Balcones Single Malt

Maker: Balcones, Waco, Texas, USA

Age:NAS

Batch: 12-1

Bottled: 1/9/2012

Proof: 105 (52.5% ABV)

Thanks: To Dustin for getting me this sample!

Appearance: Shiny copper with a thick, husky legs.

Nose: Butterscotch candy, sweet cream butter, sharp wood notes appear but then fade (small barrel syndrome strikes again!), alcohol.

On the palate: Full-bodied & sweet. Caramel corn, butterscotch pudding, almond extract, malt. If I didn’t know better I’d say I even tasted a bit of sherry.

Finish: Hot and sweet with a strong Highland accent.

Parting Words: This is the most Scottish American malt I’ve ever had. It is strongly reminiscent of inland Highland Malts with their pure creamy malt characteristics. This is particularly true in the finish. What’s perhaps the most remarkable about this whiskey is how much it changes after being poured. I tasted it in a Riedel Single Malt glass and I felt like every time I took a sip I had to go back and re-write my notes. The Caramel Corn/Butterscotch notes eventually take the lead and it’s for the best. Balcones is one of the good guys in the micro-distilling movement and this whisky (ey?) is exhibit A. Balcones Single Malt is highly recommended.

Double Down Brewer’s Whiskey

Maker: New Holland, Michigan, USA

Type: Straight Malt Whiskey

Age: 6 mos. (in “small” barrels)

Proof: 90 (45% ABV)

Appearance: Dark copper with thick legs.

Nose: A faint hint of leather up front, like walking into a furniture showroom. Sweet black licorice, caramel, a bit of alcohol.

On the palate: Full, voluptuous body. Like a porter on the palate. Lots of licorice, some more caramel and hard candy, maybe a little horehound.

Finish: same notes as on the palate, but with some slightly bitter clove and Chinese five-spice.

Parting words: This was the first entry into New Holland’s Brewer’s Whiskey series of small barrel, small bottle releases. Some of the acrid nastiness that very small barrels can throw into the nose is absent here. Instead, it’s like drinking a very spicy porter or sucking on black anise candy. A lovely whiskey, and one that is good sippin’ for the holidays. Highly Recommended.

Triple Smoke American Malt Whiskey

Maker: Corsair, Bowling Green, Kentucky/Nashville, Tennesee, USA

Style: Smoked American Malt

Age: NAS

Proof: 80 (40% ABV)

Appearance: Copper with slow legs.

Nose: Young, sharp, small barrel, woodsy notes with a little bit of hardwood smoke and sweetness.

On the palate: Medium-bodied and sweet. With a bit of water, the sweet smokey wood flavors come through. A little cassia and nutmeg lurking somewhere in the background too.

Finish: This finish is where the smoking process pays off. The beech and cherry wood smoke give Triple Smoke a sensual, dare I say hedonistic finish. The peat, which only shows up in the finish, provides a pleasant, floral counterpoint to the other woods. The smoke lingers in the mouth for a very long time, taking on some tobacco notes before gently fading.

Parting Words: This is a very well-executed whiskey. The chocolate nougat notes of a typical American Malt are there, but they’re the O-line to the QB/TE/WR combo of the beech, cherry and peat smoke. Yes, I’ve been watching a lot of football recently.

My only disappointment with Triple Smoke is the nose, which has a definite case of Small Barrel Syndrome. It’s sharp and unappealing, but the taste and finish more than make up for it. Triple Smoke is not widely available, so next time you’re in Chicago, Kentucky or Tennesee, pick one up. I thought about trying it in some cocktails but it’s so tasty neat I couldn’t bear to. This is exceptional American malt in every sense of the word. Highly recommended.

Zeppelin Bend Straight Malt Whiskey

Maker: New Holland, Holland, Michigan, USA

Age: NAS

Proof: 90 (45% ABV)

Appearance: Burnt orange with long sticky legs.

Nose: Prunes, cardamom, ginger, mace, cocoa

On the Palate: Full-bodied and sweet upon first entrance. Heavily spiced mincemeat pie, and then red wine chocolate truffles dusted with Dutch process cocoa powder. Yes those exist.

Finish: Hot, but then a dry chocolaty sweetness that too quickly fades.

Mixed: A highball of Zeppelin Bend and club soda on the rocks is pretty good, even if it does taste a bit like a watered down Choc-Cola. Other classic Scotch cocktails work well, too. A rusty nail has a nice bitter, spicey note that balances out the honey liqueur nicely, and a Rob Roy is quite good, even if it’s not quite sure if it’s a Rob Roy or a Manhattan.

Parting Words: American straight malt whiskey is has not been very popular historically, and as a result has not been made much by American distillers. Like a rye or bourbon, American malt must be aged in new charred oak barrels and must have a mash bill of at least 51% of the grain in question, malted barley. But where Big Whiskey saw no reason to tread, a few micro distillers saw an opportunity. Stranahan’s in Colorado led the way, followed by (among others) Pritchard’s in Tennesee, and New Holland in Holland Michigan. Bourbon and rye still excite me more than any other American whiskeys, but of the American straight malts I’ve tried, Zeppelin Bend is the best. This is another case in which a micro is doing what a micro should be doing: offering interesting spirits that the big boys don’t.