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Balcones Rye Whiskey

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WhiskyDingo87

Not sure if this is available outside of TX yet, but Balcones released their Rye Whiskey about a month ago. The mash bill is a mix of TX rye, German roasted rye, and German chocolate rye.

 

100 proof aged at least 15 months. Balcones plans on releasing this as a straight rye later this year.

 

Retails at approx. $35 at my store.

 

Nose: Bitter cocoa, pepper, espresso, then milk or semi-sweet chocolate with a mint finish.

 

Palate is silky, with more espresso, chocolate, and mint coming to the forefront. Pepper and oak are there, but subtle. Very low heat for 100 proof.

 

If you get a chance to try it, please do. This is a very unique rye and a very good value, flavorful whiskey.

 

(I do not work for or represent Balcones, but I sell it working for a major liquor chain in TX.)

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kevinbrink
14 minutes ago, WhiskyDingo87 said:

Not sure if this is available outside of TX yet, but Balcones released their Rye Whiskey about a month ago. The mash bill is a mix of TX rye, German roasted rye, and German chocolate rye.

 

100 proof aged at least 15 months. Balcones plans on releasing this as a straight rye later this year.

 

Retails at approx. $35 at my store.

 

Nose: Bitter cocoa, pepper, espresso, then milk or semi-sweet chocolate with a mint finish.

 

Palate is silky, with more espresso, chocolate, and mint coming to the forefront. Pepper and oak are there, but subtle. Very low heat for 100 proof.

 

If you get a chance to try it, please do. This is a very unique rye and a very good value, flavorful whiskey.

 

(I do not work for or represent Balcones, but I sell it working for a major liquor chain in TX.)

I have a hard time reconciling a 15 month rye at $35 as a "very good value" but I suppose in comparison to Peerless it kind of is in some way. I've yet to have a TX Whiskey that really did anything for me but I'm always willing to give something a chance. There is plenty of Balcones on the shelves here but not the Rye yet, hopefully it shows up on the back shelf of a bar so I can give it a try. 

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Balcones Winston
On 5/30/2018 at 8:31 PM, kevinbrink said:

I have a hard time reconciling a 15 month rye at $35 as a "very good value" but I suppose in comparison to Peerless it kind of is in some way. I've yet to have a TX Whiskey that really did anything for me but I'm always willing to give something a chance. There is plenty of Balcones on the shelves here but not the Rye yet, hopefully it shows up on the back shelf of a bar so I can give it a try. 

If age was the only consideration in determining price, I would be inclined to agree with your first statement. However, our process is very different from the large factory distilleries in KY and IN where most of the country's rye whisky is made. This raises the cost of front end production, but enhances the flavor of the spirit in a way that we think is not only worthwhile, but ultimately reduces the need for years and years of aging.

 

For starters, we make a 100% rye mashbill. Many major Kentucky distilleries use a good bit of corn in their rye mash, which tends to be a cheaper grain, therefore saving money. If you've had anything else from us before, you know our angle is single grain whiskies because we aim to express the character and flavor of that ingredient specifically. We also do 100% blue corn and 100% malt whiskies.

 

Secondly, our rye mash consists of several specialty grains, which cost more, but enrich the flavor profile. In the case of Texas Rye 100, 20% of the recipe of a mixture of chocolate, crystal, and roasted rye from Germany (this is where a lot of the deep, roasty flavors of chocolate and coffee come from in the whisky). The former two are malted, additionally.  The remaining 80% of the mash is Elbon rye from Texas. Large distillers also buy grain in enormously larger quantities than we do, putting economies of scale to their advantage.


As many are aware, rye is not an easy grain to work with. In addition to the difficulty of preparing a 100% rye mash, the fermentation yields are comparatively low compared to other grains, so less proof gallons per ton of grain are produced. And like I said, we're not filling out the mash with corn, which has higher yields and is cheaper.

 

Next, how we do fermentation is probably one of the biggest differences in our process when compared to major distillers. All of our mashes are run for a minimum of 7 days, in some cases up to two weeks, and are temperature controlled. Some large scale distillers can complete a fermentation in less than 3 days, so they obviously have a much more efficient operation going on. But you may ask then, "Why is long and cool fermentation important?" Without getting too technical, we want to a) create esters (aroma compounds) that make the whisky smell and taste more complex and b) reduce the amount of faults that need to be cleaned up during distillation or aging. Quick fermentation doesn't tend to produce the elegance and character we're looking for; almost any brewer will tell you the same thing.

