Review: Balcones Cataleja

Waco’s Balcones Distilling recently celebrated its 15th anniversary, and to mark the occasion it, what else, released a new whiskey. Cataleja is a new, limited edition single malt that head distiller Jared Himstedt says is “one of the most complex and unique whiskies we’ve made.” Here’s how Cataleja, Spanish for spyglass, is produced.

Made with 100% Golden Promise Malted Barley, this single malt began its maturation journey in barrels previously used to age Kentucky bourbon, and after three years of the Texas climate’s concentrating effects, was transferred into decommissioned Sherry Solera casks that were meticulously hand-selected from various Spanish bodegas (wine cellars): Moscatel, Amontillado Dulce, Oloroso, and Palo Cortado. Because the first fill showcased the wonderfully high impact of the 80+ year old casks, the whisky was transferred back into neutral barrels and then followed with two additional rounds of refill single malts through the decommissioned casks, as they continued to provide sherry impact alongside the delicate malt character.

I have to agree with Himstedt: It’s the most complex Balcones whiskey I’ve ever tried, and arguably its best.

The nose is bombastic with fortified wine notes, a heady mix of sherry and moscatel that reminded me immediately of my time in Spain. It’s hard to detect much else on the nose aside from the intense wine characteristics, but that’s no slight — the wholesale sherry bomb works wonders against the burly Texas whiskey, each element somehow tempering the other. It’s sharp and pungent — yet engaging through and through, demanding constant attention.

The palate fully delivers on this aromatic promise, pouring on sultry notes of oxidized wine — particularly Amontillado sherry — plus steeped orange peels, sultanas, and lots of juicy fig character. The whiskey’s sharpness grows on the palate — abetted by a 59% abv that somehow never feels overbearing — again kept in check by various notes of Southern sweet tea, saddle leather, pipe tobacco, and a fistful of spices ranging from cardamom to allspice to saffron.

Enchanting and enigmatic, this is one of those rare whiskeys that takes you on something of a journey from start to finish, showing you a new angle at every turn. It also wholly challenges expectations of Texas whiskey — in the best possible way. To that end, it might by the best pure Texas whiskey I’ve tasted to date. And I’ve had a lot.

118 proof.

A / $125 /

Balcones Cataleja




Christopher Null is the founder and editor in chief of Drinkhacker. A veteran writer and journalist, he also operates Null Media, a bespoke content creation company.

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