Editor’s Note: This whiskey 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.
When one thinks about Waco, Texas, it’s likely that what may come to mind is dusty plains, wide open prairies, and a dark and sordid past with one David Koresh. But Balcones Distillery is aiming to instill a sense of spirits-loving joy to Waco as it pushes its way to front of the American single malt whisky current.
While traditionally known as a Scottish style (and to a lesser extent Irish), single malt whisky is a booming subset of the whisky industry in the United States. In Scotland there are exact legal requirements to label the output single malt – these requirements include three-years minimum for aging, the whisky must be made of a mash bill of 100% barley, and it must be the product of one distillery. These are the non-negotiables of what a company must comply with to label their whisky single malt.
In the U.S., there are no such guidelines (yet). Therefore, while most distilleries utilize the Scottish manner of 100% barley mash, the aging times may vary without consequence and there is no direct rule that requires the single distillery output. As one of the leading producers of American single malt whisky, Balcones commissioned their copper pot stills from Forsyths of Scotland, one of the leading suppliers of distillation equipment typically utilized in the distillation of Scottish single malt whisky.
The newest output from Balcones is Pilgrimage, a dynamic and complex whisky that is crafted with Golden Promise malted barley and is finished in Sauternes dessert wine barrels. Sauternes is a high-quality, high priced French sweet wine from near Bordeaux, and I believe the finish is a contributing factor to the balanced profile of Balcones Pilgrimage. I often find that the wood from the barrels carries through in the whisky, and I most enjoy experimenting with single malt whiskies to challenge myself to discern the subtle differences from the barrels.
Of Balcones Pilgrimage, the Head Distiller of Balcones Distilling has stated, “We take great pride in our American single malts and the meticulous effort it takes to make each and every one of them unique. Pilgrimage is an ode to the whisky journey we’ve been on, and we look forward to seeing where the journey takes us from here.”
Tasting Notes: Balcones Pilgrimage Texas Single Malt Whisky
Vital Stats: Made with Golden Promise malted barley, aged in used casks, finished in Sauternes dessert wine barrels. Retails for $79.99/750mL. 58.5% ABV. Waco, Texas.
Appearance: A beautiful, rich cherrywood.
Nose: The nose gives tobacco, fig, candied pear, and a sweet mustiness from the wood.
Palate: At first taste the whisky gives you a bit of a pucker mid-palate–cranberry comes to mind–but this pucker is soothed by a subtle spice and nutty note. The whisky is balanced, lacking great heat but imparting a clean, smooth maltiness at the finish.
I was well impressed with Balcones Pilgrimage Texas Single Malt Whisky, but I am a sucker for a great, good, and even okay single malt. Pilgrimage stands steady in the mid-range of other similar American single malt brands, and was overall an enjoyable tasting.