 

Another major distinction for Balcones is that everything we make is distilled exclusively in traditional copper pots, in (actual) small batches. In fact our wash still is only 12.5 hectoliters, or about 330 gallons. It's a lot bigger than what we had before, but it's dwarfed by some of the column setups I've seen in major American distilleries, which run continuously. Batch distillation in copper pots is more time consuming - it takes us two days to create spirit - but produces a richer, fuller, and more viscous product, which is exactly what we're going for. In case you're curious, our final distillation proof is around 70% ABV and we dilute to about 62% for barreling.

 

Of course, then we come to barrels, which should be the most important part, right? That's what everyone says at least; "60-80% of the flavor and aroma of your whisky comes from the barrel!" So naturally we shouldn't skimp there either, and we certainly do not. The average new whisky barrel in American is constructed of kiln-dried oak that was dry seasoned for 3-12 months, charred heavily, and costs < $150 new. Sound about right? The barrels we use are of an entirely different caliber. For one, we only buy barrels constructed of fine grain or extra fine grain oak. This is meaningful because denser wood means more exaction, or in other words, more flavor. Secondly, the barrels are dry seasoned for 36 months, which is up to 12x longer than some barrels. This part is actually pretty crucial to how we make whisky because the extended seasoning mellows the wood, removing sap and softening harsh tannins, while also converting components into more wood sugars. It removes that green, grassy, pencil-shaving flavor that is present in a lot of young whiskies. Since those flavors don't have to mellow out over time in the whisky, we're just getting the positive oaky flavors that we like. We also have the barrels heavily toasted (a step usually skipped for whisky barrels) because this ameliorates the caramelization of wood sugars, which is something I think we can agree we all want! Lastly, the barrels are minimally charred, effectively to serve as an entry path into the wood. We don't use heavy char because more carbon = more mellowing, or neutralization of flavors, and we want a flavor rich whisky due to the fact that we put all of the above effort into creating a spirit that's full of character. (Some people make whisky so bad they have to intentionally filter it through charcoal!) All of this amounts to more expensive barrels, as you probably figured out; the cheapest casks we use are over $300, and some of the extra-fine grain French oak can hit $1000 per barrel.

 

There's also something to be said for the climate in our state, which can help accelerate maturation, though it's not quite as simple as "it's hot, therefore it ages faster" as some distilleries in Texas have claimed. In fact I would credit everything else above this paragraph to the advent of our fast aging before I'd say it's thanks to the climate, but it definitely plays a part.

 

Ok, I'm writing wayyyyy too much, but all of this distills down (pun intended) into one collective idea: whisky does not always need to be aged forever to be considered good OR of good value. $35 for a 15-mo-old rye whisky may not sound like you're getting a bargain, but it's important to consider everything that went into making that whisky before it ever even touched a barrel. Good ingredients, taking your time, selecting good casks, etc. all have a dramatic impact on the quality and flavor of the product (and of course the price!). Case in point, practically everything we make is under 2 years old and yet consistently earns the highest honors in the world, alongside some of the best whiskies in the world, which all happen to be a lot older ;) If that's not a proof of concept, then I don't know what is, except maybe the fact that Texas Rye 100 is sold out at our distributor here in Texas, haha. As a craft distiller, it's all about putting that extra effort in to create something special and unique that doesn't have an emphasis on efficiency and the bottom line. Some of that concept may be esoteric or lost on some people, but to Balcones it's a romance, and for me personally that's what the definition of craft whisky is.

Edited by Balcones Winston
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Balcones Winston

Apparently I couldn't add anymore lines to the previous post, but I noticed you're in NJ, so I just want to add that I'll be at Astor Wine & Spirits this Wednesday, June 6th, from 5-8pm tasting our new Texas Rye 100 and some of our other whiskies. Since you're looking to try before you buy, please feel free to come by and get a taste, and definitely let me know what you think. At the end of the day, it's what tastes good that matters, and where you should put your money. Whether whisky is 1 year old or 40 years old, if you don't like it, it's not worth the glass it's bottled in.

