Whisky Review – Balcones Brimstone

Balcones is a small, craft distillery from Waco, Texas that was founded in 2008. In 2012, they won the Whisky Magazine “Icons of Whisky Award” American Craft Distillery of the Year “for extending the art of distilling by creating a smoked whisky in which the spirit gets infused with smoke in a secret process instead of smoking the grains before mashing”. Although they don’t mention the Balcones Brimstone by name on the Whisky Magazine website, it’s obvious that this is the whisky they’re talking about since Brimstone is a Texas scrub oak smoked corn whisky.

Here is what Chip Tate, Head Distiller for Balcones, has to say about their Brimstone Corn Whisky:

Purification through fire – a Texas oak fire, that is. Rather than using Scottish peat smoke, this one-of-a-kind whisky is smoked with sun-baked Texas scrub oak using our own secret process. The result is a whisky full of fresh youthful corn and light fruit notes married with a bold smokiness.

And now for my review…

  • Appearance: Deep amber color.
  • Aroma: Once you get past the smoky BBQ scents, the sweet stuff really start to come through, i.e. brown sugar, honey, rum soaked raisins. Dig a little deeper and some herbal notes also become apparent. Sage and thyme immediately come to mind.
  • Taste: Silky mouthfeel. That first taste is all spicy, smoky Texas BBQ goodness. Very warming from the middle to the tip of your tongue. From mid palate to the end, it’s all mild smoked pepper heat and brown sugar sweetness. Warm, spicy finish with some sharp black pepper notes. Some of those herbal elements (menthol and eucalyptus) come through as well.
  • ABV: 53%

When I first opened this bottle of Balcones Brimstone, it took a few minutes to get past the smoky BBQ elements. During that first tasting, I grabbed a bottle of Stubb’s Original BBQ Sauce from my fridge to do a side by side comparison, and their aroma similarities were quite obvious.

A month has passed since that first tasting, and the BBQ aroma has subsided quite a bit, but it’s far from gone. It took me a few tries to really appreciate this whisky, but while watching an episode of Justified a few weeks ago, I had an “Aha!” moment as I slowly finished my dram. The smoky BBQ is still quite prominent when you take that first sip, but if you take your time to savor all of the flavors, the sweet and herbal qualities of this whisky break through and reward you with an exceptionally smooth and unique whisky drinking experience. This whisky is so smooth, that I have yet to add any water since it hides its relatively high alcohol content really well. If you like smoky whisky and want to try something very unique and flavorful, then I suggest that you give Brimstone a try. The fact that I’m already a third of the way through the bottle is a clear indication that I am really enjoying this whisky.

Thank you to Balcones Distillery for this very generous sample!

26 replies »

  1. Excellent review, G-LO. I concur completely. I had my “aha” moment at the Whisky Live tasting. I have revisited my bottle of brimstone and now really get it. I’ll have to update or do a follow-up. I got the opportunity to taste the whole Balcones line and I’m now firmly convinced that Chip Tate is a genius. The Texas Whiskey, Rumble Cask Reserve, and the True Blue, in particular, blew me away. Brimstone clearly fits into the flavor profile of the Balcones wildly disparate line up. Even though there are totally divergent ingredients going on – there is a clear family resemblance. I chalk it up to Chip Tate’s barrel management, clear palate as a distiller, and some of that lovely Texas terroir.


    • Thanks Josh! Growing up, people would often use the words “acquired taste” when they talked about something unusual to eat or drink. Brimstone is one of the most unique whiskies that I have ever had, and I can completely see how someone would be put off by the very upfront smokiness. But once you “acquire” a taste for this whisky, I think it opens you up to a whole new world of flavor possibilities. Looking forward to reading your follow up tasting notes!


  2. Great review!!! I had a similar experience with the BBQ sauce / Brimstone comparison. To me, it tastes like liquid BBQ in a glass with a side of cornbread. And that’s the real South’s BBQ & cornbread 😉 Need to try it again and find those yummy herbal notes you describe. Love, too, your “Justified” moment!!! LOL!

    Great fun,


    • Mmmm…. now I want a piece of corn bread piled high with Pulled Pork or BBQ’d brisket and washed down with a glass of this whisky!

      Glad you enjoyed the review! And as far as Justified goes, it’s a great show. They drink a lot of bourbon too. They even ask for it by name. The good guys drink Blanton’s and Wild Turkey, while season 3’s lead buy guy drank Pappy Van Winkle. FUN!



  3. Still struggling to get my tastebuds around this one. The first taste was like liquid smoked brisket but it was definitely mellower the second time around. Maybe after the third pass I’ll be able to appreciate this. We need to try this with a Bloody Mary mix …. A smoky Bloody Brimstone?


    • To me, the first taste was the BBQ equivalent of Islay’s peatiest offerings. I will definitely need to see if it has mellowed.


    • Your reactions to this whisky are completely Justified! This is most definitely a meaty glass of whisky.

      Not so sure about the Bloody Mary thing, but you know me… make it and I will definitely give it a try.


  4. Justified is actually the show that turned me from the guy that kept getting suggestions to buy Blanton’s, to the guy that suggests that everyone should try Blanton’s. Also, I think that while the good guys drink Blanton’s and the the rich villain drank Pappy Van Winkle (a custom blend made just for him mind you!) everyone in that show drinks WT. I swear Turkey sponsors that show 😉

    Great review aside from the tv talk. I love me some bbq, but – like Mr. Limpet (the way i say limpd in my head), am not a fan of smokey whiskys. Have to see if I can get a sample of this stuff.

    On a side note, 2 weeks until my dental work is done and I can get back to drinking/reviewing.

    Good Job, G-Lo.



    • I do enjoy Justified! While the show is not as solid as it was in Season 1, the characters keep me engaged. Olyphant in particular is excellent. His character on the show is like Sheriff Bullock on Deadwood, but with a sense of humor. Great stuff! And yes… I’m sure WIld Turkey is paying for endorsements.

      Not sure if you’d like the Brimstone given your aversion to smokiness. Granted, this is a different kind of smoke, but smoky nonetheless.

      Re: Mr. Limpet, what’s not to love about a character voiced by Don Knotts?

      Glad you liked the review!



      • The scrub oak smoke was a whole different kind of pain. I actually missed the ashy flavor of peat. And, I shortened it from the Incredible Mr. Limpet. I didn’t want to oversell my position with the boozedancers.


  5. Nice review. It’s almost 11 am and I just fired up my Big Green Egg to smoke some ribs, listening to Marshall Tucker Band and am looking at a bottle of Brimstone. Should be a nice afternoon!


  6. In a liquor world of marshmallow vodkas…who can’t appreciate a bold bourbon with just a hint of porkchop? Enjoying its complexity!


    • I’m not gonna lie. I didn’t get it at first, but then one night, it just worked. Keep in mind that my bottle was from the Chip Tate days. Who knows what happened after he was forced out!


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