American whiskey, bourbon especially, is heavily associated with Kentucky. However, whiskeys such as TX Whiskey and Balcones are starting to put Texas on the map as a premier state for distilling. Balcones Distilling comes to us out of Waco, TX and makes a handful of whiskeys, including bourbon.
In this guide, we’re going to look at the 5 classic whiskeys that Balcones distills. We’ll cover the differences, taste, price, and more of each of these 5 whiskeys. Before we get there, though, let’s look at the history and process of Balcones Distilling.
Balcones Distillery and History
In 2008, Chip Tate, with the help of an investor, turned an old welding shop into a distillery thus creating Balcones Distilling. The name comes from the Balcones Escarpment, a series of cliffs and rocky structures that runs through Waco, TX. These structures are created from faulting along the Balcones Fault. While Balcones’ whiskey saw immediate success, their business had a similar rocky start as the Balcones Escarpment.
Due to Balcones immediate success, they quickly needed to move into a much larger distillery. However, Mr. Tate did not have the capital to afford such a move, so they looked towards a new investor. After some issues and differing leadership styles, Mr. Tate was eventually bought out and removed from the company. Currently, Greg Allen, the investor is the largest owner of Balcones Distilling.
There are two things that stand out about Balcones and Mr. Tate. They draw inspiration from Scotland and from brewing. Before Chip Tate got into whiskey, he wanted to open a craft brewery. However, Texas, along with many other states, are over-saturated with craft breweries (if there’s such a thing). Craft beer is know for its uniqueness and brewing craft beer is thought of as more of an art. Mr Tate and the head distiller took much inspiration from brewing and craft beer.
Balcones also holds a lot of respect for Scotland and scotch whisky. It’s evident by the fact that they distill their spirits in copper pot stills made by Scottish contractors. Second, they refer to their whiskey as ‘whisky’ – the way it’s spelled when referring to scotch. Lastly, they sought out to distill single malt whiskeys which are heavily associated with scotch.
Now that we’ve covered some of the basics, let’s look at Balcones whiskey. Balcones Baby Blue, Balcones Lineage, Balcones Single Malt, Balcones Bourbon, and Balcones Rye are their 5 classic, year round whiskeys.
Balcones Baby Blue
Balcones Baby Blue Corn Whisky is the first Texas made and sold whiskey since the days of prohibition. It’s also the first whiskey to be distilled from blue corn. It received the double gold medal at San Francisco’s World Spirits Competition, the highest award that’s given. In the next section, we’ll discuss why Balcones Baby Blue Corn Whisky is worthy of such high praise.
Balcones Baby Blue Taste
On the nose, there are many subtle notes with nothing too overpowering. Hints of caramel and honey, toasted corn, and light chocolate are most prominent. It’s thick on the palate with some fruity flavors that aren’t found as much on the nose. Apple and brown sugar are mixed in with some caramel, butter, and toasted spice. The finish is leathery with most of the spice coming in here, yet still fairly smooth.
At 46% ABV, Baby Blue is stronger than most base whiskeys that come in at 40%, but weaker than most cask strength options. The one thing about Balcones Baby Blue that I love is the complexity. It seems that every sip I can find some new flavor that I hadn’t noticed before. Even with the complexity, Balcones Baby Blue has a balance and consistency that is hard to find among other craft whiskeys.
Balcones Baby Blue Price
While Balcones Baby Blue is very good and highly rated, that’s not the only thing that goes into our buying decisions. The average price for Balcones Baby Blue is $40-48. Just as craft beer is more expensive than domestic beer so. too, is craft whiskey. It’s one of the few problems I have with Balcones. While it’s very good, there are so many options out there that are similar in quality but $10-15 cheaper.
Balcones Lineage is a celebration of old and new traditions. They use both Scottish and Texas barley and age their whiskey in both old and new oak barrels. Balcones Lineage is a single-malt whiskey that draws inspiration from the birthplace of whiskey, Scotland. Throw in some Texas barley, and it’s a Texas version of scotch.
Balcones Lineage Taste
Nose: Light oak, sweet molasses, and light fruit
Palate: Oak and citrus with spices. Light nutty flavors as well.
Finish: Fairly quick, primarily cinnamon and pepper.
The Balcones Lineage Texas Single Malt Whisky may not be up to the standards of some of the more fine single malt scotch whiskies out there, but at 47% ABV, it is a quality whiskey worth trying,
Balcones Lineage Price
The average price of a 750ml bottle of Balcones Lineage is in the $35-45 range. If you live in Texas, you’ll be able to find it in the 30’s, but likely in the 40’s for those out of state. Similar to Baby Blue, the Lineage is a good whiskey, but there are better options out their for a similar or cheaper price. It’s still worth trying as it may just be your favorite.
