A few weeks ago, I found myself downtown at Spec's in search of a birthday present for my dad. He's fond of drinking Early Times whiskey ("It's good enough for Walker Percy"), so I thought this might be a good opportunity to get him something a bit nicer for his nightly tipple. I walked the aisles looking at the dizzying array of whiskeys, eyes lighting first on one bottle, then another. In about ten minutes, I'd picked up and set aside at least half a dozen selections.
I decided to consult the modern Magic 8 Ball that is Twitter, to see if I could get a few quick recommendations. One, from Press food critic Katharine Shilcutt, was for Balcones Rumble, a new spirit from Waco's Balcones distillery. The recommendation came just as I was glancing at the Balcones selections, and I took that as a sign. I grabbed a bottle, along with what proved to be an excellent Japanese single-malt, and headed out.
Shortly after I'd made my purchase, I received an alarming message from a friend (who shall remain nameless), warning me against the Balcones, saying "Dude. Don't buy your dad Balcones. That shit is gross." It was a bit late, but it did concern me, as this particular friend has excellent taste, especially where spirits are concerned.
I decided to lay the story out for my dad, and let him decide whether to give it a try, or let me return it for something else. Intrigued by the story, and by the spirit, he opted to keep it, and pulled out some dainty glasses to give everybody a try.
Balcones Rumble is described as a "Texas Wildflower Honey, Turbinado Sugar, and Mission Fig Spirit," and clocks in at a fiery 94 Proof. It has a lovely, pale golden color. The aroma lets you know right away that it's a high-proof spirit, but it also carries a lot of subtlety. A flowery perfume mingles with dark, earthy sweetness and a hint of smoky wood.
On the palate, it's strongly reminiscent of a less viscous brandy, bringing lots of earthy, fruity sweetness, like figs that have fallen to the ground and begun to rot a bit, fermenting in the sun. There are molasses elements that make sense with the turbinado sugar and the rum-referencing name, and maybe just a hint of grass and citrus. It doesn't really drink like a whiskey, but it's not really supposed to.
It's an intriguing spirit, and opens up over time. I ended up allowing mine to warm in the palm of my hand, treating it like the brandy it resembles, and the subtle heat brought the aromatics to life even more. Warmed, the molasses notes turned into butter toffee, and the citrus turned from lemons to oranges, offering hints of spice and zest that hadn't been there before.
I could see this spirit playing well wherever dark rum or brandy are used (it would make for an interesting riff on a Sidecar or a lighter version of a Corn 'n Oil), sitting alongside tequila, and even getting on nicely with Mezcal or Sotol.
While I'm certain it's not for everyone, we were all quite pleased with the stuff, most importantly my dad. I don't think it will end up replacing his beloved Early Times, but he did comment that, if nothing else, it was nice to have something different. If that's what you're looking for, Balcones Rumble fits the bill.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Houston dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.