as overpowering.
With a bit of ice you usually expect that the stronger tones would fade a bit, and the more delicate flavors would take a back seat or even disappear. In this case the flavors do tone down a bit, but there’s no change in their combination. They’re all still present and making themselves known, but a little less forcefully than before.
The only thing that really changes here is the alcohol content. There’s a bit of dilution that’s going on and toning down that alcohol bite to something that more people might enjoy. So if high alcohol content whiskey isn’t your thing, try this with an ice cube.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
Now this is an interesting situation right here.
Normally, either the bitters and the orange zest overpower the flavors in the glass or they simply clash with whatever is in there. In my experience (and I drink a lot of whiskey), it’s only in the truly horrendous whiskeys (like Fireball) that the flavors of the whiskey tend to overpower the bitters.
In this case, though, the bitters and the orange essence are almost completely lost. There’s a hint of the orange in there that adds some color and makes me think of the Hudson Manhattan Rye, but it’s not an Old Fashioned as I know it. It’s not bad, it just isn’t what I expected from a cocktail like this. As bold as the malted barley flavor is, I can’t say I predicted that it could overpower bitters as much as it does.
Initially, I worried that this would be a waste of such an interesting spirit, but then I took a sip.
My yardstick for this test is whether the flavors in the whiskey balance out the ginger beer’s bitterness appropriately, and whether the spirit adds some uniqueness to the drink that you wouldn’t get with a vodka or something similar.
In this case… it passes with flying colors. The initial flavors balance out that bitterness perfectly, and those rich and earthy flavors in the whiskey make their presence known in much the same way as you’d expect the peppery spice from a rye. There’s no kick here, just a powerful punch of flavor that reminds you what you’re drinking. Closer to a well spiced Dark and Stormy, almost. Whereas this was too strong for an Old Fashioned, it does a great job in a mule.
I love the collaboration here. Shiner Bock is one of my favorite beers, and Balcones is one of my favorite distillers, so it makes sense that the combination of the two is a “peanut butter in my chocolate” moment. I appreciate the technical process they used to create this, and the flavor that you get out of it is bold and beautiful in my opinion.
I’m a fan. Can you tell?
|Balcones Texas Bock|
Produced By: BalconesProduction Location: Texas, United States
Classification: Single Malt Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 50% ABV
Price: $36.99 / 750 ml
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Overall Rating: 5/5
Texas in a glass: big, bold, and while it doesn’t always play well with others… you still can’t help but love it.