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Waco distillery now offering 1st legal Texas whiskey since Prohibition

Now pouring in a bar near you: Texas’ first legal whiskey since Prohibition, made right here in Waco.

Balcones Distilling Co. is now shipping its Hopi blue corn whiskey, called “Baby Blue,” to liquor stores and watering holes in Waco and Texas’ biggest cities.

Joining it on the shelves is a unique 94-proof liquor called Rumble, distilled at Balcones from Texas wildflower honey, Mission figs and raw sugar. Still to come this winter is a Scotch-like malted barley whiskey.

Balcones owner Chip Tate built his distillery system from scratch with his two-person crew in an old warehouse in the shadow of the 17th Street railroad bridge. He started distilling after getting his license late last year. Tate has been a dedicated homebrewer for 18 years and has spent the past two years learning the science of distilling, including an apprenticeship in Scotland.

But Texas is his inspiration and his target market.

“We’re using very traditional methods to distill this stuff,” he said. “But we’re very proud to be a Texas distillery. This is what it makes sense to do. Why shouldn’t there be a whiskey that’s good with barbecue?”

Balcones’ liquors are now available in Waco at Waco Bar Supply, Dicorte’s and River Bend liquor stores, costing about $40 for a fifth, Tate said. They’re also available by the glass at the Green Room Grille, Diamondback’s and Treff’s.

“I think it’s a good product, and it’s going to sell great in the Waco area,” Green Room Grille owner Davin High- tower said. “I have customers who told me they’re waiting to come to the Green Room to try it.”

Hightower said the liquor should have hometown appeal, especially since the distillery is only 10 blocks away from his restaurant on Austin Avenue.

The distillery can’t sell its products retail but can offer samples on its tours, which can be arranged by appointment. Information on the distillery is available at www.balconesdistilling .com.

Tate and his crew make everything from raw ingredients, creating a mash that ferments into a beer, then running it through copper stills that condense the steam into more concentrated alcoholic liquor. The liquors are then aged in small oak barrels.

Tate said his first two products are unique, and not just because of where they’re made. Baby Blue is the first blue corn whiskey anywhere, he said. To make one 96-proof bottle requires two pounds of toasted blue cornmeal bought from Hopi farmers in New Mexico. Compared with mass market blue corn, the real thing is richer both in color and taste, he said.

Tate said Baby Blue should appeal to bourbon drinkers, since bourbon is at made from least 51 percent corn mash. Following an early American tradition, he decided to make it purely from corn, with no wheat or rye.

“We call it corn whiskey because we want you to taste the corn,” he said. “If you ask people what they know about corn whiskey, they either don’t know or they think moonshine.”

Rumble is more difficult to categorize, but Tate hopes it will appeal to both the novice drinker and the more open-minded aficionados.

“It’s a play on rum but not really a rum,” he said. “It’s between rum and brandy, with single malt and tequila notes.”

Rumble isn’t notably sweet but has a honeyed and slightly smoky aroma. Tate said just smelling the liquors is a pleasant experience.

“We sell a consumable fragrance,” he said.

Tate said a lot of hard work and expensive ingredients go into each bottle.

“If I’m going to do this, it’s got to start with the best, most flavorful ingredients,” he said. “We didn’t do this to compromise. There are a lot easier ways to make money.”