The town of Waco, Texas gave birth to the great soft drink Dr Pepper. But that is not the end of Waco's beverage innovations. In a rusty shed beneath a bridge overpass, you can find Chip Tate, the owner and founder of Balcones Distilling. He makes whisky--and is particular about the spelling of that word, as well as the quality of his product. It's not rotgut at all. In fact, Tate won first place in an international competition of whisky distilling.
Tate accomplished all of this after only 6 years in business. Abram Brown of Forbes tells the story of this remarkable rise to fame:
The collapse of his marriage in 2008 gave Tate the freedom to turn his avocation into his occupation; he’d been an enrollment administrator at Baylor but always dreamed of leaving the ivory tower for the copper still. With a wink and a nudge, Tate will admit that some initial experiments–presumably moonshine made at his Waco home–led him to believe he could make it as a legitimate distiller. A thick, if rudimentary, handbook called Whiskey: Technology, Production and Marketing became his bible; instruction at the Bruichladdich distillery on whiskey-making fundamentals, one meant for prospective brand ambassadors, was newfound gospel.
For Balcones’ first release, Tate drew inspiration from a dessert sauce of raw sugar, honey and figs he had served at a dinner party. And that’s exactly what he fermented to create Rumble. “It’s strange in category, but not in taste,” he explains. Early customers appreciated its brandy- and rum-like qualities. Another guessed it was actually a tequila matured in a red-wine barrel. Rumble was released along with Baby Blue, an unusual whiskey made with heirloom blue corn grown in New Mexico. It tastes of apricot, sweet tea, smoked chilis, and most oddly, cotton candy. Baby Blue was the first Texas-made whiskey on shelves since Prohibition. Balcones has since developed another blue-corn-based whisky called Brimstone made with Texas scrub oak to add smoke the way Islay whiskies use peat. […]
It’s a passion aided by something as quintessentially Texan as BBQ or cowboy boots: the sun that climbs high and bakes the countryside. Texas experiences incredibly hot days and then cold nights, and such a wide gap in temperature is ideal for barrel-aging whiskey. It quickens maturation. That has helped Tate get his line on shelves faster. But not fast enough. Attention around Balcones is intensifying. In the past few months alone, the brand won Whisky Magazine’s Craft Distiller of the Year award and cleaned up at the Wizards of Whisky competition in London, where the single malt claimed World Whisky of the Year, World Single Malt of the Year and American Single Malt of the Year. (Baby Blue also took home a gold medal; Brimstone received a silver.) As a result, demand for Balcones now greatly exceeds its supply.