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Kane

I never would, on principle, start a whiskey discussion on the premise that age does not correlate with price/quality/etc.. That simply won't end well ;)

 

That being said, $35 isn't too unreasonable. Actually, I'm a bit surprised since this is significantly cheaper than other & younger Balcones offerings, Baby Blue still goes for ~$50 around here. In any case, being SB's resident Balcones fan, I am looking forward to giving this a go.

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lcpfratn
...At the end of the day, it's what tastes good that matters, and where you should put your money. Whether whisky is 1 year old or 40 years old, if you don't like it, it's not worth the glass it's bottled in.

I never would, on principle, start a whiskey discussion on the premise that age does not correlate with price/quality/etc.. That simply won't end well
 
That being said, $35 isn't too unreasonable. Actually, I'm a bit surprised since this is significantly cheaper than other & younger Balcones offerings, Baby Blue still goes for ~$50 around here. In any case, being SB's resident Balcones fan, I am looking forward to giving this a go.


Age does matter...to say otherwise is just disingenuous. Having said that, there are lots of other things that also matter, and Balcones Winston clearly elaborated many of the other things that Balcones considers important...as do many others distillers. If age doesn't matter, then we shouldn't expect to ever see any older products coming out of Balcones, but I bet we will see older products, and at higher prices.

I'll also agree with Kane, while not cheap, $35 is below what many craft distillers have priced their young rye products at, so kudos to Balcones for that. And as Winston basically stated, at the end of the day, all that really matters is whether you like what's in the glass and how it compares to all other competition from a price and quality/enjoyment standpoint. At $35, I might buy a bottle some day, but I'd prefer to try it first.

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Balcones Winston
11 minutes ago, lcpfratn said:

Age does matter...to say otherwise is just disingenuous. Having said that, there are lots of other things that also matter, and Balcones Winston clearly elaborated many of the other things that Balcones considers important...as do many others distillers. If age doesn't matter, then we shouldn't expect to ever see any older products coming out of Balcones, but I bet we will see older products, and at higher prices.

 

 

Well, age DOES matter, in the sense of reaching the desired level of maturity. You have to age a whisky to get that.

 

That being said, it IS unlikely you'll see much from us that's over 3 or 4 years old. Because of the barrels we use and the climate we're in, we get extraction at such an accelerated rate that we constantly find ourselves trying to dial it back so the ingredients aren't lost in the mix. We've let some of barrels get to around the 4 year old mark and they're so dark, tannic, opaque, and dry they aren't really desirable on their own. Makes a good blending component, but unless you're a termite you probably won't find them very good alone. The truth is that if we wanted to make older whisky, we'd have to find the most used barrels we have, like 7th fill or something, and hope it doesn't over-extract over 5-10 years. That means whiskies like bourbon and rye are completely out of the picture due to the fact that they require new barrels. Also, we lose as much as 25% of our product to the angel's share after just less than two years... we'd also have to find a way to counteract the insane amount of evaporation we experience so we're not just left with an empty barrel. 

 

Being that our whiskies were allocated for so long in every market, we never had the flexibility to try things that would let the whisky get older. But at the same time, we aren't trying to fold to the preconception that older is better. Mature is what we want, but maturity is defined by more than how long the juice sat in a cask. And seriously though, being able to turn your product around in a shorter period of time is advantageous for a lot of reasons, so it doesn't even make sense to me that we'd need to try and make them older. We're privileged to make whisky exactly the way we want to with results that we truly love.

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Balcones Winston
1 hour ago, Kane said:

I never would, on principle, start a whiskey discussion on the premise that age does not correlate with price/quality/etc.. That simply won't end well ;)

 

That being said, $35 isn't too unreasonable. Actually, I'm a bit surprised since this is significantly cheaper than other & younger Balcones offerings, Baby Blue still goes for ~$50 around here. In any case, being SB's resident Balcones fan, I am looking forward to giving this a go.

Baby Blue actually has the same MSRP as Texas Rye 100 - $39.99 - but some out of state retailers are still a bit gun shy from our allocation days or just aren't aware that we're producing roughly 10x as much whisky now. I've seen both as low as $32.99 in Texas.

