While the whiskey community bides its time waiting for New Riff to start releasing some older single barrels, the steady release of unique whiskies they’ve been putting out has kept most of us satisfied for the time being. New Riff‘s primary focus seems to be on experiments concerning the grain that go into each whiskey.
Sometimes it’s using malted grain that other distilleries don’t bother to use (like malted rye and malted wheat) and sometimes it’s using different production techniques like pouring peated backset into the bourbon and rye whiskey fermentation tanks. Other times it’s using grain that would be considered atypical among the traditional distilleries of the region. One of those grains happens to be Balboa rye.
New Riff collaborated with a local Greensburg, Indiana farm owned by Charles Fogg to source this unique rye. The New Riff website goes into a little bit of detail by saying that this rye grain is smaller than other varietals and was initially bred back in the 1930’s for the farming conditions found in the Ohio Valley.
And while I can’t deduce what the purpose of developing a new type of rye was for, when it comes to distilling, it is hinted that it would exhibit much more fruit flavors.
I actually drove down to the Charles Fogg farm in Greensburg this summer just to see if I could learn anything or see anything with my own eyes that made it different. There’s not a lot there that I observed other than a truck scale and some silos for their grain.
I don’t know what I was hoping to find out, but I was intrigued that New Riff’s press release and every mention of Balboa Rye went out of its way to also include the name Charles Fogg and his farm like it was some sort of destination in farming or maybe an operation that did things differently. I can’t say I saw anything that different from the other farms that surrounded it.
The rye whiskey before us today should be just over four years old and carries a bottled-in-bond designation meaning it is also bottled at 100 proof. Lately, distribution for Balboa Rye seems to have been widened compared to other releases meaning that New Riff had much more of this aging than they originally led on.
This makes me wonder if they are clearing out experimental products in their very limited warehouse space to age more traditional whiskey for future releases. My guess is that as these experimental barrels leave the ricks, barrels of their standard bourbon and rye will fill the spots left behind.
The price for Balboa is around $50 to $60 depending on where you find it, which seems fair enough in my eyes, but let’s see if it drinks like a rye whiskey costing that much. I sampled this neat in a glencairn.
Nose: Wildflowers, lilacs and a soft sort of mint give this rye whiskey a really floral and herbal nose. Melted Bit ‘O Honey candies mix with vanilla bean to give the impression of sweetness while lemon meringue pie shows a citrusy and and slightly bitter side.
Palate: Raspberry licorice, sweet mint, citrus zest and bubblegum mouth rinse all let you know that this is a rye whiskey through and through. Lots of herbal notes are also recognizable like dandelion greens, more wildflowers and your run-of-the-mill garden herbs. Honey provides the sweetness while a bit of rye spice heat accentuates the medium viscosity mouthfeel.
Finish: A sweeter-than-normal finish of Watermelon and Blue Raspberry Jolly Ranchers. It is not cloyingly sweet though, but these are not flavors I normally find with other rye whiskies. Lingering notes of seasoned oak, peppermint candies, forest floor and pine needles. But there is a residual amount of honey that seems to keep the finish just sweet enough to compliment the other flavors well.
This was an interesting rye whiskey that held some surprising notes and was very drinkable. I think the main thing holding it back (and from me awarding more points) is the proof.
I’m assuming that the proof it was bottled at helps expose more fruit notes, but it also takes a hit on the mouthfeel and lessened the intensity of the flavors overall. So while this is a rye that does many things well, it doesn’t exactly come off as impactful or memorable.
Many other reviewers have a different take on this and feel as if this rye stands alone from others. I think the differences they noticed are primarily in their head because so much of the focus for this whiskey revolves around how New Riff marketed this particular grain and farm.
It’s like how restaurants notice how diners gravitate towards wanting to know what kind of pig their bacon came from, which farm a particular vegetable was grown on or which butcher shop aged that cut of meat. We’re drawn in to expect that the common consumables we ingest will taste better if we put a specific descriptor in front of it.
At the end of my session, I could not determine anything that definitively makes Balboa Rye special. Going to the farm and seeing that it looked like any other farm and tasting the whiskey made it more obvious to me that it doesn’t have any sort of magical powers.
I think the aura surrounding the bottle among other reviewers is mostly exaggerated too. But I will praise New Riff for once again putting out a really nice product and pricing it exactly where it needed to be. The price shows that New Riff appreciates their customers for taking the gamble on a product that even New Riff is experimenting with. But for $50, the stakes are low and it’s a gamble that I’d bet on every time.
1 | Disgusting | Drain pour (Example: Jeffers Creek)
2 | Poor | Forced myself to drink it
3 | Bad | Flawed (AD Laws 4 Grain BiB, Clyde Mays anything)
4 | Sub-par | Many things I’d rather have (Tincup 10 year)
5 | Good | Good, solid, ordinary (Larceny, Sazerac Rye)
6 | Very Good | Better than average (Buffalo Trace, OGD BiB)
7 | Great | Well above average (Old Ezra Barrel Proof, Old Weller Antique)
8 | Excellent | Exceptional (Michter’s Barrel Proof Rye, Four Roses Barrel Strength)
9 | Incredible | Extraordinary (GTS, 13 Year MGP or Canadian Rye)
10 | Insurpassable | Nothing Else Comes Close (William Larue Weller)
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