Distiller Profile: Balcones Distilling
Started in 2008 in Waco, Texas, Balcones Distilling produced the first state-made whiskey in Texas since prohibition. This whiskey called Baby Blue has won praise from critics and over a dozen awards including most recently the Double Gold at the 2016 San Francisco International Spirits Competition. We spoke with Thomas Mote, Distiller and Brewhouse Manager to learn more.
Tell us a little background of your team.
We all had either a homebrewing or production brewing background. I worked for Cascade Brewing Barrel House for a short while when I first moved to Portland and then took a job at a small brewpub in North Portland called Ex Novo Brewing Company.
How did you choose the company name?
It’s a common Scottish tradition to name your distillery after your proofing water source. Our proofing water for our spirit comes from the Balcones fault line. Our logo is an artist’s rendering of that fault line in the form of plate tectonics.
The building that house the distillery looks really cool. What’s the history behind it?
Our main production building was called the Texas Fireproof Storage Building and had a lot of lockers or safes that people could rent to store important documents or mink coats, etc., before it was common for people to have fireproof safes in their homes. The fact that the building had to able to withstand a fire and keep valuables safe meant it was very sturdy and serves us well for lots of barrel storage.
What are the distillery specs?
Our Stills, HLT’s, and Mashtun were built by Forsyths Ltd in Scotland. We have two 125-hectoliter wash stills and two 85-hectoliter spirit stills. Our fermenters and cereal cooker were produced by JVNW in Oregon. We have seven 250-hectoliter gallon fermenters.
What’s the local reception been like and how do you fit in with your community culture?
It’s been great! We hosted a big grand opening a couple months ago to let locals come in and see the building and we’re doing a crawfish boil and concert next month. Waco is a pretty small city that’s growing a little bit every day. New restaurants and bars are opening on a monthly basis, we have a brewery and one more in planning, and there’s a big tourist draw with the Magnolia folks in town. It’s a cool time to live here in Waco because I feel like we’re actively contributing to a growing town.
What is your business philosophy?
This is more my take on our philosophy than something we may put on our website, but we like making spirits that reframe how people think about raw materials and whisky as a whole. We value education in our tasting room and encourage people to try whisky neat; often for the first time in their life! We evaluate each cask prior to blending and never let production schedules dictate how large or how small a blend is.
What types of spirits do you produce?
We make Malt Whisky, Blue Corn Whisky, Bourbon, Rum, and a specialty spirit we call Rumble. In addition, we’ve laid down some Rye Whisky, Wheated Bourbon, and Peated Malt but haven’t released any of that yet.
What’s the wackiest thing that happened while starting up?
Our first malt mash in the new mashtun was a series of (now) comical misfortunes which lead to us having to shovel out over 10,000 lbs. of spent grain by hand. It was an adventure for sure!
How has your experience been working with BSG?
It’s been great! All of the folks I’ve met have been very helpful and genuinely interested in our production here at the distillery. We use a lot of Simpsons Golden Promise around here and BSG makes sure we don’t run out. In fact, our Texas Single Malt is made with 100% Golden Promise from BSG.
Any exciting upcoming plans?
We are actually just wrapping up an expansion project that doubled our capacity yet again. We can now produce enough spirit to fill about 20 full size barrels in a day.