The first release in our new Single Distillery Series, Gentle Giant, is a Texas single malt whiskey from Balcones Distilling in Waco, Texas. We’ve worked with Balcones a number of times: they are one of the six component distilleries in our flagship American Vatted Malt, and we’ve released two single casks from them (both long since sold out): a Texas straight bourbon and a Texas single malt aged for 5 years in a Tequila cask.
We chose Balcones as one of our first partners for the Single Distillery Series because we think that they produce some of the best American single malt in the country. More than that, Balcones produces an incredible variety of whiskies (and other spirits) in a huge number of styles, and we wanted to shine a light on one particular aspect of what they make.
More on that in a second. But first, a little bit about Texas whiskey.
What Is Texas Whiskey?
Texas whiskey is one of the fastest-emerging styles of American whiskey, and one of the first new whiskey regions starting to demonstrate a particular regional character. Balcones was the first distillery to release a Texas whiskey since Prohibition, and is one of the original distillery pioneers in the state. Even back in 2010, when Balcones was first starting to make a name for itself, there were only 10 distilleries in the whole state. Today, there are almost 200!
The climate of Texas is very different from any of the other major whiskey-making regions in the world. Kentucky is fairly hot and quite humid. Scotland, Ireland, and parts of Japan are all fairly cool or temperate, and reasonably humid (some whiskymaking parts of Japan are warm and humid). Texas, on the other hand, is very hot… and also fairly dry, although the driest parts of the state are farther west than where most of the distilleries are.
When it comes to whiskeymaking, the very hot Texas climate (and the big temperature swings over the course of the day and the year) lead to whiskies with a lot of oak extraction in a relatively short amount of time. Generally speaking, even a two-year-old Texas bourbon will often be darker in color than a 5 or 6 year old Kentucky bourbon: the heat and temperature swings just cause so much more interaction with the oak. At the same time, this gives the underlying new make spirit in the barrel less time to mellow and integrate with the compounds that come from the oak.
All this leads to the most commonly held view of Texas whiskey: that it’s big, oaky, bold, rich, intense, and in your face. And often it is, and many of those whiskies are awesome!
But Texas whiskey doesn’t have to be like that. Because Texas whiskey isn’t just one thing.
And that’s what our Single Distillery release from Balcones, “Gentle Giant,” is all about.
Gentle Giant: A Different Side of Balcones, And A Different Side of Texas
Balcones makes a lot of different spirits. Some of them absolutely fall into the most commonly held view of Texas whiskey. Their bourbons in particular tend to be big, rich, and full of flavor… which makes sense, since bourbon has to be aged in new oak barrels, which have much more oak extraction than used barrels. Some of their single malts tend toward this flavor profile as well. Others don’t.
While some of Balcones’ whiskies are big and bold, others are delicate, elegant, much lighter in flavor but with great depth and complexity. We see this with some of their single malts–especially Balcones Mirador, one of our favorite American single malts in the country–and Balcones Peated, as well as Big Baby, a limited-edition corn whiskey that was aged in Tequila casks. However, many of these whiskies are quite limited in production and released once a year or only occasionally, or only in Texas. So it has long seemed to us that these whiskies aren’t quite as well-known as the big and bold side of Balcones.
So when we went down to Balcones in March 2022 to create the blend that became Gentle Giant, we wanted to show this more delicate and elegant side of Balcones.
We did that by bringing together casks that generally have less oak influence and a fruit-forward profile. The final Gentle Giant blend contains a variety of cask types, predominantly used oak and ex-apple brandy casks, along with one new European oak cask. Together, these result in a soft, complex, fruity dram with great depth of flavor but only moderate oak influence. If you are a Scotch lover, we think Gentle Giant may really open your eyes as to what American single malt can be.
But here’s the great thing: Gentle Giant is, of course, still a Texas whiskey! In fact, it’s just as much a Texas whiskey as the big, bold, Texas bourbons and corn whiskies coming from places like Ironroot Republic and, well, Balcones. Many Texas whiskies are big and bold, but they can be many other things as well. Scotch whisky contains many, many different styles and approaches, even within the same distillery. That’s true for Kentucky bourbon as well. And it’s increasingly true for Texas.
Gentle Giant launches on April 26th as part of the debut of the Lost Lantern Single Distillery Series, and we hope you’ll give it a try and see the depth and breadth of what Texas can be.