Kendra Steiner Editions (Bill Shute)

June 24, 2020

Balcones “Rumble” (Balcones Distilling, Waco, TX)

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 12:21 am

BALCONES “RUMBLE” , distilled spirits specialty

750 ML, 47% alcohol

made from Texas Wildflower Honey, Turbinado Sugar, and Mission Figs

twice distilled in traditional copper pots, then matured in oak casks

rumble

Balcones Distilling began in Waco, Texas, in 2008. I met one of the two founders, Chip Tate, here in San Antonio back then when he was on the road promoting the product. He talked to me at length about the philosophy of the company, which was a pioneer micro-distillery, one of the first in Texas since the depression. As a long-time lover of New Mexico blue corn in all its forms and uses, I was blown away by the fact that Balcones’ primary product, and the one being promoted, was a blue corn whisky. They’ve done many variations on the blue corn product since, but I remember my original impression of it, like it’s yesterday, having a mellow nuttiness and a mellow sweetness, nothing at all like the harsh corn whiskeys most would think of. Barrel-aging helped deepen that mellow but rich flavor. It was also a spirit that one could savor simply for its flavor. I would NEVER use it in a mixed drink.

Like a record label or an art gallery, Balcones has always represented a certain distinctive aesthetic, a uniquely Texas aesthetic, and their entire product line grows out of that vision. I’m very happy for their success (it’s available internationally—-someone once told me about Balcones products being featured at an upscale Hong Kong bar!), which proves that continued devotion to a unique vision and an emphasis on the small details that brought the business its initial acclaim can continue on a larger scale. Unfortunately, that financial success came at a steep price, with the founder eventually  removed from the company he founded. I’ll just suggest you Google the terms Balcones and Chip Tate and read the journalistic coverage of the situation yourself. It’s not pretty. Fortunately, Chip Tate has started a new distillery, Tate & Co. Distillery, outside Waco, and you should check out their website:

http://tatedistillery.com/

I’m looking forward to the upcoming offerings from Tate & Co. Success is the best revenge.

Getting back to Balcones, whoever owns it presently, another unique product they’ve offered (my wonderful son Eric bought me a bottle of this last Christmas) is BRIMSTONE, a corn whisky that is smoked with Texas Shrub Oak (aka chaparral), which grows wild all over Central Texas and is well-known to anyone who spends any time outdoors (see pic).

scrub oak

This was a bold spirit that tasted like campfire smoke, but elegant and with the blue corn foundation. It was like nothing else and, based on the online reviews, was a bit polarizing, but it was true to the Balcones vision and I found it quite satisfying (though I did not buy a second bottle–after all, you don’t need to see the Grand Canyon twice!).

balcones building

I’ve of course skipped dozens and dozens of unique Balcones products over the years, as a bottle of spirits lasts a long time at our house (except tequila, as we are regular drinkers of Mexican Mules), and generally at any one time we’ll have three bottles we alternate between, a bottle of Islay Scotch, a bottle of some kind of small-distillery Rye, and some craft-distillery oddity we’re trying on a lark, and they’ll last for a year.

The present lark we are trying is Balcones’ RUMBLE. It’s available in a regular and a Cask Reserve. We’re drinking the regular (see pic above), bottled in 2018.

First of all, though this can be found in the whisky or bourbon section of your local liquor store, it actually has no grain in it. No, it’s made from honey, figs, and sugar. On a blind-tasting, I’d guess many people would be debating whether it’s a unique kind of rum or perhaps a rye that’s been aged in a distinctive kind of barrel, maybe a sherry cask.

Its base is an understated sweetness, but very understated and not cloying in any way. On top of that is a very-slight hint of spiciness, almost headed toward cinnamon, but earthier. However, RUMBLE isn’t really like anything else….it would appeal to people who do not like whisky or rye, yet it has a complexity that one does not associate with most rums.

I’ve visited a few Texas rum distilleries—-Railean, down in Galveston County, and Hye, up on Rt. 290, east of Fredericksburg, as well as the wonderful Bayou Rum, between Lake Charles and Lafayette, Louisiana—-and I’ve seen the huge plastic barrels of molasses and had the process explained, and have also smelled it being bottled, close-up. However, starting with honey and figs does not produce a rum-like product, and RUMBLE is certainly not like any whiskey or bourbon or rye I’ve ever tasted (I don’t do “flavored” whiskeys, by the way), although it has many of the qualities I savor in a fine rye. It’s in a category of its own. Some have even compared it to Armagnac, the exquisite cousin of Cognac.

Balcones-Distilling-feat

The micro-distillery movement (I live right down the road from the maverick Ranger Creek brewery and distillery, where I’ve volunteered a few times with bottling, in return for payment in bottles of Ranger Creek product and a meal and liquid refreshment) has been an inspiring thing to watch. Eric and I visited Railean Distillery back when Ms. Railean was starting up, working out of a portable building next to her garage, in a residential neighborhood in San Leon (there were no “tours” yet—-you would call her personally and she would come out in the driveway to meet you and show you the operation—it wasn’t legal at that time for her to even sell you a bottle—-you had to go to the liquor store in San Leon!), and I’ve watched Garrison Brothers rise from modest beginnings to its present stature as one of the handful of most-acclaimed distilleries in North America.

Although there is A LOT of science involved with distilling (there’d better be!), as well as a necessity for at least one of the partners to have some business background (an MBA and/or previous experience in another business area helps), it’s very much an art too, with an aesthetic, as mentioned above, and the final products are creations that belong to a body of work as much as the works of a composer or a poet or a visual artist.

Balcones Rumble is a beautiful creation, as rich and flavorful and mellow and unique and captivating as an alto saxophone solo by Johnny Hodges, but born and raised in Texas.

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