In September, Scotland will vote on this proposition: Should the land of Bobby Burns leave the UK? In this regard, Texan would-be secessionists are no doubt green with envy; here, we only talk the talk, but the Scots may actually walk the walk.
In the interest of acknowledging maverick tendencies in both countries (make that “political entities”), OTR staged a taste-off to see whose single-malt whiskies had the moxie to match their political bluster.
Conventional wisdom would have it that Texas is at a significant disadvantage here: There aren’t that many Texas single malts to begin with, and our legitimate distilling history is insignificant compared to that of Scotland. And yet, the Texas single-malt whisky made by Chip Tate at Balcones in Waco was proclaimed “The finest new whisky in the world” in a recent article in Forbes, so a matchup didn’t seem necessarily all that one-sided. The Macallan Fine Oak 15 Year Single Malt is also no stranger to double-gold medals, and it retails for around the same (in the range of $80—when you can find them), so that was it: The Scottish Slugger versus the Texas Tornado.
For the blind tasting (the spirits were poured by a neutral referee in another room), OTR pulled together a high school English teacher (who’s also the front man for a rock band), an insurance broker and a real estate developer—plus YT. Just your ordinary band of Scotch-loving brothers. We tasted first neat, mostly in specially shaped Glencairn Scotch tasting glassware, and then with drops of water.
At the final bell, it was Balcones, strictly by the numbers. (Most of us had thought the Texan was Scottish and vice versa.) The Macallan seemed bold, even “hot,” to many on the nose, and its finish was deemed short; one taster did correctly pin down “a Highland maltiness,” and others found pear, honey, even plum and lychee (really), on the palate. Water helped this one tame its heat.
The Balcones, on the other hand, was deemed less hot and more honeyed on the nose (which water also toned down), with pretty caramel, toffee and graham cracker notes, and it boasted a consistent, lingering finish. The sweetness here was “like the difference between a supermarket donut and Bakery Lorraine,” in the words of one wag.
But wait, there’s more: I just happened to have a couple more single malts hanging around—Ranger Creek’s Rimfire Mesquite Smoked Texas Single Malt Whiskey and the famously smoky Laphroaig 10-year Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky (Ranger Creek prefers the Americanized “whiskey” while Laphroaig understandably sticks with the older variation “whisky”). On its face, this was potentially another lopsided battle, especially as the rating system favored intensity, but Ranger Creek emerged the favorite, if not numerically, then certainly for straight sipping—especially with a little branch water.
“Cedar closet,” said one taster of the Rimfire, while banana and talcum were other descriptors. “Hospital supply closet,” and “doused campfire”—not necessarily the condemnation you might think—lead the list for the Laphroaig.
While Scotland may win for “most serious secessionists,” for now, these Texas single malts take home the “newcomer” award.
12:30 p.m., July 2, 2014: This article has been corrected to properly identify the founder of Balcones Distilling. We regret the error.
Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.