In 2008, Balcones was nothing more than an idea driven by a passion to create something original and authentic, right here in the Heart of Texas. It all started in an old welding shop under a bridge in Waco. For the next year, we replaced the roofing, knocked out walls, laid brick, cut pipes, installed copper pot stills from Portugal, and shoehorned a whisky distillery inside that quaint building. Proud of what we had accomplished on our own, we began distilling in 2009.
It’s no secret to brewers and chefs alike: ingredients matter. We have always meticulously sought out ingredients for their richness in flavor. From blue corn grown in New Mexico to the first Texas-grown malted barley, we aim to get the most out of our raw materials because they make better whisky. We make every effort to preserve the luscious flavors of these ingredients in our spirits so that each sip is a decadent expression of what it was crafted from. Every spirit we make adheres to that philosophy: it should be recognizable and delectable.
Fermentation isn’t just where we create alcohol, it is a delicate process that can create new flavors and aromas entirely. It shouldn’t be any surprise that we approach it differently – all of our distillers have a long history with brewing. One thing brewers have known for centuries is that time and temperature are intrinsically linked to the quality and profile of beer. With that in mind, we have specially tailored and refined the fermentation techniques for each of our recipes, focusing on methods that will coax yeast into creating interesting flavor compounds, called esters, and the chemical precursors to fruity and floral aromas that will develop in the spirit.
We have always held the belief that whisky should be made in whisky stills, and that is why we have tapped the brilliant minds and hands of Forsyths of Scotland to build our magnificent copper pot stills. They’re not just for show; pot stills allow the more sumptuous components of the distilled liquid to be captured in the new make spirit. This translates to a delightful weight on the tongue, giving whisky a distinct density on the palate. Always working in batches, our whiskies are distilled slow and low, giving us plenty of precise control over the flavor and aroma profile of the spirit. At the end of the day, the new make is full of intense flavors, sweet and very rich. The only thing it’s missing is a little time in oak.
Like corn or barley, oak is also an ingredient in whisky, and arguably the most important. Our distillers use highly customized casks that help facilitate aging in such a dynamic climate. Focusing on options such as fine grain oak, extended dry seasoning, heavy toasting, and multiple species of oak, these variables broaden the palette of flavors we have available. Each of our whiskies utilizes several barrel types so that a complex and nuanced profile can be achieved.
Generally, whiskies are aged for many years or even decades. However, the unique climate of Texas changes that paradigm completely. Everyone knows it’s hot in Texas, but that’s only half the story. Rapid temperature swings are a part of our region’s weather characteristic, and these quick shifts force barrels to “breathe” at a much faster rate than in traditional whisky-making regions. This not only causes oaky flavors to mingle with the liquid inside, but also accelerates the complex processes that transform raw spirit into a fully-matured product. It’s one of several ways that Balcones embraces a unique terroir.
Before our whiskies are ready to bottle, we must immerse ourselves in the most rewarding step of our craft: blending. Not to be confused with blended whisky, blending is the art of selecting aged casks and combining them to create a cohesive and consistent product. Our distillers personally smell and taste every barrel of Balcones before bottling to ensure the quality and flavor that our fans have come to expect. These are authentic craft whiskies, and never combined with artificial coloring or flavoring. Everything made at Balcones is always non-chill filtered, which preserves the rich oils and esters straight out of the cask for pure, unadulterated Texas whisky.
In 2011, we purchased the Texas Fireproof Storage Co. building in downtown Waco. Built in 1923, it is a massive structure of concrete, steel and brick, and has 65,000 square feet of space (about 25 times larger than our first distillery). All our whisky barrels have matured on this site since then, but we always imagined that one day it would make an excellent site for Balcones. In 2014, we finally broke ground on transforming this awesome building into our new whisky distillery. With the combined efforts of our distillers, a few engineers, local contractors, and even copper pot still builders from Scotland, we aimed to not just build a new distillery, but to recreate our finely-tuned process on a larger scale. It was also paramount to us that we preserve the character of this nearly 100-year-old building, so as not to lose the vibrant history and significance it holds in downtown Waco. We finally opened our doors to the public at the end of 2016, welcoming whisky lovers near and far to see our process first hand. Tours are available, and we hope you’ll join us for one soon, or at least stop by our tasting room to try some of our award-winning whiskies and spirits.
Our spirits have been recognized worldwide for their bold and intense flavors. We’ve won more awards than we can count, but they are only a testament to the devoted team that craft whiskies day in, day out. We’ve made a significant investment not only in our operations and whiskies, but in the community that we know and love as Waco.
Distillery Ambassador and Brand Manager