Balcones Single Malt
Balcones Texas Single Malt Whisky is similar to the lineage, but it simply uses all Texas malted barley. It comes in at 53% ABV or 106 proof making it the most potent option among their year round selections.
Balcones Single Malt Taste
Like the Lineage, Balcones Texas Single Malt has a sweet, fruity nose with hints of molasses. On the palate, notes of apple and pear are prominent as well as honey and malt. A light kick of cinnamon comes in on the finish to make a nice cinnamon apple combination.
Balcones Single Malt Price
The price of Balcones Texas Single Malt can vary quite a bit. In Texas, you’re looking at a bottle costing between $50-60. Elsewhere, a bottle of their single malt whiskey can run you upwards of $70. It’s the most expensive bottle among their “classic” selection, but it’s also the strongest. I prefer it to the Lineage and Baby Blue, just not for $70.
Balcones Texas Pot Still Bourbon may be the most popular option that Balcones offers. A mashbill containing Blue Corn, Texas wheat and rye, and malted barley is aged at least 2 years. Bottled at 46% ABV, this bourbon is Balcones’ way of letting the world know that good bourbon doesn’t need to come from Kentucky.
Balcones Bourbon Taste
On the nose there is toasted corn and oak, with light hints of caramel and apple. The caramel apple initially carries over to the taste, and then notes of vanilla and oak take over. Light fruit and pepper make for a mild to medium finish. Overall, Balcones makes a quality bourbon.
Balcones Bourbon Price
Balcones Bourbon costs right around $30. It’s the cheapest option they have both in Texas and for those out of state. Whereas some of their other selections can be $10+ more expensive across a border, Balcones Bourbon is still found at the $30 price point in various states. Overall, Balcones Bourbon is on par with the rest of their selection from a taste perspective, and it’s the cheapest of the bunch.
Balcones Texas Rye 100 Proof is a 100% rye whiskey made with Elbon rye, crystal rye, chocolate rye, and roasted rye. It was released in 2018 to celebrate their 10 year anniversary. Upon first taste of Balcones Texas Rye, I noticed one thing – it’s unique. Let’s take a look at some of the notes.
Balcones Rye Taste
On the nose, there are touches of oak, cocoa, and pepper, most of which transfer over to the palate. Chocolate and pepper are predominant flavors with hints of vanilla giving it a nice coffee flavor. Once again, chocolate and spice round out this rye whiskey.
Balcones Rye 100 Proof is certainly unique, but is it good? That’s a tough question because I could see some loving it and some hating it. The strong flavors of chocolate and coffee may be polarizing. Was it my favorite Balcones whiskey? Probably not. Is it my favorite rye? no, not that either, but I respect the uniqueness of it and will likely buy it again down the road.
Balcones Rye Price
Much like the other Balcones whiskeys, the price point of a bottle of Balcones Rye is right around the $35-40 mark depending on where you live. A $40 bottle isn’t going to break your bank, but there are better options out there.
Balcones Whiskey Summary
Have you ever tried something for your first time and the person next to you has big eyes asking enthusiastically, “did you like it?”, and you don’t really know what to say? You’re not sure. You respond saying “hmmm I don’t know… it’s interesting, though”. That’s how I feel about Balcones whiskey. It’s unique and it’s interesting, but you need to have it a couple more times before you decide whether you really like it.
I’d be more willing to sing the praises of Balcones if not for their price tag. It’s not that their super expensive rather that there are better bourbon’s, rye’s, and single malts out there for a cheaper price. So, while I definitely recommend trying at least one bottle of Balcones whiskey, I consider Balcones a two-and-done bottle. I’d buy a bottle once and be intrigued by the uniqueness and flavor. A couple months down the road, I’ll try it again, not remembering whether I liked it or not, and that’s about it.
Ultimately, next time you’re at your local liquor store and see Balcones Texas Whisky, grab a bottle and let me know what you think!
Below are frequently asked question about Balcones. Many of these are answered in the article above.
Who Owns Balcones Distilling?
Chip Tate founded Balcones in 2008. Now, a Mr. Greg Allen is the majority owner. Balcones is considered a craft distillery, so no major spirits producer owns them.
Where is Balcones Distilled?
Balcones Distilling is located in Waco, Texas. It is named after the Balcones Escarpment, a series of cliffs and rocky structures that separates east Texas from west Texas.
What Proof is Balcones?
Balcones produces many whiskeys at various proofs. When it comes to their classic selection, the whiskeys they offer year round, they range from 92 proof to 106 proof. They do offer cask strength options at a much higher ABV.