Sunday, May 27, 2018

Review - Balcones Texas Rye 100 Proof

The Texas Rye 100 Proof is the first ever rye whisky to be released by the Texan distillery of Balcones. It was launched to celebrate their 10th anniversary year. The 100 Proof is bottled at 15 months of age and will be a permanent product in the core range. The spirit used has been made using 100% rye grains, all of which are grown in Texas - this is unusual as the legal minimum is 51% rye - and has been double distilled through copper pot stills.  As the name suggests, it is bottled at 100 Proof (50% ABV). This core bottling was joined by the limited Cask Strength Straight Rye, which contained some of the first rye spirit distilled in 2015 and was bottled at 62.5% ABV. This has now sold out.

The launch signals a serious focus on rye production at Balcones, which will see more spirit produced than ever before. The distillery has just finished a solid three month run where they have made nothing else. This equates to around 99,000 litres in total and is a far cry from the four barrels per quarter that they distilled in 2015.

"During the first quarter of 2018 we are focusing our production capacity solely to rye whisky, which means putting nearly 1,000 new barrels into our warehouses. These two new rye products are a culmination in several years of exploration in our distilling journey."
Jared Himstedt - Head Distiller at Balcones.

The distillery is located in Waco, Texas and was founded in 2008. The original distillery was hand built and was in operation until late 2015 when Balcones moved to a new facility in the centre of the city. This was formerly the Texas Fireproofing office and was built in the 1920s. The move enabled Balcones to massively increase production to keep up with growing demand and they now distil approximately 350,000 litres per year. Balcones is now one of the most highly awarded craft distilleries in the world and was the first to produce whisky in Texas since the Prohibition period. 

At the moment, Texas Rye 100 Proof is only available in the UK and USA. Other markets will follow later in 2018. The recommended price is £xx per bottle.

Our tasting notes
The colour is deep amber and the nose has an immediate vibrancy and warming aromas - think of honey, vanilla, heavy cereals and dark cherry with a pinch of all-spice. There are further background aromas of bread dough, milk chocolate, caramel and stewed apple, plus a faint whiff of black treacle.

On the palate the whisky has a initial bittersweetness to it. There is a sugary, almost malty, sweetness that is balanced by earthy and drying spices. These have a warmth with a peppery quality. Toffee and caramel notes open up along with a hint of red stone fruits, especially cherry. This becomes more reminiscent of cocktail cherries with time. The earthy spices add a robustness and stop the whisky becoming too sweet. These spices become increasingly woody and dry, and they grip the tastebuds. The result is a mouth watering sensation. Late hints of menthol, mint and cocoa add further depth and interest.

The finish is lengthy and warming. The drying and earthy spices take over, especially once the sweet and fruity notes fade. Of these, the cherry is particularly prominent early on in the finish. Once the spices hit, there is no going back - there are hints of ginger, cinnamon, freshly shaved oak and white pepper.

What's the verdict?
The Texas Rye 100 Proof is a great example of a rye whisky and one of the best that we have tasted to date. They are on to a winner with this release and that is great news given the huge focus that Balcones are putting on rye production. It offers everything that you would expect from a good rye - sweetness and fruitiness balanced with robustness, dryness and spiciness.

Having also sampled the Cask Strength Straight Rye expression, we can say that this is arguably even better. The additional strength has exaggerated all those expressive aromas and flavours that are present to create a truly mindblowing whisky. It is a shame that it has now sold out, but hopefully there will be similar such releases on the horizon soon.