There’s a whole contingent of new(ish) American distilleries producing worthwhile single malts and rye whisky. But it’s difficult for them to get a foothold in Europe. Balcones is one of the few that has managed to do so. Today I find myself tasting their Balcones Eclipse Texas Rye Cask Strength, as well as an independent 4-year-old single malt released by Archives (Whiskybase’s independent label.
Some context regarding the Balcones Eclipse Texas Rye is helpful. This sample was a gift from Norbert, who many of my Dutch readers will know from his relentless enthusiasm for American whisky, and the tastings he conducts through his company, Whisky4All. Norbert is also someone who I sometimes acquire samples from. These two Benromach are a recent example.
Norbert sent me the Balcones without any further information. The label on the sample bottle read ‘Just something extra’. He had included a Whiskybase number but had implored me to taste this whisky blind. And that’s what I did. Because I always dutifully follow Norbert’s instructions.
Also, I had been waiting for an excuse to publish my notes on the Balcones release from Archives, and this seemed the perfect opportunity. So, let’s start there.
Balcones 2017 4 Years Texas Single Malt (63.6%, Archives, C#16993)
Nose: Red fruits galore! Lots of Maraschino cherries, but also strawberries and raspberries. The high strength gives it a fizzy sort of quality. I get touches of nougat along with bright orange zest, pomelo and fudge. Plenty of brown sugar too, as well as marshmallows and dark chocolate. And let’s not forget notes like sandalwood and teak. Taste: An oily mouthfeel. The oak is undeniable, but juicy. Fennel, crème caramel and coffee grounds mix with gentle oak spices, resin, cappucino and furniture polish, as well as a touch of tobacco. Thick, dark caramel and some pralines too. Finish: Dry. Medium to long with a pinch of cinnamon, burnt toast and aniseed, as well as caramel.
What a powerhouse! Having to mature in such an extreme climate, compared to Scotland at least, has its advantages but also can be somewhat restrictive. The oak influence is always going to be extreme. But when this is the result, who am I to argue with the methods.
Nose: Quite dusty with hints of damp oak, some cumin and touches of cardamom. Quick hits of cocoa powder, cinnamon and pralines too. Oh, and almonds and orange zest! Then also whiffs of ripe bananas, golden syrup and porridge, along with some strong tea. Taste: Creamy mouthfeel. The is very evidently a rye whisky. Very earthy. The cumin makes an encore. (I love cumin!) Touches of resin, molasses and ristretto. There’s just a whisper of English breakfast tea, as well as a sprinkle of black pepper, mango and tinned peaches. Finish: Long. Dry. Lingering spices. A whisper of honeycomb. Cinnamon too.
Except for the clear strong oak influence they share, these whiskies couldn't be more different. The Balcones Eclipse Rye Whisky is earthy in all the right ways. The palate doesn't suffer from the high strength at all. It's probably enhanced by it, but it does leave so much room for experimenting with water. I've got nothing but good things to say.