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Balcones True Blue

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Balcones True Blue

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@newreverie
Balcones True Blue

For those who don't know, Chip Tate is no longer the master distiller at Balcones. Let me tell you a story about him. Chip Tate had a vision that Texas could produce world class whiskey. To that end he built a distillery from the ground up using small stills made by hand. His whiskey soon began piling up awards and was even scarce in Texas. To meet demand Chip needed investors to expand his business. He got them but he wasn't willing to sacrifice quality for profit. There was a meeting and Chip threatened to burn down the distillery and shoot an investor before he'd sell an inferior product. Chip Tate is no longer master distiller at Balcones. I am lucky enough to have several bottles of Chip Tate originals, including two bottles of True Blue 100.

Nose: Classic Balcones bananas foster. Powdered sugar, caramel, and charred bananas. Sweet and delicious. The nose has a thickness, so much so that you could chew on it.

Taste: Blue corn makes for a remarkable flavor. It is hard to describe something so unique. Brine, grilled corn, cotton candy dominate. Beneath is a depth uncharacteristic of such a young whiskey. The banana is faint. Instead there is a pleasing cherry, orange, and coffee flavor. If you've ever had cafe Diablo the flavors are similar, while overlaid with smooth bourbon notes.

Finish: Coffee and wood roll down the back of my tongue and build with every sip. A luxurious snowball rolling down a hill, gaining momentum until the flavors transport themselves back into taste. You swallow and the whiskey reappears like a gushing spring. The effect is slightly drying and yet sticky syrup remains in the mid palate.

Final Thoughts: Chip Tate is undoubtedly one of the best distillers in the world. One can only hope that the new distiller Jim Himstedt can continue to produce the same quality product.

Yes Himstedt has been there with Chip since the beginning, but it was always Chip Tate's signature on the back of the bottles. It wasn't until late 2014 when Tate was officially outed from Balcones. Given their aging techniques I think all products from now going forward will have the full contribution of Himstedt. It will be interesting to see if there are any changes to the profile.

@newreverie, you are absolutely correct.

Chip Tates signature is on a label dated 8/15/14

@SquidgyAsh

Still sitting here, playing with some interesting new corn whiskies from Texas. It's the start of the week and it's already been a crazy one, so crazy in fact that I havent had any time to sit down and enjoy some good whiskies, so when I got home tonight, I decided that come hell or high water I was going to enjoy a dram by god!

So I'm sitting here watching American Gangster, staring Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe, with a dram of Balcones True Blue 100% in my hand and I'm really impressed.

Not just with the movie, which I already knew was good, but this whiskey, or to be more honest, with these corn whiskies.

I'd always thought of corn whiskies as being moonshine, white lighting, high octane, unaged, alcohol that you used to just get completely smashed.

But instead I'm encountering a whiskey with startling complexity, much more complexity then I'd have thought.

The nose is surprisingly rich with mangoes, lychees, apricots, slight citrus, cinnamon, nutmeg, all spice, vanilla ice cream, covered in brown sugar, and dark cocoa powder.

Wow! That's a huge step up from the normal 46% abv.

Time for a taste!

Sweet, oodles of vanilla, dark chocolate, tobacco, oranges, caramel, couch leather, soft bananas, charred oak, cinnamon, nutmeg, buttered caramel popcorn and a hint of corn.

Very nice whiskey, very nice! Totally enjoying this while I watch my movie.

The finish lingers for a long time, 4, 5 minutes after my last sip with again the rich vanilla, lots of dark chocolate and some fruity hints lurking in the background, trying to track what fruits down without success, all I know is that it's delicious!

It's a very dry whiskey, making you want to grab another dram, it is very good. Too good in fact as I feel like I could drink it all night.

Running at roughly $150 AUS a bottle a whiskey like this makes it very easy to see why Balcones is considered one of the top American craft distilleries. If you're looking for something delicious and a little bit different this just might be up your alley!

Agreed, very thick and rich. I wasn't expecting it but it blue me away.

