Everyone in this industry needs to remember that we are doing way more than whisky, and other people are incorporating what we make into some of the most important moments of their lives.
Can you give us a bit of background about yourself and how you started in the whiskey industry?
I was homebrewing beer for about 10 years before becoming interested in whiskey. Home brewing is very DIY, and we applied the same approach to distilling, so we were always asking what do we do next, but the next thing you know we had a distillery!
I previously did studio ceramics and was in social work and even opened a bar for a while, planning on brewing beer there (at the bar), but realized we didn’t really have the space to pull it off. We read as much as we could to learn about distilling, we talked to as many others within the industry as we could as far as learning distilling.
We kind of pride ourselves on the fact that we learned as we went. I think people that are paying attention, and diligent with their experimentation can learn a lot with direct experience.
Can you tell us about your distillery,
and what makes it unique?
The use of Scottish (Forsyths) pot stills, even for our American Whiskey styles, was pretty unique when we started. Also, again, something probably more common now that wasn’t when we started was that we made single malts in the U.S.
When we started there was no Texas whiskey being made, so maturing in this area was a huge question mark. It’s a very different maturation climate than the traditional whiskey regions of the world. But now with whisky from Taiwan and India, with similar climate to ours, the conversation about whiskey from more extreme climates is more fleshed out.
Are there any little ‘distilling’ secrets you can let us in on?
One of the things we played with early on was fermentation time. We did some experiments but found trying to rush the fermentation wasn’t working for us.
Longer fermentation and lower final pH levels work better with the Texas climate for the maturation process to even out the oxidative parts of maturation and keep the ester formation at pace with the wood extraction.
Whiskey has been phenomenally successful
in the United States and around the planet,
why do you think this is compared to other spirits?
I am no booze historian, yet the easy answer is whisky is delicious. I can’t understand why it wasn’t as big in past decades with people.
But more seriously, Whiskey has somehow been able to be both mysterious and yet pedestrian. You can throw some Bourbon or Scotch on the rocks, or with Coke, or you can purchase some exotic bottle that you only drink neat. It just has such a broad appeal.
In your years in the industry, what have been the biggest surprises you have faced?
Some of the biggest things I didn’t see coming, were how many distilleries have popped up since we started.
Also, how the bigger the industry got; the more difficult things became. You start making the whiskey and seeing the business grow, which means hiring people who know marketing and get feet out on the street to get your brand on store shelves and backbars.
What are the big trends that are affecting the whiskey industry at the moment?
The ones I am most involved with these days, and most aware of, are the proliferation of single malts globally. American Single Malt is really having a powerful moment and gaining both recognition and momentum.
Closer to home is the birth & growth of Texas whiskey. It is truly exciting that in my lifetime I am getting the chance to participate in the beginnings of two brand new and flourishing whisky styles.
Are there any interesting stories from your time in the whiskey industry that you could share?
I was pouring whiskey at an event for an American gent who had married a Scottish girl, and whose Scottish father-in-law was residing in Texas, but was very ill in hospital. The father had heard of a single malt whiskey being made in Texas, so he sent his son-in-law out to find this Balcones single malt and bring it back to him. He found it, brought it back to his father-in-law in the hospital, and they would share little nips in the evenings every night.
Since the father-in-law was Scottish, he was deemed the whiskey expert of the two men, and he really liked it. When the older man passed away, they found that the bottle still had some whiskey left in it, so the family would share it in memory of him from time to time.
It shows that we are making more than just whiskey, but are affecting moments in people’s lives. I think everyone in this industry needs to remember that we are doing way more than whiskey, and other people are incorporating what we make into some of the most important moments of their lives. We get to be the stewards of something that is very meaningful to people.
What developments in the whiskey industry most excite you?
I don’t like getting hoarse from all the talking that I do, but I do enjoy the whiskey events around the world and trying all the other whiskey to see what others have been doing. We get very excited about this since we get to try all that whiskey, all in one place, all at one time. It is also interesting to see what folks are doing with new strains of grain as well.
What do you see as being the future of whiskey in the short term?
Well, obviously, the Covid-19 stuff is throwing everyone’s expectations out the window. I do see continued growth, but with some hiccups because of recent events. There should still be growth, though perhaps slowed down more than we thought.
There will also be a big loss among distilleries, especially with those that never had a good stronghold in the marketplace to begin with.
Why do you use the Glencairn Glass in your business and what makes it so special?
It may not be true, but Andy Davidson told us that we were one of his first American distilleries to carry the glass. Many people think of The Glencairn Glass as just a nosing glass, while others think it is just to drink from, but for me it is the most well-rounded glass there is on the market.
We have them all over the distillery – in the tasting room, in the still room, the nosing room. In fact, they are the glasses that we use for any sensory evaluation, be it in the bar, at the stills to make cuts, or in blending.
Visit the Balcones Distillery website here
Hear from other whisky distillers
“While working with great Master Distillers and Blenders over the years, I’ve honed my skills to continually raise the bar with each new product and batch. There are no ‘Masters’ here per se; we’re just talented people striving every day to better ourselves and our craft. I like to say that we’re making whiskeys in a small way, for a big world.”
“I had already been in the restaurant business with my brother Paul for 10 years, then we decided to open our own distillery. We started the whole process in 2009, in 2010 we incorporated & by 2011 we opened the doors.”
“ I was always a fan of whiskey as well as very attuned to the fruit aromas of various wood.”