Sunday, July 1, 2012

Tasting special unreleased casks of Balcones with Chip Tate and AllisonPatel at The Brandy Library

(If you linked here looking for information about Brenne Whisky from Cognac, click here

I attended the Balcones tasting event at the incomparable Brandy Library in TriBeCa. For a great description of this superlative NYC whisky bar, you cannot do better than to read Allison Patel's fabulous post evangelizing the Brandy Library. Allison is Balcones brand ambassador for California, exporter, and blogger of The Whisky Woman. Bottom line, The Brandy Library is one of NYC's top whisky bars, period and a must visit for whisky or spirit enthusiasts who come to the Big Apple.

Chip Tate in front of a crush of people

(Photo kindly courtesy of The Bourbon Blog - also in attendance)

When I arrived a huge crush of people was already in front of the table where Chip Tate was pouring and explaining. The maitre d' told me to wait for a place to open up and sit at the bar. I went down to the end of the bar to be closest to the action and saw two beautiful women having whisky. I immediately recognized one of them as Allison Patel, The Whisky Woman herself.

Allison Patel, "The Whisky Woman"
She generously invited me to join her conversation. I found her to be an enthusiastic whisky geek and a terrific, fun, and friendly person. She is also an ambitious and driven business person with an impressive history of accomplishment and a clear and focused vision of how to succeed in the spirits business. She currently runs her own import/export operation, Local Infusions LLC, which focuses on top craft whiskies. One of her current projects is the development of an exciting new single malt world whisky expression called Brenne. It promises to be a significant new spirit: Cognac's first single malt. I wish her much success with the endeavor and eagerly await my first sip as someone who loves both spirit segments.  (Update - now released and reviewed here).

Chip Tate of Balcones
Chip Tate, the Master Distiller, of Balcones - one of the most exciting and acclaimed craft distillers operating in the USA as part of the recent explosion in craft whiskies - was pouring the Balcones range and samples from a number of specially hand selected casks. The event was announced in conjunction with an announcement that the extremely rare cask strength more extensively aged version of Rumble - a spirit distilled from wild Texas honey, turbinado sugar, and dried figs called Rumble Cask Reserve was going to be available in New York state. Balcones' line also includes Texas Whisky, a surprisingly refined and tasty single malt, Baby Blue, a young whisky made from an unusual mash bill of 100% blue corn, True Blue, a more mature and cask strength version of Baby Blue's 100% blue corn mash bill, and Brimstone - a 53% abv expression of 100% blue corn that has had the smoke from Texas scrub oak passed through the distilled liquid (not the grain, as in every other smoky whisky).

Baby Blue threw me for a loop this time. I had had it before, but never at leisure. It had seemed a bit rough and raw to me. Allison fetched me a glass and the capable staff at the bar knew to provide ice water for drinking in one glass and room temperature Saratoga spring water with an eyedropper for precise dilutions in another without even being asked. Very classy. With time and a few drops of water Baby Blue was transformed into a refined and delicious dram. Intense confectioner's powder sugar opening yields to a seductive earthy, almost smoky, blue corn flavor quite reminiscent to True Blue's richer stronger palate, but fresh, immediate, yet gentle and eminently quaffable. Baby Blue's growing popularity suddenly made a great deal of sense to me.

Mackmyra The First properly served
While I waited at the bar for a place, I enjoyed a dram of Mackmyra The First (pronounced mahk-MEE-rah according to the nice serving lady who seemed remarkably well educated; not mack-MYRA - like I had been saying). This is another dram I had only had in a rushed manner at an event and had been erroneously unimpressed. Now, with time to air in a proper glass with a few drops of water Mackmyra The First opened beautifully to rich heathery sweetness with a musky almost smoky finish.

When things thinned out at Chip's pouring table I went over and started with a dram of the featured item: Rumble Cask Reserve. Mead sweetness expands into rich citrus with Cognac-like refinement. Chip was nice enough to let me take the remains of a bottle for a formal review - my next post coming up here on The Coopered Tot.

The unlabeled bottles are the special casks
Then things got even more interesting. Chip had brough a number of bottles taken from special single casks, not released in stores, that he feels represent superior expressions. He made the point that barrels follow a bell curve of quality with a small number far below par, most clustering around the average quality of the expression and a special few exhibiting a refinement and deliciousness well above the norm. He pointed out that really big distillers can hand select these special casks and produce full releases based on them, such as Buffalo Trace's Antique Collection.

I had two of these special selections in the remainder of the evening. First up Cask 1613, True Blue - intense powder sweet, citrus peel, and an august refinement through the entry and mid palate. All my favorite aspects of True Blue were clear: the earthy rich blue corn at the back end which tastes like America; the flavors of West Texas chapparell dust. But now the flavors were intensified. The sweetness exquisite on entry and the citrus taking on even more of a cognac richness and elegance. What a monster. A true five star selection if I ever had one.

Cask 1613 (left) and Cask 1200
I finished the evening with one I had tried before, and experience showed me that it was one never to miss if the opportunity presented (but also always to have last as it will utterly bend the palate to its will for many hours): Cask 1200 Brimstone, the so called "Burned Barrel". Cask 1200 is a tour de force of extraordinary power. Brimstone uncut at full cask strength with extraordinary smoke and richness but also a full measure of that exquisite confectioner's powder sugared entry, Texas terroir dust, and rich refinement through the glorious mid-palate. The titanic finish on this remained in palate over the next several hours and into the next morning, surviving my transit snack of a banana and several glasses of water. A rich scub oak American pit BBQ flavor, but with the elegance and refinement of an extraordinary old world eau de vie. If you ever have an opportunity to try a dram from the Burned Barrel, jump. Just make sure it's your last dram of the evening. Another knock-out five star triumph from Balcones. Chip has shown that he's a distilling innovator and craftsman of the first rank. If his production ever ramps up to where these special casks become releases Balcones will make a huge mark for American craft distilling on the International stage.

All in all, a tremendously enjoyable evening thanks to Chip Tate, Allison Patel, and the extraordinary Brandy Library.

No comments:

Post a Comment