@vanPelt

First vapor: Dark maple with cherry cough syrup.

Nose: Like walking into a fudge confectionery that happens to be next to a large crop field. There are loads of sweet butter in the air; sweet an buttery kettle corn. Other fudge elements come out besides the sugar and the butter-- there's the nutty penuche, there's the french vanilla of divinity fudge; and even some mint fudge hinting at rye. This latter sharpness becomes more prominent with time.

Palate: Entry is bitter-hot like amaretto and tabasco; then the hot sauce appears to have flambeed some maple syrup into char. Rather like hot kettle corn. Before the finish, a frame of charred pear and dried fig passes into orange-infused maple with clove. This combination gives the impression of having eaten gingerbread cookies.

Finish: A creamed corn dish, with minced red chilies and sweetened with cinnamon.

There is really a lot here. The only complaint is the throat-sting on the entrance, but this levels off and continues into an amazingly rich palate. The deep sweet flavors are really big and full; you can lick the butter off your lips. I need to award the dominant thrill to the nose, though-- an incredibly thick aroma that evokes walking among the summertime confections of a state fair by a cornfield. Americana complete.

Thanks, @Wills and @valuewhisky. Go for it: Anyone with an interest should try this-- IF they think they can get past that burning entrance. The overall experience is quite different from anything I've tasted before; I wonder whether others might suggest similar whiskies for exploration...?

Wow, that's what I call an enticing review. Great tasting notes!

@voidwp2556

Balcones from Waco, Texas is starting to pop on the east coast as of late. The bottle I'm tasting is from batch TB12-3, with a date of 8/13/12. This is a cask strength bottling so I've added a touch of water to make this nose-able.

The nose is full of sherry aromas: beautiful roasted nut flavors, white chocolate, and unctuous maple syrup. Smells out-and-out DELICIOUS and DARK.

Very round mouthfeel, this enters sweet with caramel and fudge flavors. I see "pear" in a lot of Balcones tasting notes, and would agree there. The finish is rounded out by spicy red pepper and cinnamon notes.

I think this is very well done, and that Balcones is making some of the most interesting things available right now. I'm anxious to review the rest of the lineup (Baby Blue, "1" Texas Single Malt, Brimstone, Rumble, and Rumble Cask Reserve). Balcones says that they will be releasing a True Blue 100 in the near future, but I don't see that having an easy time compared to this cask strength version. Seriously, Bravo!

Victor, I'm sorry you feel that way. I will have to respectfully disagree with you. As a distiller, I can tell you for certain that there are many equally, if not more important, facts than age that are left off the label routinely connecting to what is in the bottle--such as what ingredients were used and where the whisky was actually made. In my experience, arrogance is rarely expressed as understatement, but rather more often in overstatement. I think that all distillers should have to disclose the origin of their spirits, for instance. But as it is, we must each label our whiskies according to our own country's requirements. Given your assumptions about our whisky, which I'm glad you enjoy, I don't see how making fewer claims is manipulative or arrogant. After all, you assumed the worst in saying it was unaged after all. That said, I'm not sure where you think the deep brown color comes from since addition of coloring in most US categories is forbidden, unlike in the UK. In any case, I'm happy to answer any questions you have about the whisky to fill in the information we couldn't fit or weren't allowed to put on the label.

Respectfully,

Chip

Gene, we are certainly in agreement that more information is better. As a point of interest, the mash itself is a dark purplish blue because of the blue corn, but all spirits come off the still clear regardless of the base ingredients used actually. The color is extracted from the toasted and charred barrels. The casks range in size from 5 gallon to 60 gallons in size and most of the whiskies in a blend will have spent time in both. The barrels are very lightly used in order to meet the US requirements for corn whisky to be aged in used charred oak or new uncharred oak. Recent True Blue bottlings have been distributed in both the US, Norway, Sweden, and the UK. As I'm sure you know, the EU regulations specify that products labeled as whisky must be aged a minimum of 3 years.

