Whiskey Review: Balcones Brimstone

Balcones BrimstoneIf one of the metrics by which we measure a whiskey’s success is its ability to evoke a specific sense of place, to reflect its origins, to irrevocably capture a terroir, then Balcones Brimstone knocks it out of the park. I’ve never even been to Texas, except to change planes once in Houston, and one sip of this spirit transports me to the desert steppe, creaking leather saddle beneath me, 10-gallon hat shading my eyes from the hot, hazy sunset.

Brimstone looks to its local environment for raw materials. The mash bill is 100% Hopi blue corn sourced from neighboring New Mexico, evoking its new-world origins.  After distillation the spirit is smoked with Texas scrub oak, a short, shrubby oak native to the more arid parts of North America.

While Balcones doesn’t disclose exactly how the smoke flavor and aroma is infused into the whisky, some speculate that they use a technique called smoke injecting, where pumps force smoke through the liquid after it is distilled. This technique is less labor-intensive than smoking grain before distillation, and can result in intense, campfire-like smokiness that’s perceived a bit differently by your taste buds than a spirit made from smoked grain.

Balcones Brimstone is bottled at 53% ABV, and doesn’t carry an age statement. A 750 ml bottle costs around $80, depending on your market, and can be found online.

Tasting Notes

Appearance: Dark, leathery brown with a syrupy texture

Nose: Powerfully evocative of barbecue plate lunch, with notes of salty roasted meat, elote, and sweet spice alongside an intense smoky aroma. Initially there’s a not-unpleasant varnish note in the smoke, something like burning pressure-treated wood, but it’s intriguing, not repulsive.

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Palate: The palate is likewise intense, sweet, salty, and smoky, like dipping your finger into the leftover powder at the bottom of the chili cheese Frito bag. There are notes of roasted corn kernels, French roast coffee beans, unsweetened cocoa, and heavy steak rub.

Finish: Extraordinarily long and persistent, the kind of whisky you can almost taste the next day.


This is an enormous, delicious, and very strange whisky. A big part of its charm, for me, is the sheer intensity it offers. Despite its over-proof strength, the addition of water did it no favors; much of the sweetness vanished, and some of the more chemically aspects of the smoke were accentuated. It’s probably not for everybody, but if you’re looking for Texas-sized flavor, this is your match. Totally unique and yet it works.