July 1, 2013

Exclusive Review: Sneak Peak at Balcones Brimstone Resurrection - The Beastliest, Smokiest Beast Ever to be SmokyBeasted

"In the middle of the journey of our life I came to myself within a dark wood where the straight way was lost."  -Dante Alighieri 

The Lone Star Beast

Earlier this summer we featured a review of Balcones Brimstone entitled The Lone Star Beast.  We were blown away by it.  It is without a doubt the most (arguably the only) successful attempt at a deeply smoky American whiskey.  We then got the chance to interview head distiller Chip Tate.  Chip let it slip that Balcones would be releasing a special single cask of aged Brimstone as part of their fifth anniversary celebration.  The new release would be called Brimstone Resurrection.  So the other day, when a package arrived from Waco, Texas, our smoky beast spidey-senses were at full tingle.

First some background about Brimstone

It's made of high quality Texas blue corn (very rarely used for making whiskey).  The flavor comes from a secret process that involves smoking the actual distillate (the high-test liquid that comes out of the still prior to barrel-aging) using scrub oak.

Now it's important to understand that when most people talk about 'smoke' in a whiskey, they're talking about using fire (typically peat fire or charcoal) to roast the barley at the end of the fermentation process prior to distillation.  The concept of actually applying smoke to the liquid after it's been distilled is new to us and perhaps new to whiskey making.

A Whisky That Would Make Dante Proud

This uniquely smoked whiskey is Brimstone.  In the case of Resurrection, Chip applied the Brimstone process to one special cask - "The Burned Barrel":
"in the case of this one barrel, we messed up. We burnt the corn to the bottom of the still while distilling it-badly burnt it ... very badly ... hammer and chisels badly... The result is a wonderfully powerful and subtle Brimstone whisky. Sun grown corn, then roasted, burned, twice boiled and then "raised up" in a heavily charred barrel to be released in the third year as Brimstone Resurrection! A whisky that would make Dante proud."
Resurrection is bottled at full cask strength - around sixty-four percent, according to Chip.  We couldn't imagine anything being as intensely smoky (and delicious) as the standard Brimstone, so after some brief mental preparation, we opened the flask and got ready for a head-to-head.

Tasting Notes

Nose:  The standard Brimstone gives up sweet honey and molasses right out of the bottle.  The Resurrection has a more sinister nose.  That thick smoked meat flavor is right out in front and there's something like a rubbery burnt edge to it.  Here's the thing, though: add a few drops of water (we'd recommend six drops out of an eye-dropper per each half ounce taste), twirl the whiskey around the bottom of a tasting glass in the palm of your hand for a couple of minutes to give the water a chance to open it up, and then nose it again.  Now it's a whole different story.  The sweetness of the original is there, but with a wicked chipotle barbecue counterpoint.

Body:  We tasted Resurrection neat just for the experience, though even the most hardcore drinker would probably add some water to a hundred and twenty-eight proof beast.  Straight from the bottle it is an absolute monster.  The rawness of the spirit is all-encompassing and the depth of the smoke is totally insane.  From the original Brimstone we got a strange and overwhelming French Toast flavor.  Charred ends of egg and battered bread meeting sweet syrup...  Once we've added water to the Resurrection, the body is just off the charts.  All those great french toast elements are there, but there is a deeper spice.  Now we're getting anise, dark chocolate, crispy bacon, fresh thyme, and cumin.  The wood is so much more up front in the body than with the standard Brimstone, as if that french toast was cooked over an open bonfire in the first week of summer, with the steaming wood releasing loud pops and cracks as the moisture hisses through its pores.

Finish:  The only analogy we could muster for the finish is like Mexican mole sauce.  Mole is one of these impossible combinations of ingredients that can be absolutely disastrous in the wrong hands: ancho, poblano, black pepper, cumin, cloves, anise, tomatillos, garlic, sesame, dried fruit, cocoa, and thirty other ingredients that you'd have to be crazy to put in one dish.  But in the right hands, a certain magic happens.  This is the case with Resurrection - it's almost too deep to describe.  Hot pepper, layers of spices, thick smoke, honey, meats, woods, chocolate, every sip uncovers something new.  And somehow they all just combine into one of the most intense beasts we've ever encountered.


Balcones Brimstone is a remarkable whiskey.  It's the kind of thing that strikes you with a craving when you're in the right mood, and you go rushing home to sit on the deck, put on some good tunes, invite a few friends over, and have a glass.  Resurrection on the other hand, is like a look into the soul of whiskey.  It's something that you drink alone, in the quiet of the night, with only you and your thoughts.  It's dark, it's piercing, and it brings you to a primal place of fire and rock.  As Chip put it:
"there are just so very few bottles of each cask-probably not more than 100-150 per barrel. Remember that evaporation in Texas heat can easily be double or triple the usual rate in Kentucky or Tennessee. That means that we only started with a few hundred bottles to begin with and the angels have taken more than their fair share since then. I wish there were more bottles, but hopefully it will make those bottles that are available that much more special."
Indeed this is a special bottle.  Not an everyday whiskey, but one that will not quickly be forgotten. This is a very important moment in American craft distilling, an experience that is totally unique in the world.  Completely different from the peat monsters of single malt, off the charts from rye or bourbon, an experience in American whiskey that's going to get a lot of people talking.

Click here to continue reading - Balcones, The Birth of a Beast, Part 4...



  1. Where can we get some in CT???

    1. If you're asking about the Resurrection, sadly there were only around a hundred bottles released worldwide. Balcones has events locally in Waco and sometimes release very small amounts of these limited edition bottles, however they're impossible to get anywhere else. The regular Brimstone is available here http://www.drinkupny.com/SearchResults.asp?Search=brimstone&Submit.x=-424&Submit.y=-91