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kevinbrink
9 hours ago, Balcones Winston said:

Apparently I couldn't add anymore lines to the previous post, but I noticed you're in NJ, so I just want to add that I'll be at Astor Wine & Spirits this Wednesday, June 6th, from 5-8pm tasting our new Texas Rye 100 and some of our other whiskies. Since you're looking to try before you buy, please feel free to come by and get a taste, and definitely let me know what you think. At the end of the day, it's what tastes good that matters, and where you should put your money. Whether whisky is 1 year old or 40 years old, if you don't like it, it's not worth the glass it's bottled in.

I'll be out of town on Wednesday but thanks for the heads up, I would certainly make the stop if it were a normal work day for me since Astor is a somewhat regular stop for me. I also understand the economics of business, and the ways in which the better craft distillers try to differentiate themselves with their process. I don't always find that the end result of that process leads to a better product but it certainly find that it generally leads to a different experience. I would be remiss if I didn't mention that I actually quite like Rumble, it's a quality unique product that is emblematic of the best of what Craft distillers bring to the table in my opinion and because of that the idea of value is much more easily reconcilable, I would imagine that for the producers having an identifiable spirit (Bourbon, Rye, Malt Whiskey) is a much easier sell to the average consumer. The struggle for me, however, is definitely with these traditional products, my expectations of what I'm looking for in those products, and most of all the overwhelming similarity in many craft whiskeys that seems to come from a combination of small often kiln dried barrels and maybe to some degree pot stills since truth be told I don't particularly care for Woodford all that much.  For some reason the pot still thing doesn't apply to Malt whisky for me which may have something to do with expectations. I'm not completely craft averse, truth be told I have been enjoying a bottle of St. George Baller the last few nights which I think is fantastic and extremely unique. Regardless like I said I do look forward to trying your product.

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Kane
15 hours ago, Balcones Winston said:

we're producing roughly 10x as much whisky now.

Going off topic, but does that also apply to the BP True Blue? I haven't seen a bottle since your early days in MA. My last bottle is almost gone, and I'm a sad man.

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smokinjoe

Winston, you pretty much lost me with your second sentence saying, “...the large factory distilleries in Kentucky.”  Geeze, that’s such a lame and tired bit.  But, the rest of your meandering sales spiel was even worse.  

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dad-proof

I have never had a Balcone product but I don't get this at all. 

37 minutes ago, smokinjoe said:

Winston, you pretty much lost me with your second sentence saying, “...the large factory distilleries in Kentucky.”  Geeze, that’s such a lame and tired bit.  But, the rest of your meandering sales spiel was even worse.  

I've been to WT and BT multiple times, they make many of my absolute favorite distilled products, but I don't see how calling them factories, which they very much are, is meant as a pejorative. I also love some factory chocolates better than some craft chocolates, and some factory hot sauces over craft hit sauces. Too me it's just a matter of scale and automation, not quality. And there are some craft chocolates, coffees, etc. that I find the quality worth paying for. That leads me to the rest of Winston's post. Yeah it was long and maybe a bit defensive, but it also showed transparency and thought and discernment that I have not seen from a lot of other craft distillers whose strategy tends to be slapping a label on sourced whiskey with a BS story and hope to figure out how to make real whiskey before running out of money. For instance, knowing from the Scotch world the difference that naturally seasoned wood can make, I found the information helpful and will actually give Balcones a try.

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Balcones Winston
4 hours ago, Kane said:

Going off topic, but does that also apply to the BP True Blue? I haven't seen a bottle since your early days in MA. My last bottle is almost gone, and I'm a sad man.

Yeah we're making more of everything. True Blue Cask Strength is one of our older products, so it's taking a bit more time to get more of it on the shelf. At this point it's only sold in Texas but we're hoping to expand its distribution eventually once we have enough.

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Balcones Winston
1 hour ago, smokinjoe said:

Winston, you pretty much lost me with your second sentence saying, “...the large factory distilleries in Kentucky.”  Geeze, that’s such a lame and tired bit.  But, the rest of your meandering sales spiel was even worse.  

ok

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flahute
3 hours ago, dad-proof said:

Too me it's just a matter of scale and automation, not quality. 

I don't understand this statement. Scale and automation has nothing to do with it. Quality does. The "factory" distilleries have been distilling for 50 years and more. They have experience. It matters and it results in quality.

