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Review: Balcones Rumble

Balcones Rumble & Glass

Balcones Rumble
Batch R14-1, bottled 1/17/14, distilled by CT (Chip Tate)
Aged spirit made from distilled wildflower honey, turbinado sugar, and mission figs
47% ABV (94 proof)
$50 – $55
Overall Rating:  Nip/Bar

If you haven’t, first read my Intro to help you understand my review system.

Balcones (named after the Balcones Fault Zone, I presume – something I learned today), only around since 2008, has already had a sordid history.  I’ll not get into the details here, but you can read about the current tail end of a dispute between Chip Tate, the distillery’s builder and founder, and his financial backers here.  That’s all I’ll say about that.

I describe Rumble above, just as Rumble describes itself, as an aged spirit, not a whiskey.  That’s because to be labelled ‘whiskey’, an aged spirit must be distilled from grain.  Rumble isn’t.  It’s made from wildflower honey, turbinado sugar (natural cane sugar that has had most of its molasses removed), and mission figs.  After these have been distilled, it’s aged in small oak barrels in Waco, Texas, home of this genuine craft distillery.

Craft is a word with ever broadening definitions in the whiskey world (and I’m sure in the world at large).  Many a producer has bottled whiskey sourced typically from MGP (Midwest Grain Products in Indiana), slapped their home spun story on a label, and claimed it to be of their own making.  Not Balcones.  They distill and age everything on site.  After recognizing the genuine craft nature of this distillery’s expressions – a real diamond in the rough – I was eager to purchase a few different bottles and give them a try (despite their relatively high price tag).

So after a trip to Total Wine in Norwalk, Conn., I came home with some potential treasures.  Let’s see how Rumble fared.

The Eyes.
Light copper, maybe an orange brass.

The Nose.
Slight alcohol, buttered raisin toast, dried figs and dates,  other dried golden fruits (not really sure how best to describe this; golden raisins, maybe?).  Honey, sweet and dessert like; freshly baked and honey-buttered croissants that are nicely flaky on the outside and soft and moist on the inside.

I thought this would remind me of a rum, due to the sugar, but instead it feels more reminiscent of a sweeter, younger cognac.  I’m finding just a slight hint of cinnamon.  This has a really nice nose on it.  Not particularly complex, but something I enjoy breathing in through the olfactory, picking up the essence of the sweet, buttery, honeyed desserts cooling on a rack in the kitchen.

The empty glass smells distinctly of corn which makes me wonder, given the categorization defiance of this spirit (and consequently the label) if this wasn’t aged in the barrels previously used for some of Balcones other spirits.  Their corn whiskey (Baby Blue, or True Blue), perhaps?

The Mouth.
Medium to thick mouth feel. Throat warming (not offensively so).  Sweet but certainly not cloying. Raisins, gentle sweet oak, powdered sugar over french toast, dried stone fruit (apricot, maybe?  Plum?).  Finish isn’t quick, but not quite long enough to say it’s ‘medium’ either.  The one lasting impression after I swallow is that cognac-like, gentle sweetness.  It lingers on with impressions of these fig/date candy wafers my friend used to give me when I was in middle school.  They were sweet the way dried fruit is when it doesn’t have added sugar.  This is sweet, for sure, but pleasantly so.   There’s just enough dry warmth and a smidgen of saltiness to keep it from being too sweet.

Conclusions:
This is a refreshing spirit as it’s set apart from the normal bottles of anything dwelling on liquor store shelves.  My first glass left me thoroughly impressed by the nose and disappointed by the mouth.  After my third, however, it grew on me significantly.  The first time around seemed dry and uninspired, but after the final glass for this review, it really blossomed into something enjoyable.  Would I restock it?  Likely not.  Partially because I can’t quite justify a $54 restock fee just for the novelty, partially because it’s not my favorite of Balcones expressions, and partially because the future of Balcones is uncertain.

So, unsure of the future quality or pricing of this distillery’s lineup, I’ll leave it at this:  If you would like to try something different, pleasantly enjoyable, and genuinely ‘craft’, buy yourself a sample at the very least.  If you want to spend the money on something you’d like and is all but guaranteed to be available months or years from now, I’d recommend spending it on a decent cognac instead.  It will either be cheaper than Rumble or quite good if you want to spend an equivalent amount of money.  I have a bottle of Remy Martin VSOP that, while not nearly as unique, is enjoyable to me on the same level.  If, however, you feel that you don’t want to miss out on this kind of opportunity, buy a bottle while the buying’s good.  It may not be on shelves much longer.  Their single malt and Brimstone are already selling out locally.

My overall rating is ‘Nip/Bar‘ because of these factors.