It is with some trepidation that I approach this review. Dedicated readers of the blog—should any such depraved people exist—will remember that my first encounter with Balcones, a batch of their much ballyhooed Brimstone, was not a happy experience; I think it remains my lowest score to date. I did like the other batch of the Brimstone that I got to try later quite a bit more, but, in general, I remain dubious about Balcones from the Chip Tate-era. It seems to me, and I’ve voiced this opinion before, that falling in love with Balcones, which a number of whiskey bloggers did, might have required falling in love with Chip Tate, or the idea of Chip Tate first. Of course, the Chip Tate era ended in a very controversial manner last year and it may well be that new era Balcones will make even me nostalgic for their original product (the new bosses certainly seem much harder to fall in love with). And it remains to be seen what Tate’s new whisky, once he is legally allowed to start making it again next year, will be like.
In the meantime, I am hoping that my first encounter with his True Blue—a straight ahead 100% blue corn whiskey, no brush oak involved—will be far less nasty than my first encounter with Brimstone.
Balcones True Blue (57.2%; Batch TB 13-3; from a sample received in a swap)
Nose: Praise Jebus, it’s not nasty! In fact, it’s rather nice with toasted wood at first, yielding to softer, sweeter fruity aromas (berries, orange) and vanilla. The citrus expands as it gets more air and now there’s a fair bit of powdered ginger as well. More perfumed as it goes and the wood gets dustier. With more time some apricot shows up in the fruit column and some cinnamon in the wood column. With water the fruit is more expressive still and there’s some toffee too
Palate: Hmmm much woodier and much more simply, cloyingly sweet. Not much to add to that after two more sips. With time the wood gets sharper and the sweetness gets more perfumed and astringent on the edges. With a lot of time and air the sharpness eases off a bit, and there’s a bit more depth to the sweetness and some identifiable fruit (cherry, some orange), but no complexity still. Okay, let’s see what water does. Well, it gets the wood more under control and makes the fruit darker and richer—after a bit, though, the sharpness returns again.
Finish: Long. The wood peters out, turning spicier and then mintier as it goes. As on the palate with water.
Comments: Well, this was a surprise. I liked the nose from the get-go but the palate was a big let-down at first. It improved with time and then water did it a lot of favours (I added more than a teaspoon to about an ounce), though it couldn’t finally keep the obvious youth at bay. I wouldn’t get a bottle based on this but it’s certainly a lot better than I thought it would be (especially after the first few sips, when I wasn’t sure that I would finish the pour).
Rating: 78 points.
Thanks to Michael K. for the sample!