Balcones Distilling recently had its first Bourbon Fest and, like moths to a flame, Texas-based whiskey drinkers (myself included) made the pilgrimage to Waco, Texas to check it out. One of the things that they were selling was the latest bottling of their Texas Pot Still Bourbon and I couldn’t resist bringing a bottle home to test out.
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, 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 know what I’ll be doing next time my wife tries to drag me to Magnolia.
As seems to be all the rage these days, this is a four grain bourbon whiskey but the specifics of that blend doesn’t seem to be available. As a bourbon, we can expect that at least 51% of the grain bill comes from the Texas blue corn but, again, the specific blend isn’t disclosed. The only part of the grain bill that doesn’t come from the state of Texas is the malted barley which seems to be imported from Scotland.
All those grains are cooked and fermented on-site, and allowed to age for a full week before heading off to distillation. This allows the local slower acting yeast to take a crack at converting some of those sugars to alcohol.
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.
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.
The very first thing that comes to mind when I take a sniff of the glass is that cinnamon brown butter that they serve at the Texas Roadhouse chain of restaurants. There’s an almost chardonnay level of buttery-ness in the aroma, mixed in with some cinnamon spice and a bit of the traditional caramel and vanilla hiding in the back (but comes out more as the spirit sits in the glass). It’s an amazing aroma that’s warm and inviting with some mystery and the promise of deliciousness.
On the tongue, the clearest flavor that I can sense is that of dark chocolate — an earthy richness that goes with the dark color of the liquid. Mixed in with that primary rich flavor is some cinnamon and the normal caramel and vanilla flavors that you would expect from a bourbon. On the finish, you can definitely taste the rye, adding a splash of peppery spice that lingers long after the liquid is gone. Also on that finish is a bit of smokey charcoal, probably from the charred barrels used in the aging process.
The only problem I have with it is probably the same issue I have with dark chocolate: it might be a little too rich. A little bit seems to go a long way.
Normally a bit of ice and some water has the ability to ruin a delicious spirit, toning down the uniqueness and making the drink more bland. In this case I think the added ice and water actually improves the drink.
When taken neat, in my opinion, a lot of the bold and rich flavors can be a bit overwhelming. But thanks to the slight dilution you get with the added ice, it feels more like a conversation between the flavors rather than a screaming match. I can clearly hear the dark chocolate, the cinnamon spice, the caramel, and the vanilla all chatting away without feeling overwhelmed. There’s even the peppery spicy finish still making an appearance at the end.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
It’s probably no surprise by this point in the review that this would make a delicious old fashioned. The rich and dark flavors in the spirit are countered nicely by the bright and cheerful bitters and orange. Overall, it makes the drink a well-balanced and enjoyable treat.
My only note here is that a bit of the smokey flavor still makes it through, adding an additional layer to the drink that I enjoy but others might find offputting. I generally like the smoke infused whiskey drinks so it’s right up my alley, but your mileage may vary.
This is a drink that’s firing on all cylinders.
The rich dark chocolate flavor is nicely balancing the bright and cheerful ginger beer for a deliciously refreshing taste.
The cinnamon, caramel, and vanilla are all doing their part to add some sweetness to the concoction.
The peppery finish is shining through all that clutter to make itself known and bring some excitement to the drink.
And, last but not least, that smokey aroma is adding some mystery and richness that I think makes this an excellent cocktail.
I think this is a great spirit. It works well in just about any format, and while the flavors may have been a little much for me neat, it’s always easier to tone down a spirit than to boost flavors that just aren’t there. For me, this is right up there with the best of the Texas bourbons.
Texas Pot Still Bourbon
Owner: Balcones Distilling Co.
Production: Waco, TX
Classification: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Grain bill: Blue corn, rye, wheat, and malted barley
Aging: At least 2 years
Proof: 46% ABV
Price: $30/ 750ml
Overall Rating: 5/5
Take a walk on the darker, earthier, and richer side of bourbon.