Sunday, September 13, 2009

Waco distillery now offering 1st legal Texas whiskey since Prohibition

Now pouring in a bar near you: Texas’ first legal whiskey since Prohibition, made right here in Waco.

Balcones Distilling Co. is now shipping its Hopi blue corn whiskey, called “Baby Blue,” to liquor stores and watering holes in Waco and Texas’ biggest cities.

Joining it on the shelves is a unique 94-proof liquor called Rumble, distilled at Balcones from Texas wildflower honey, Mission figs and raw sugar. Still to come this winter is a Scotch-like malted barley whiskey.

Balcones owner Chip Tate built his distillery system from scratch with his two-person crew in an old warehouse in the shadow of the 17th Street railroad bridge. He started distilling after getting his license late last year. Tate has been a dedicated homebrewer for 18 years and has spent the past two years learning the science of distilling, including an apprenticeship in Scotland.

But Texas is his inspiration and his target market.

“We’re using very traditional methods to distill this stuff,” he said. “But we’re very proud to be a Texas distillery. This is what it makes sense to do. Why shouldn’t there be a whiskey that’s good with barbecue?”

Texans like to say everything in Texas is big. Legal distilleries are anything but.

There are only nine licensed distilleries in the state; the oldest, Tito's Vodka of Austin, is just 11 years old. However, that total will be upped by one if Chip Tate succeeds.

The 33-year-old Waco businessman has applied for state and federal licenses to allow him to produce small-batch whiskey. He owns Tate Technologies in Waco, a technological consultant to higher education agencies.

Although he won't be able to call it Scotch whisky, Tate said his Balcones Distillery would use Scottish techniques and peated malt.

"We're drawing on a lot of old traditions, but this will be a Texas whiskey. We're not apologetic about that," he told the Waco Tribune-Herald. "We're hoping to be the original Texas whiskey. ... I think it will be something that both bourbon and scotch drinkers will like."

Tate, who worked at a distillery in Scotland last summer and is an associate member the International Guild of Brewing and Distilling, said he also plans to sell a liquor called Rumble, similar to rum but contains mission figs, Texas wildflower honey and turbinado sugar.


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