Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Rumble Cask Reserve is a delicious rarity that defies categorization

Balcones Distilling, the Craft Whisky Distiller of the Year Icons of Whisky award winner for 2012, makes a fascinating spirit called Rumble which is distilled from a mash of Texas wildflower honey, mission figs, and sugar, sold at 47% abv. It has won a number of awards, including Silver at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition in 2010.  It is a delicious and exciting new spirit category.  What the heck is it really?  It's not a rum, or a mead, or a fruit eau de vie.  It's somewhere between all of those things.  For excellent tasting notes on Rumble and a characteristically amusing profile of the distillery, read the excellent post in top British whisky blog Cask Strength.

Balcones also makes a near cask strength version of Rumble which is aged for longer called Rumble Cask Reserve.  I've tried this stuff a couple of times already.  I had a nip at Whisky Live NY and was very impressed.  That might actually be an understatement.  Tasting Rumble Cask Reserve was actually more of a "conversion moment" when I came to understand that Balcones was making spirits on an elevated level and that Chip Tate was something of a genius.  He's a great guy, by the way, who loves to discuss the finer points.  "Geeking out", he likes to say.

When I attended a special tasting night at the Brandy Library in honor of the imminent distribution of Rumble Cask Reserve, I enjoyed another glass of Rumble Cask Reserve - further confirming my impression - and master distiller Chip Tate generously gave me the remains of a bottle for formal review.  The bottle yielded a 2 oz sample (seen at upper left).

A couple of points about the bottling.  There are reported to be only 320 bottles available world-wide.  The hand written label bears this out.  Notice the hand writing (which is not printed, I can attest) on the back of the label giving the batch and bottling date:

And even the alcohol by volume statement is hand written as well:


Rumble Cask Reserve 58.1% abv  Batch: RCR-12-1 Bottled 5/3/12

Color: Medium amber - bronze with copper & gold glints.  Beautiful and appetizing.

Nose: Subtle and subdued aromas of fig, mead, lemon-apricot citric acids, roses and irises. Adding a few drops of water releases a flurry of wine notes which burn off in 15 minutes or so leaving a growing aroma of vanilla, along with the soft fruit acids of fig, mead-like honey iris and oak.

The entry is surprising in its rich intensity after the gentle nose - honeyed and sweet with heathery floral sugars, citrus acids and a lovely silky viscosity. Mid palate is potent as spirit heat and spicy oak influence impact with a drying leanness. As this expansion fades vanilla sweetness wells up from the opening - redolent of rum raisin, Spanish dried fig cake and a mesquite note of Texas scrubland - "Chaparral" dust. There are savory notes in here as well, not meaty but musky and almost distant smoke. Then it is regal and august at the turn as the citrus figgy sweet meets tannins of drying oak to produce a majestic cognac-like flavor signature. Yowza! This doesn't come off as a rustic Texas craft liquor. Black raisins, rum infused fig cake, and walnuts in the turn and the finish which is mostly dry despite the dessert flavor signature. Yum!

This is some refined and elegant liquor. What the heck is it really? I don't even care. The mix of lean and rich, sweet and dry as the flavors evolve across the palate are particularly beguiling to me. Like True Blue, the glory here is in the palate more than the nose. This is a stunning and original spirit. New, innovative, yet amazingly refined and seemingly very mature.  This is a new category of spirit that strides with the assurance of a traditional old world classic.  Serious whisky drinkers are going to love this.


P.S. To the shadowy underworld figure knows as @Connoissaurus who vies with Lisa P. to be Mayor of Balcones Distillery on Four Square: "I'm watching you" (gestures two fingers to eyes and then outwards).


  1. I wonder if that's a side-effect of being a small distiller with a small number of casks to test - actually being able to taste and select for palate rather than just nosing everything.

  2. Excellent question. When I get to Waco I'll ask Chip. I suspect that all the Balcones products taste the way they do because Chip & Jared want them to taste that way. I suspect they are more palate people than nose people - or maybe the ingredients they chose help dictate the flavor signature. However from blue corn to figs & honey to malt there are common flavor profiles even with dramatically different sugars in the mash - so I suspect choices in the crafting are playing a large part here.

  3. Thanks for taking the time to review this whisky. It is nice to see that great whisky can be produced outside of the traditional geography (ie. Scotland) and usual ingredients (barley, water, yeast). Keep pushin' those boundaries of whisky appreciation, as it is truly global in nature!

    1. What? The U.S., Ireland, and Canada have no traditional whiskey geography? Usual ingredients can't include rye, wheat, and corn? Puh-leeze.

    2. Jason, thanks for commenting. It is indeed fantastic that world whisky has made enormous strides and pushes the envelope. Thanks, too, for having the guts to call Rumble "whisky". I didn't. I don't know what to call it but it's made by whisky people for whisky palates and it pretty much is a honey sugar fruit "whisky" indeed.

    3. Sam k - Jason is Canadian - I don't think he was saying what you thought he was saying. He was praising the rise of experimental and interesting whiskies - which has definitely been happening - particularly outside of Scotland.

    4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.