Review #126: Balcones Healthy Spirits Bottle

It’s exciting to try local products when you travel. It’s one of life’s joys! But I was a bit skeptical when I first encountered Balcones during a business trip. Most of the world finds a way to advertise its local wine and spirits without deprecating the rest of the world, but Texan advertising always seems to view it as a zero sum game – everything is comparative: bigger, better, etc. in Texas.

Back to the first encounter. It was a trip to visit a Texan game developer and my dining companion heard I liked whiskey – he urged me to try Balcones, which he extolled as an excellent local whiskey. The bartender chimed in – proudly declared that it was not good, it was the best single malt whiskey in the world (!) and that it could beat anything from Scotland or Japan. The dram I tried, Balcones Single Malt, was young, hot, and overpriced ($70 for a two year old single malt). It left a bad impression and even when I tried it again at a San Antonio cocktail convention – I was still not impressed.

So when the local whiskey shop (Healthy Spirits in San Francisco) declared that the bottle of the month was Balcones Rye, I raised an eyebrow. I’ve been genuinely liking their American whiskey program until then (you agree to buy whatever bottle they procure but they procure some excellent and rare selections). Without the monthly subscription, I probably would have continued somewhat ignorant of how much American whiskey has been evolving. Upon picking it up, I mentioned my relatively low perception of Balcones this to the gentleman running the counter at Healthy Spirits. He agreed – saying he had also been a bit under-impressed but that their rye was actually incredible. My hope rose.

I tried it immediately when I got home and I’m pleased to say that this is a pretty damn good whiskey.


Tasting Notes

Nose: Intense nose. Spicy granola bar, butterscotch and vanilla. Followed by notes of sweet barbecue glaze, cherries, marshmallows, intense oaky floor in the summer sun.

Palate: Candied red hots, spicy toffee pudding, mars bars with chocolate caramel, really tannic and imposing, like a sweet spicy candy with which its not to be trifled with.

Finish: Long, very oaky and chocolatey, hint of lychee sweetness. Tints due to the high proof.

Quick overview of our scoring system


Additional Information

  • ABV: 64.7% ABV (129.4 proofs)
  • Barrel #14045
  • 60 gallon new American oak level.
  • 100% rye, 85% from TX, 15% German rye, blend of Roasted, Crystal and Chocolate.
  • Thanks to Mark Jackson from The Right Spirit for the info about the spirit.

About Balcones Distillery

  • From Waco Texas.
  • Balcones calls itself the original Texas whiskey and was started in 2008. I’m sure this is advertising hyperbole. It’s hard to believe that not a single entrepreneurial moonshiner tried distilling whiskey in Texas in the preceding century…
  • Started by Chip Tate in 2008, started distilling in 2009.

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