As it’s July 4th, it only makes sense to put a focus on American whiskey, and this year our Official Whisky of July 4th on GreatDrams is Balcones, which was also one of the first American whiskeys to massively pique my interest back in the day.
To celebrate Independence Day, and their tenth anniversary of opening, I spoke to Jared Himstedt – Head Distiller, Balcones Distilling – who is based in Waco, Texas about all things whisky, Balcones, his distilling philosophy and other Whiskies he enjoys. Here goes!
GreatDrams: What have you seen as your influences since coming on board?
I think most of my influences come from outside whisky. From the DIY ethics of punk rock, to training in ceramics, building bicycles, sewing, cooking…I think the idea of making things and making them well has been formative. I have always wanted to be a maker, and have tried to always be diligent and committed to whatever craft I am working in. Once that turned into a love of beer and brewing, then later a love for whisky, it was a matter of time before making whisky and making it meticulously and intentionally was to follow.
GreatDrams: What is Balcones’ place in the whisky world? Does it stand for anything different in your mind?
I think Balcones is a great example of whisky made with a lot of thought, experimentation, and innovation. We have been fortunate to have our whisky so well received over the years, even when we were just getting started. Every decision we make about new expressions or process make so much sense to us along the way, even when the end result is seen as experimental or innovative.
GreatDrams: What unique elements of the process contribute to the flavour? Are there any production quirks?
For one, we use really high quality starting ingredients. There are cheaper options out there that have higher alcohol yields, but we have always been committed to using the ones that taste best. We do cooler and much longer (7 day) fermentations, to reduce yeast stress, affect final pH, and therefore potential ester formation. Our barrels are also quite unique – 3 year yard aged, variety of oak species with a several toast and char profiles, custom stave count and thickness, etc. We have worked hard over the years to have all the process variables compliment our somewhat intense and unique maturation climate that gives us very fast wood extraction.
GreatDrams: What’s next for the brand and where do you want the brand and range to be in the next ten years?
I think we want to keep doing what we’ve always done, which is to make great whiskies that we love and share those with others. It is a joy and privilege to get to do what we do for work. We will keep doing research, fine tuning our products, coming up with new expressions, and hopefully spend a lifetime exploring and learning all the richness and nuance that goes into distilling world-class whisky.
GreatDrams: Your favourite Balcones product? And your favourite non-Balcones whisky / whiskey?
It’s always hard to pick a favourite, my usual answer is whatever we have been working on most recently. Our 100% Rye that we recently released (being release in the UK in the autumn) is a current favourite, although if I had to pick a desert island product of ours it would be our Single Malt. I have been a malt fan from the start, and I would have to go with that. I love a lot of other distilleries, but am particularly enjoying Glendronach at the moment.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Jared for his time and wish not only him but the Balcones Distillery and team well on their tenth anniversary and for the next decade and beyond.