Balcones is one of the most important names in American craft whisky. When founded they were well ahead of their time and have been pioneers of the artisan distilling scene. They have helped to get American single malt on the world whisky map and are one of the key campaigners to get the category properly designated. Their innovative approach to whisky making and diverse range of products has won Balcones many fans and awards.
It is difficult to pin down a definitive Balcones style as they produce numerous different spirits. Most are made using grain from the brand's native Texas. The single malt has a distinct earthy and bittersweet character, while the rye whisky is spicy and savoury. Their corn whisky is soft, sweet and creamy. The bourbon is sweet, expressive and woody.
The core range consists of five products - Texas Single Malt, Baby Blue and True Blue 100 Proof (both made with local Texan blue corn), Texas 100 Rye and Pot Still Bourbon. These are joined by a prolific set of annual releases and limited editions including Fr. Oak (matured in French oak barrels) and Single Malt Rum Cask.
Balcones distils 350,000 litres of spirit per year. This is split between the different styles listed above. For most of these styles, the grain is cooked in a cereal cooker. For single malt, a classic Scotch whisky mash tun is used. This was formerly at the Speyburn distillery in Speyside. There are seven external stainless steel fermenters. All whiskies are fermented for seven days (168 hours). There are two copper pot stills - one wash and one spirit still. Both feature an unusual coiled lyne arm to increase copper contact with the alcohol vapours. Approximately 20% of all casks are matured at the distillery. The remainders are in warehouses on the outskirts of Waco.
In addition to their range of whiskies, Balcones also produce batches of rum and liqueurs on an annual basis.
Balcones was founded in 2008 by a group of colleagues headed by Chip Tate. They built the distillery and all equipment from scratch on the outskirts of Waco, Texas. It was named after the Balcones Fault, a tectonic fissure that runs through Texas and close to Waco. The geological feature forms the brand's logo.
Tate left Balcones in 2014 following a much-publicised legal dispute. This coincided with another major development for the company. They had outgrown the original distillery and could no longer meet consumer demand. The decision was taken to move to larger premises in the centre of Waco.
The new Balcones was built in a converted fire department building dating to the 1920s. It features a state-of-the-art and eco-friendly distillery alongside a visitor centre, bar and shop on the ground floor. Upper floors are used for maturation, offices and a blending room. The first distillation took place in February 2016. The expansion has helped grow the brand further.
Balcones have long been an advocate for the American single malt category. They have joined with other craft distillers in the country, most notably Westland in Seattle, to lobby the US Government.