The world’s great whiskeys usually come from Scotland, Ireland or Kentucky. But if you’ve ever driven over Waco’s 17th street bridge you’re driving over a new hot spot for the spirit. The Balcones distillery has gotten so many awards, they’re starting to have trouble keeping up with demand. And they’re expanding soon. But they want to stay small--and most importantly--in Waco.
Nestled in the shell of an old welding shop, the Balcones distillery can’t get much more humble. Mysterious tanks and instruments are pushed up against the walls, cramping a space that’s buzzing with intense whisky makers. They take their craft seriously. And along with the ingredients, seriousness is what founder Chip Tate says sets Balcones apart.
"What we do is special education for whisky," Tate said. "We have a very hands-on approach with every distillation every single barrel it’s one of the reasons we’re gonna get bigger but not too big to make sure we continue to do that. It’s the only way to make the very best whisky you can make."
Earlier this year Balcones became Whiskey Magazine’s craft distiller of the year for the second time. They also won several awards at the Wizards of Whisky competition in London, where their single malt was awarded the World Whisky of the Year. Tate says he knew they were making a good product, but didn’t expect the awards to come pouring.
"I thought we were pretty good at this and ya know I think we’re doing pretty well but then ya know when you win “best American whisky” in the world competitions it makes your head spin a little bit," Tate said.
Tate says the awards have gone a long way to help drum up interest from investors. With demand peaking, he says the company can’t produce enough whisky to keep up with demand. So they’re moving farther in town. Renovating the building where they store their barrels at 11th Street and Mary and adding two 2,000-gallon stills to the production line.
"It’s amazing to me and actually really positive that we’re still relatively unknown and you think about what that means is we can be a little more visible what that could mean for us and for downtown Waco," Tate said. "In terms of people being like 'wow, there’s a small but significant whisky distillery in Waco? That’s intriguing.'"
Tate’s originally from Virginia but he says he’s proud to have Balcones play a part in downtown Waco’s redevelopment. And as for any guff he gets about making whisky under a bridge in Waco…
"They’re kinda tired of people talkin crap about Waco,
Tate said. "Ya know, you’re thinking to yourself. We’re not perfect. No place is perfect. But this is a pretty darn nice place to live, lay off already."