Edited by flahute

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flahute
On 6/1/2018 at 6:12 PM, Balcones Winston said:

Next, how we do fermentation is probably one of the biggest differences in our process when compared to major distillers. All of our mashes are run for a minimum of 7 days, in some cases up to two weeks, and are temperature controlled. Some large scale distillers can complete a fermentation in less than 3 days, so they obviously have a much more efficient operation going on. But you may ask then, "Why is long and cool fermentation important?" Without getting too technical, we want to a) create esters (aroma compounds) that make the whisky smell and taste more complex and b) reduce the amount of faults that need to be cleaned up during distillation or aging. Quick fermentation doesn't tend to produce the elegance and character we're looking for; almost any brewer will tell you the same thing.

One of the first things Jim Rutledge did when he took over distilling at Four Roses was to lower the temperature of fermentation which resulted it in taking a day or two longer. He did this for better flavor.

 

Most of what you guys do is very commendable. Still though, 15 months? Color me skeptical. 

If you guys are having so much evaporation over a short period of time, maybe you need to introduce some humidity to the rickhouse. What size barrels are you using?

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flahute
On 6/1/2018 at 6:12 PM, Balcones Winston said:

Another major distinction for Balcones is that everything we make is distilled exclusively in traditional copper pots, in (actual) small batches. In fact our wash still is only 12.5 hectoliters, or about 330 gallons. It's a lot bigger than what we had before, but it's dwarfed by some of the column setups I've seen in major American distilleries, which run continuously. Batch distillation in copper pots is more time consuming - it takes us two days to create spirit - but produces a richer, fuller, and more viscous product, which is exactly what we're going for. In case you're curious, our final distillation proof is around 70% ABV and we dilute to about 62% for barreling.

Lots of really crappy whiskey comes off of traditional copper pot stills. Lots of really good whiskey comes off of super big column stills. Maybe it has something to do with the skill of the distiller?

 

Given all the other steps you take, why do you go into the barrel at 124 proof? It's fairly well known that lower entry proofs extract different flavors that are more suitable for whiskies that are younger.

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Balcones Winston
15 hours ago, flahute said:

It's fairly well known that lower entry proofs extract different flavors that are more suitable for whiskies that are younger.

I've been drinking whisky for 10 years and in the industry for almost just as long... and I've never heard anyone say that before. In either case, we're completely aware of how entry proof can affect the extractive ability of the spirit with the wood. I can't really explain the "why" of our BEP without consulting the distillers, but I can tell you that we've done proofing experiments in the past, both with entry proof and proofing down in the barrel during aging. In the end we do what we do because it makes whisky that we like.

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smokinjoe
20 hours ago, dad-proof said:

I have never had a Balcone product but I don't get this at all. 

I've been to WT and BT multiple times, they make many of my absolute favorite distilled products, but I don't see how calling them factories, which they very much are, is meant as a pejorative. I also love some factory chocolates better than some craft chocolates, and some factory hot sauces over craft hit sauces. Too me it's just a matter of scale and automation, not quality. And there are some craft chocolates, coffees, etc. that I find the quality worth paying for. That leads me to the rest of Winston's post. Yeah it was long and maybe a bit defensive, but it also showed transparency and thought and discernment that I have not seen from a lot of other craft distillers whose strategy tends to be slapping a label on sourced whiskey with a BS story and hope to figure out how to make real whiskey before running out of money. For instance, knowing from the Scotch world the difference that naturally seasoned wood can make, I found the information helpful and will actually give Balcones a try.

Yes, it is pejorative and is used in a way by  self proclaimed “craft” (micro) distilleries that the legacy distilleries are mindlessly spewing out thoughtless whiskey.  Which is so far from reality.  It’s typically followed with pages of puffery on how their small scale distillery is using all of the esoteric methods, procedures, Ingredients, equipment, etc, to create something that is “better”.  Well, take all of this puffery, multiply it by 100, and you may begin to scratch the surface of what the legacy distilleries do every day, and have been doing, for decades.  I’m fine with a good sales pitch. We all do it personally (everybody is a salesperson) and I’ve been doing it professionally for 30+ years.  But, just because the legacies have worked and honed their craft to be able to provide world class product with scale, is no reason to simply refer to them as a factory.  BT, WT, HH, BF, etc, have attained the highest form of “Craft”.  

