BALLER SINGLE MALT WHISKEY
MASH BILL – 100% American barley (predominately two-row pale malted barley, the remainder lightly roasted)
PROOF – 94
AGE – 3+ years
DISTILLERY – St. George Spirits
PRICE – $54
WORTH BUYING? – At this price? Heck yes!
My first encounter with Baller was back in its allocated, $100 days. Once or twice a year, a small handful of bottles would turn up in local San Francisco shops or online at K&L, then vanish just as quickly. Back in 2017, my timing walking into a downtown wine and spirits store happened to be good one day and I gave it a go. The flavor profile was utterly unique. I enjoyed it very much. But at $100 it wasn’t something to which I was inclined to return.
In 2019 I picked up a second bottle on sale for $70. I thoroughly enjoyed it again. The intense complex of fruit notes were excellent, and I don’t always take to extremely fruity whiskeys. I was happy to have found it at a discount. But $70 itself isn’t cheap, and, Baller not being more squarely within the Venn diagram of my preferred flavor profiles, it still wasn’t a $100 bottle for me personally.
Then I started noticing Baller showing up more often, in greater quantities, and nationally. This past year I even saw it popping up online for prices as low as $50. So when I recently spotted it for that price on the shelf of a high-end shop in San Francisco that normally sold whiskey at prohibitive prices, I didn’t ask questions.
I opened the bottle that very evening. I was housesitting for friends, so I didn’t have my usual glassware at hand. Given Baller’s aromatics, a white wine glass served it perfectly well.
Once again I thoroughly enjoyed it. It drinks very much like a white dessert wine, only with a much stronger punch to it given the proof. It’s such easy drinking, that punch can sneak up on you. I speak from experience!
Baller is distilled in St. George Spirits’ eau de vie pot stills, then aged for 3 years in used bourbon casks and French oak wine casks. After filtering it through maple charcoal, it’s finished in casks that had held St. George’s own umeshu, a Japanese style of plum liqueur they make using California-grown ume fruit. From the making process to the label—featuring original calligraphy by Eri Takase and artwork commissioned from Oakland artist Sylvia Solochek Walters, depicting the legendary figure of St. George as a samurai—Baller is a clear expression of St. George Spirits’ ongoing interest in the detailed exploration and blending of local and international influences in their products.
The San Francisco Bay Area is a nexus of international cultures. People have long been drawn here from all over the world by an entrepreneurial spirit of experimentation and reinvention. Situated on the island-city of Alameda, St. George Spirits embodies that history in their many spirits products, which vary greatly from whiskeys to brandies to liqueurs, to highly unusual distillation experiments with pine trees, seaweed, even shellfish! For their perpetual trials and errors, they embrace a quote from Thomas Edison as their guide: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Whatever the product, there is an emphasis on blending regional Northern California ingredients with making-methods drawn from the various world cultures that have travelled here over the past 170+ years. California’s history is certainly not one to be romanticized, though it often has been. There is blood in the soil here and deception in the air—what else would one expect from a landscape marked by multiple gold rushes? Yet as much as the confluence of cultures here necessitates examination and reflection, it is also celebrated. St. George Spirits products embody this complexity.
How does that complexity manifest in the tasting experience of Baller? Here are some brief notes taken the day after uncorking, already several pours into the bottle, and tasted again in a white wine glass.
COLOR – vibrant and lemony yellow, like a California Chardonnay
NOSE – bright ume plumb notes, crisp citrus zest, light cream, chilled butter, a thin caramel note, high-end low-cacao milk chocolate
TASTE – very like the nose, with the cream and caramel notes coming forward in perfect balance with the now more tart fruit notes, and a crisp minerality on swallowing
FINISH – butter, cream, caramel, the bright ume, a soft peppery tingle, all outlined by a fine mineral and oak-tannic edge
OVERALL – fruity, creamy, exceptionally well balanced, a perfect bridge to help white wine drinkers find their way into whiskey
I’m really liking this now. I can’t recall what times of year I drank it previously. But it’s perfectly timed for these hot Summer months. It so conjures a California Chardonnay in its look, and, more indirectly, a German Riesling in its taste. I certainly would never mistake this for a Chardonnay or Riesling of any kind. But this whiskey has the same refreshing impact I remember from sipping white wines in Spring and Summer, back when wine still figured into my drinking. Add to this the Japanese ume fruit influence and the array of flavors really does take one on an international journey of associations.
The proof is perfect. I say that not having had Baller at any other proof, of course. But 94 is a very approachable proof, while still substantial enough to lean into the flavors on offer. There is a vibrancy to Baller that feels lively without at all being pushy or busy. The aromas and flavors are very clear, very definite.
Second to the immediate impact is the complexity. After my eyebrows come back down from the initial encounter, on reflection I’m able to sort through the beautiful array of fruit, cream and candy notes. It’s very like an expertly arranged bouquet of colorful flowers, with its various individual blossoms coming together into a single whole.
Between the flower bouquet and white wine vibes of this whiskey, therein lies its danger. It’s really easy to drink a lot of! Now that it’s much more affordable and available than it used to be, I may very well be in trouble. At least during the sunnier seasons.