American Lifestyle Reviews By Margarett Waterbury / December 13, 2016 Balcones Distilling in Waco, Texas, is known for its very Texas-like penchant for doing things its own way. Founded by iconoclastic distiller Chip Tate, who later left Balcones after a dispute with his investors, Balcones has retained its signature commitment to experimentation and innovation, making it one of the nation’s most well respected craft distilleries. In fact, quite recently, Balcones opened a brand-new distillery more than six times larger than their old digs, with an increase in production capacity to match. Balcones, like many craft distilleries, has gravitated towards using distinctive local grains to set its whiskies (they prefer the “whisky” spelling) apart from mainstream brands. It’s an approach with a lot of instinctive appeal for small, regional producers, especially those lucky enough to be based in a part of the country with strong agricultural traditions. To that end, Balcones’ True Blue whiskies are made entirely out of roasted blue corn. That’s unusual on two fronts: First, few corn whiskeys (not that there are all that many on the market to begin with) are made from a mash bill of 100% corn. And second, virtually all of the corn used in American distilling is commodity dent corn, the stuff grown on 1,000-acre farms in the Midwest. Used to make high fructose corn syrup, cheap tortilla chips, plastics, and fuel ethanol, let’s just say that dent corn is not known for its remarkable culinary properties. Native to the Americas, corn has been grown as a food crop in Central America and parts of the American Southwest for many thousands of years. While Waco is closer to Louisiana than Mexico, Balcones still pays homage to those regional traditions by using blue corn for several of its whiskies, including True Blue 100 Proof, True Blue Cask Strength, Baby Blue, and its Texas Blue Corn Bourbon. The two whiskies I’m reviewing here, True Blue 100 Proof Straight Corn Whisky, and True Blue Cask Strength Straight Corn Whisky, are annual special releases. The versions I’m tasting were released in the fall of 2016. Note that both carry the “corn whisky” designation, which means they must be aged in used or uncharred new oak containers—no heavy char allowed. Balcones True Blue 100 Proof. Photo by Margarett Waterbury, image copyright The Whiskey Wash. Tasting Notes: True Blue 100 Proof Vital Stats: 100 proof, 100% blue corn, no age statement, priced around $70 Appearance: Auburn, with a reddish cast Nose: Tons of roasty, buttery corn, like elotes cooked over a woodfire; nutty sherry; sweet brown sugar; maple syrup; smoldering oak. Really nice. Palate: Sweet, bold smoky—this is one assertive whisky! At first, I get fresh, almost tangy notes of resinous oak, mingled with some oxidized, fruity flavors, like a long-opened bottle of sweet vermouth or flat cola. But then big waves of roasted corn introduce the finish, which sustains a very appealing sweetness all the way through to the death. Final Thoughts & Score: Score: 88/100 I really enjoyed this. It’s bold and true to its raw materials, and the intense corny sweetness of the distillate is a nice match to the relatively bold oak character, especially for a whisky that’s presumably never touched new char. True Blue 100 Proof really delivers on craft’s promise: to showcase distinctive ingredients in a format that’s wholly different than mainstream whiskeys. Bravo. Tasting Notes: True Blue Cask Strength Balcones True Blue Cask Strength. Photo by Margarett Waterbury, image copyright The Whiskey Wash. Vital Stats: 131.4 proof, 100% blue corn, no age statement, priced $100 or more Appearance: A bit darker than the 100, chestnut Nose: Upon first nosing, I’m confused: the nose is very mild, more ethanol than anything else. After a few minutes resting in the glass, though, the picture gets clearer: lots of sherry, robust oak, vanilla extract, pronounced brown sugar sweetness, and a profound, toasty corniness, just like what I imagine the Corn Nuts factory smells like (minus that Ranch flavor powder stuff). Palate: The first sip is predictably scouring: I pick up volatile ethanol and little else. The second pass, again, brings some clarity: where the True Blue 100 is sugary sweet, this cask-strength version reveals a savory, almost earthy character: salted butter, warm charred tortillas, smoky barbecue, grape skins, grilled oyster mushrooms, and weathered wood. It’s so high proof it feels almost numbing on the lips, although that’s not an entirely unpleasant feeling. With water, it’s sweeter and smokier, with a more clearly discernible char. Final Thoughts & Score: Score: 87/100 Generally speaking, I don’t love super-high-proof whiskies. Higher proof makes it harder to taste flavors beyond ethanol, and in my world, drinking is supposed to be fun, not an endurance contest. But True Blue Cask Strength does a great job of balancing intensity with flavor, and I was surprised to find myself sipping this happily out of the glass without even a drop of water. I prefer the 100 proof, but this makes a fine alternative for somebody looking for a whisky with a proof to impress.