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.
An Emphasis on Ingredients
FROM GRAIN TO GLASS
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 a 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 their original state. Every spirit we make adheres to that philosophy: it should be recognizable and delectable.
Brewing... for Whisky
CREATING NEW FLAVORS AND AROMAS
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.
Pure Copper Pot Distillation
DISTILLING A RICHER SPIRIT
We have always held the belief that whisky should be made in whisky stills, and that is why we 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.
The Most Excellent Oak
NOT ALL BARRELS ARE CREATED EQUAL
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.
Maturation is More Than Just Age
AGING IN A UNIQUE CLIMATE
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.
Blending, Proofing, and Filtering
THE FINAL STEPS
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.
The New Balcones Distillery
ANOTHER CHAPTER IN OUR STORY
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.
Texas State Sales Manager
Alexander Elrod brings creativity, passion for whisky, and 5 years of industry expertise to his role as Texas State Sales Manager at Balcones, managing sales & expectations of our Texas DRAMs (local sales reps) and maintaining relationships with our distributor, Texas Southern Glazers Wine & Spirits. When you find our spirits in a store near you, it’s thanks in part to Alex’s hard work and dedication to our craft spirits and the promotion of “camaraderie built with folks that truly enjoy good whisky, conversation, and shared experiences.” He shares his life and passions with Laura, his wife of five years, his 2-year-old son Amon, and his three-year-old terrier, Rory. While he loves the whole Balcones line, Alex’s current favorite is our Mirador, for “its beautiful malt profile that showcases the capabilities of Balcones.”
Jared Himstedt, our head distiller, whetted his appetite for distilling first as a home brewer and a manager of Dancing Bear pub, a craft beer bar here in Waco, Texas. He is the creative force, product developer, and head blender at the distillery, overseeing everything from label design to barrel selection since Balcones’s inception in 2008. Being involved in an industry steeped in both rich tradition and explorative innovation is part of what keeps Jared committed to the creation of fine whiskies—that, and “getting to work alongside some wonderful, thoughtful, diligent, and creative people.” When he can get away from the distillery, Jared can be found spending time outside with family, friends, good music, and good drinks, particularly the #1 Texas Single Malt, which is still an enduring favorite.
Vice President of Sales
As VP of sales, Jeff Liebhardt brings his competitive spirit and twenty-eight years of experience in the alcoholic beverage industry to lead the Balcones sales charge, overseeing all aspects of sales and ensuring that the fruits of our labors are available to whisky aficionados nationwide. Previously the Senior VP of Sales and Marketing at Bold Rock Hard Cider in Virginia, Jeff has spent the last nine months at Balcones delving deep into the world of fine craft whiskies and broadening our sales reach far beyond our Texas borders. His passions lie in developing his sales team, traveling with his wife Kirstin, daughter Dylan, and son Luke, and sipping True Blue 100, which he appreciates for its distinctive and well-balanced oak flavors.
President and COO
Our benevolent overseer, President and COO Keith Bellinger, has spent over three decades as an executive in the alcoholic beverage industry, manning the helms of some of the biggest names in the business, most recently at Castle Brands Inc. in New York City. Since 2013, Keith has managed and guided Balcones on its journey from small Waco whisky startup to the internationally recognized, award-winning brand it is today. While Keith describes himself as “respectful, old, and grumpy,” his colleagues at the distillery view him as a kind friend, mentor, and savvy leader of our growing company with over forty employees. For Keith, working with the good people at Balcones and observing the cooperation and coordination among all our departments is what brings joy to his work. On his off days, Keith retreats to his happy place, playing with his two beloved pugs, Rummie and Bella, and enjoying a glass of True Blue Cask, which he likens to liquid caramel popcorn.
Thomas Mote got his professional start in coffee, then moved on to beer (most recently at Ex Novo Brewing Company in Portland, Oregon), and finally jumped into whisky and has been with Balcones Distilling since 2015. Thomas sees his role at Balcones as primarily a supportive one involving “some production planning, a lot of personnel management, and very little drinking,” essentially making sure our entire production team has what it needs to create fine craft whisky. While his happy hour beverage of choice is typically a Kolsch, Pilsner, or IPA, his Balcones favorite is a tie between the True Blue 100, for its balance of oak intensity and grain complexity, and our Texas Rum, proofed down to 50% ABV “to let the fruity esters pop out of suspension.” When there’s a break in our rigorous production schedule, Thomas hits the road, traveling the world with his wife, Ellen.