Thursday, 14 March 2013

Whisky Discovery #321

Balcones Baby Blue NAS (46% abv)
Texan Corn Whisky
Circa £55.00 75cl
Corn Whisky
This is the first blog post of a series of seven distilled spirits from the Balcones Distillery. I said distilled spirit as opposed to whisky (or whiskey) as although five of the range we will taste are whiskies (which is of course a distilled spirit) the other two are not. All seven of these review samples were originally shared by Johanne McInnis of The Perfect Whisky Match blog, and additionally we've also had samples sent by other whisky friends as well as Balcones UK PR company Mayfox Communications

We first heard about Balcones last March when we attended our first ever whisky show, Whisky Live London. We were actually sitting next to founder and renowned craft distiller Chip Tate in the coffee shop opposite the entrance on that Saturday morning. We were whisky 'newbies' attending our first show, and knew very little about whisky then.

Chip founded Balcones (pronounced bal-conies) in 2008 and distils in Waco, Texas. Within the US craft whisky industry, Chip’s name is synonymous with expertise, innovation and precision, having produced some of the most highly acclaimed artisanal whiskies to come out of the US over the last four years.

From a young age, Chip has been fascinated with the experimentation of natural ingredients and brewing, initially encouraged through his mother’s culinary skills at home. After years of curiosity and a natural affiliation with physics and technical machinery, Chip trained as a brewer and has worked as both a professional brewer and brewing consultant around the US, before moving into distilling spirits.

Chip Tate
Chip sitting in front of  his hand built stills
Upon founding Balcones in March 2008, that summer, went to train as a distiller under Jim McEwan of Bruichladdich on Islay. Following this intense training period, he and his two Balcones distillers returned to Waco to hand build the working distillery from scratch: from metal sheeting and copper, to old stainless steel vessels bought on eBay, they literally built the distillery from the bottom up. As a result, today Balcones is the only distillery in the US that is hand built by the distillers themselves.

In September 2009, Chip released his first spirit and first Texas whisky on the market since prohibition: Baby Blue, made from roasted Hopi Blue Corn, as well as Rumble, a unique Texas spirit distilled from fermented Texas wildflower honey, mission figs, and demerara sugar.

Balcones have gone on to release five further distillates and all seven will be tasted and reviewed over the next couple of days leading up to our next visit to Whisky Live 2013 on Friday 22nd March

For first taste of Balcones we started with Chip’s first whisky released from the new Texan distillery; Baby Blue, the first whisky to be distilled (legally) in the state since prohibition.

Baby Blue is a unique corn whisky made from atole, a roasted blue corn meal. Corn whisky isn't new, and common to American whisky making tradition, however Balcones are the only distillery to date to use a blue corn.  

Kat: When eaten blue corn tastes nuttier and more glutinous than yellow corn. Blue corn tortilla chips are probably the easiest product to buy here in the UK if you wanted to try eating some blue corn, but generally not widely available, which is a shame for two reasons; firstly it’s a pretty purple/blue colour and secondly it’s a just truly delicious. 

So What Did We Think?

Kat: I had to leave this in the glass for about 5 minutes before the full range of aromas revealed itself. There’s a sweetness with a hint of slight tart green apples which made me immediately think of toffee candy apples. There’s some oak, more green oak for me, and the smell of my home made banana bread

I will try my best here to describe the smell of my home made banana bread; You have to imagine that it’s just been made, so hot out of the oven and just waiting to cool down on a wire rack. The smell is a bit malty, with hints of dried ginger, cinnamon, and of course ripe bananas. It fills my flat with a warming welcoming smell and puts smiles on friends’ faces when they have a slice. The aromas of this give me the same feelings, almost comforting. 

Corn WhiskyThe palate opens with the sweetness of caramel, compared with the aroma, the taste is more of slight burnt caramel. There’s a hint of nice bitterness to offset the sweetness that I found to be a bit like orange pith. There’s some oak that appears towards the middle but over taken by a Brazil nut like taste. Lastly there’s a touch of a floral bouquet. 

That orange pith stays leads the finish, a fresh chilli heat follows and ends with a sweet caramel taste to the end. A long lingering finish that slowly fades. 

Dave said: This has a fabulous sweet butter toffee nose at first, but as Kat said, just wait for a little while for the nose to develop and you will be rewarded. The sweetness continues with honey before some spicy rye type notes appear which turns more malty with time. The malt develops towards a fruity bread dough or something that reminded me of my Mum's sultana cake mix, and I could smell buttered popcorn too. Eventually vanilla makes an appearance

It tastes young and spicy though not quite as sweet as the nose was suggesting. There's a pithy bitterness and herbal tea like notes, along with green oak wood before the spicy build up with chilli heat which leads to the long spicy finish balanced with sweetness but the oak tannins leave the mouth feeling dry, yet mouth-watering at the same time.

Our first taste of Texas distilled spirit, and I think you can safely say we have been impressed with what we have tasted. Chip will be exhibiting again at this years Whisky Live London (22-23 March)and we're really looking forward to meeting him properly this time. Look out for us there too as we'll be hanging out with Chip on the Saturday.

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