Editor’s Note: This whisky was provided to us as a review sample by Balcones. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking the buy link towards the bottom of this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.
If you cut Alaska in half, Texas would become the third largest state in the union. A good friend of mine, a proud Texan and restaurateur, hated that joke in college. I’m certain I told him that fact every chance I could. Texans aren’t fans of being told they’re second in anything and take great pride in just about everything happening in their state. The newest place of pride is the surprising whiskey renaissance that all started in the historic Texas Fireproof Storage building in Waco, home to Balcones distilling.
Founded in 2009, Balcones uses copper stills designed by Forsyths in Scotland and is attempting to continually reset the bar when it comes to craft distilling in the Lone Star State.
A project that began five years ago, Balcones is trying their hand in the ever popular Bottled-in-Bond varietal. The Bottled-in-Bond Act (or BiB in whiskey speak) is the first food purity law in the United States. It passed in 1897. During Reconstruction and Westward Expansion in the post-civil war era, rules and regulations around food and beverage didn’t exist, and a lot of people consumed what was essentially poison that they believed to be whiskey. The Bottled-in-Bond act sought to fix this issue and establish trust between consumers and distilleries in the United States.
The law requires that Bottled-in-Bond products must be made at a single distillery in a single distilling season. Once barreled, the whiskey is aged in government secured and ‘bonded’ rick houses where the whiskey is aged under government supervision. The distillery pays a tax while the barrel ages for at least four years, and in exchange the government becomes a guarantor of that whisky’s authenticity. This helped stabilize the market and reassure consumers that if the bottle had the tax stamp, they knew they were getting real whiskey.
Although no longer a necessity because of the FDA and other consumer protection laws, Bottled-in-Bond whiskey is still very popular among consumers. Bottled at 50% ABV, the higher proof allows for more robust flavors and profiles making them extremely versatile for cocktails or drinking neat.
Balcones starts with their famous straight blue corn whisky (they prefer the “whisky” spelling), and then ages it in Tequila barrels from Mexico for five years before bottling it at the required 100 proof. In a prepared statement head distiller Jared Himstedt said, “We take immense pride in our exploration and conception of blue corn whisky. Big Baby 2022 represents our own learnings and maturity, as well as our ability to appreciate whisky that is nurtured with patience and restraint”.
Balcones describes the whisky as equal parts earthy and candy store, with notes that are “multifaced mineralic,” and also “watermelon Jolly Rancher.” With that, we turn to the glass.
Tasting Notes: Balcones Big Baby Bottled-in-Bond
Vital Stats: Straight corn whisky aged in a Tequila cask. 100 proof. MSRP $59.99
Nose: Pear, eucalyptus, grass, and the sweetness of agave sugar with the sourness of Tequila. There are also floral notes like lavender, rounded out by soft leather.
Palate: An excellent transition from nose to palate. It is dry and full without being oily. Piquant sour Tequila notes are accompanied by agave nectar, transforming into honey cornbread. There are hints of old leather and oak across the mid-palate which crescendo into sweet malty hay at the end. It is warm across the tongue and into the chest without burning, and leaves a soft lingering flavor of molasses and oak on the tongue.
This is a truly fun whisky. The Tequila notes mingle surprisingly well with the sugar of the corn whisky and are aged long enough to allow both to soften while retaining their unique profiles. Balcones tried something different and executed it very well.
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Charles Steele is a Portland area attorney, born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. His legal education affords him an analytical approach to understanding whiskey and other aged spirits. Traditionally a legal writer, freelancing for The Whiskey Wash will prove a unique opportunity to flex his writing skills. Although he...