Almost two years ago I reviewed the Balcones lineup, and I recall thinking it was unique but average. Honestly, though, I’m not sure I really knew what I was talking about, for I was just beginning my whiskey journey. Fast forward to now and I have my level I whiskey certification and I’ve tried hundreds of different spirits over the course of two years.
Today I’m revisiting Balcones Pot Still Bourbon to see if it’s better than I gave it credit for.
Founded in 2008 by Chip Tate and an investor, Balcones is named after the Balcones escarpment in Waco, TX.
In creating their distillery – and building their new one not long after opening – they leveraged ideas from Scotch. They had copper pot stills crafted by Scots, make a lot of single malt whiskey, and even spell it whisky. In late 2022, Balcones was purchased by Diageo.
- Spirit: Straight Bourbon – Pot Still
- Owned By: Diageo
- Distilled By: Balcones
- Aged: 2 years
- ABV: 46%, 92 proof
- Mashbill: Undisclosed 4 grain mash – 51%+ blue corn, rye, wheat, barley
- Price: ~$33
There are two primary things to discuss when it comes to Balcones Pot Still Bourbon. First is that it’s pot distilled. Second, the four grain mash.
What is Pot Still Whiskey?
If you’re an avid drinker of Scotch or Irish whiskey, you’re likely familiar with pot still or at least drunken your fair share of it even if you didn’t know it. Bourbon and most American whiskeys are column distilled. You can click down below for a breakdown between Bourbon, Scotch, and Irish whiskey.
There are two primary to three primary methods of distillation – if you count hybrid stills – and they are column and pot stills.
Column stills leverage continuous distillation. Columns are set up with pipes running between them. As long as wash goes in, it will travel through the pipes and come out the other side as new make whiskey. Keep feeding the stills and you’ll keep getting whiskey. Column stills produce a more uniform spirit.
Pot stills are exactly what they sound like. The fermented liquid, or wash, is placed in a big copper pot. As the wash heats up, the alcohol evaporates upwards, travels through an arm at the top, and makes its way to the condenser. There, the vapors cool down and condense back to alcohol. Once all the alcohol is drawn out, the pot still is cleaned, refilled, and another batch begins.
Column and Pot Stills is really a difference of continuous distillation vs batch distillation. Column stills are more efficient, thus cheaper, and make a consistent spirit. Pot Stills, while less efficient, thus more expensive, allow for more nuance and character. The angle of the arm can change the amount of reflux, and batches can turn out a little different. Essentially, there’s more control or variation in what comes out.
Four Grain Bourbon
Bourbon is typically made of three grains. There is ALWAYS a MINIMUM of 51% corn in the mash – that is a legal requirement of bourbon. Next, bourbon typically uses malted barley for the enzymes provided during fermentation. While percentages may vary, you’ll typically see about 10% malt in a bourbon mash, give or take of course. The third grain is often rye to add extra flavors and spices that corn doesn’t provide, and sometimes it’s wheat which is known for adding a smoother quality and texture.
As I mentioned, it’s typically 3 grains. So…. Four grain bourbon uses all four primary grains – corn, malted barley, rye, and wheat.
Balcones Pot Still Bourbon Tasting Notes
Okay, we’ve covered the basics. Now, let’s jump into the important stuff. Is Balcones Pot Still good? What does it taste like? Time to pour myself a glass and find out.
Nose: A very nice wood not comes off the glass for a 2 year bourbon. I get a nice mix of floral/dark cherry notes with lemon, and a syrupy glaze over pork.
Palate: I get the glazed pork right on the front of the palate – I bet my hunger has a little something to do with that right now. The glaze is a cinnamon apple with a little extra cinnamon kicking in towards the back end and finish. Thick mouthfeel.
Finish: The cinnamon from the back of the palate picks up at the front of the finish with a bit of pepper. Oak and caramel sit around for a long finish.
Taste Summary – Is It Good?
Looking back at my old review, I wasn’t far off on the notes I got today, I was likely just very broad so as not to be “wrong”. Fast forward to today where I understand that there is no such thing as “wrong” when it comes to tasting notes (for the most part haha).
I was also much more positive about the pot still bourbon than their other selections, likely because of the cheaper price tag.
Today, I’m here to sing the praises of Balcones Pot Still Bourbon. I can’t speak for everyone as I’m sure there are people who don’t or won’t like it, but the balance between the unique and inoffensive (nothing off-putting or wildly different) is beautiful.
Von Payne Black and Pendleton Midnight are two whiskeys that come to mind. They are very unique and something that not everyone will enjoy – or that even most people may not enjoy. As a craft distiller, you make a typical straight bourbon and you’re going to struggle competing with the big dogs in Kentucky.
Balcones Pot Still Bourbon isn’t an everyday drinker, in my opinion (it certainly can be), but it’s a good one to have around and an even better one to gift or share with others looking to explore various bourbon profiles.
I’m very glad I went back to review Balcones Pot Still again. While I wasn’t harsh on it in my initial review two years ago, I certainly didn’t appreciate it then the way I do now.
The whiskey itself is highlighted by its uniqueness that, I think, stays within a bourbon profile, it’s thick mouthfeel, and long finish. For $30, I absolutely recommend picking up a bottle.
It may be time for me to revisit the rest of Balcones’ lineup.