In general for Balcones bottlings, there is a vast range of ages represented in each blend. Not only that, I blend in multiple stages by first blending cuvées of barrels to be married and then rebarreled in other cask at least once, sometimes more. As a result, the product is better represented, I feel by a label like True Blue or Baby Blue like a brandy producer might use 'XO' or 'VSOP' designations--an implied age, yes, but more about blending profile. If it were up to me, we would do away with so many of the arcane category rules that exist and simply provide detailed information about what's in the bottle in many deferent ways to the consumer to decide for him or herself. But the TTB has not retained me as a consultant in that capacity to date ;). Again, I agree that information should be freely shared with the consumer but prefer to do so at length in a context like this when questions arise. I appreciate your comments and questions.

Best,

Chip

@Victor

Balcones Distilling in Waco, Texas 'imports' blue corn from New Mexico to make this unaged undiluted True Blue corn whiskey from 100% mash of Blue Corn. They also make a version named Baby Blue aged for 4 months in miniature new oak barrels, and bottled at 46% ABV. The natural pigment of the blue corn gives this unaged spirit an aged-whisky-like colouration. True Blue is sold at undiluted distillation strength (it would be 'barrel proof' if there were barrels involved). The reviewed sample was from Batch TB10-7, which was bottled on 22 Oct 2010 at 61.8% ABV/123.6 proof.

Nose: moderate corn nose which has a deeper character than that from either white or yellow sweet corn. The nose is very slightly sour, but much less so than is typical from new make corn whiskey.

Taste: very big flavour, distinctively of blue corn, which is deeper than other corn varieties. Initial sourness gives way to a balance of sweetness and slight sourness which, very interestingly, tastes as though it has been aged in new wood, for, maybe, six months. There is nothing here, though, except for the blue corn to give these flavours. This is quite interesting and different in the category of taste sensations.

Finish: These flavours linger a long time and the sweetness fades out to a very mild sourness, with the blue corn flavour intact until the end.

Balance: Tasting this whiskey represents for me a further exploration of the taste of grains without additional variables added to the equation. In my opinion, corn, especially, is so weak and subtle in flavour that it is virtually untastable if its flavours are combined with oak, rye, or wheat. For nothing but the pure taste of one sub-variety of grain going on here, there is a lot of complexity in the True Blue. Personally, I prefer the brighter flavours of white or yellow corn to the flavour of blue corn, but, that said, this is a very interesting new whiskey to add to your mouth's encyclopedia of tasting experiences. This is quite pleasant to drink if you like the experience of new whiskies without the influence of wood.

@maltster, yes, many of these artisan distillery spirits are ridiculously expensive. While prices are of course lower in the US than in Europe by a big factor, $ 40-50 for new make or nearly-new make here compares poorly to many excellent aged whiskeys, which often cost half that amount in the US. I have had the Baby Blue, which is for me just OK. I much prefer the True Blue. The True Blue and Baby Blue are unique products: the taste of the blue corn is distinctive and different from the standard common yellow and white corn used for spirits. And, of course, the colour gives the lie to the commonly fashionable practice in the US of refering to unaged spirits as "white whiskey". This is unaged, and naturally blue. Just as the Canadian White Owl whisky is aged and white (colour filtered). If you can, try a sip of the undiluted True Blue. It is a lot more concentrated in its flavours than is the Baby Blue. Jim Murray liked True Blue enough to rate it 93.5 pts in his 2012 Bible, just 1/2 point shy of liquid gold status. I wouldn't go that far myself, but this is quite an interesting and enjoyable whiskey to experience.

Baby Blue is aged about 6 months, according to various blogging rumors. True Blue is stated to be older. Based on when it was released I'd guess 18 months to two years. Balcones is located in Waco Texas, and the warehouses get above 130 degrees F. in the summer. Chip Tate also uses a hybrid small cask / full size cask barrel management scheme. The heat and use of small casks for initial maturation promote rapid wood infusion. I'd never call these whiskies "mature" - but they are much more wood influenced than you would think given the probable ages.

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