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flahute
2 hours ago, Balcones Winston said:

I've been drinking whisky for 10 years and in the industry for almost just as long... and I've never heard anyone say that before. In either case, we're completely aware of how entry proof can affect the extractive ability of the spirit with the wood. I can't really explain the "why" of our BEP without consulting the distillers, but I can tell you that we've done proofing experiments in the past, both with entry proof and proofing down in the barrel during aging. In the end we do what we do because it makes whisky that we like.

Really? 

Lower barrel entry proof = more water in the whiskey and certain compounds in the wood are more water soluble. Phenolic compounds dissolve and oxidize with more water. Your distiller should know this.

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Paddy

^^^+1

 

BEP's have been discussed here almost as much as age statements.  I'd even go so far as to say that increasing BEP's have been more lamented over (at least for old timer's) than the loss of age statements!   

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dad-proof
1 hour ago, smokinjoe said:

But, just because the legacies have worked and honed their craft to be able to provide world class product with scale, is no reason to simply refer to them as a factory.  BT, WT, HH, BF, etc, have attained the highest form of “Craft”. 

Well I agree with you on this quote, smokinjoe. If "factory" is used to demean the legacy distillers, then I would take equal offense. But I don't see it as an either/or. The goal of any distiller should be to both attain a high quality of craftsmanship and scale up in volume.

 

I remember when Sam Adams was a tiny specialty craft brewer, and they have scaled up just fine.  

 

Craft distillers are finding out that whiskey is a lot harder than beer, and most craft distillers have displayed very little craftmanship to date beyond marketing and bottle design. I'll never spend a dime on most craft whiskey, but I admire those that are actually trying and willing to engage with enthusiasts. Balcones are Dad's Hat are two that I will search out and give a try due to the info they have shared here. And if it sucks I'll be back on here to say so! [smiley face]

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Balcones Winston
15 hours ago, flahute said:

Really? 

Lower barrel entry proof = more water in the whiskey and certain compounds in the wood are more water soluble. Phenolic compounds dissolve and oxidize with more water. Your distiller should know this.

 

14 hours ago, Paddy said:

^^^+1

 

BEP's have been discussed here almost as much as age statements.  I'd even go so far as to say that increasing BEP's have been more lamented over (at least for old timer's) than the loss of age statements!   

I know BEP has been discussed to death here, but I've never heard it being referenced as a benefit to younger whiskies. Yes we all know that solubility of certain compounds is different at various concentrations of water vs. alcohol, but to say it's specifically better for young whisky is news to me.

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Balcones Winston
16 hours ago, smokinjoe said:

Yes, it is pejorative and is used in a way by  self proclaimed “craft” (micro) distilleries that the legacy distilleries are mindlessly spewing out thoughtless whiskey.  Which is so far from reality.  It’s typically followed with pages of puffery on how their small scale distillery is using all of the esoteric methods, procedures, Ingredients, equipment, etc, to create something that is “better”.  Well, take all of this puffery, multiply it by 100, and you may begin to scratch the surface of what the legacy distilleries do every day, and have been doing, for decades.  I’m fine with a good sales pitch. We all do it personally (everybody is a salesperson) and I’ve been doing it professionally for 30+ years.  But, just because the legacies have worked and honed their craft to be able to provide world class product with scale, is no reason to simply refer to them as a factory.  BT, WT, HH, BF, etc, have attained the highest form of “Craft”.  

Despite all that I said, I never claimed that larger distillers can't make good whisky or that our whisky is inherently better. I was illustrating how our process is different and that the emphasis is not on age, but all the other factors that go into making good tasting whisky. Or, in a nutshell, age != quality. You don't have to like what we do or what I say, but don't put words in my mouth.

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Balcones Winston

 

14 hours ago, dad-proof said:

Craft distillers are finding out that whiskey is a lot harder than beer, and most craft distillers have displayed very little craftmanship to date beyond marketing and bottle design. I'll never spend a dime on most craft whiskey, but I admire those that are actually trying and willing to engage with enthusiasts. Balcones are Dad's Hat are two that I will search out and give a try due to the info they have shared here. And if it sucks I'll be back on here to say so! [smiley face]

I hope you'll try it and I hope you'll enjoy it too!

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