Balcones Distilling has released the blue corn whiskey it's always intended to make, but head distiller Chip Tate's been too busy fixing broken equipment to tell too many folks about it.
Asked whether the cask strength spirit has been well-received, Tate says: "It has, and it hasn't. Every person who's tasted it really likes it. They'll say 'Damn, I've got to get a bottle of this. When's it's coming out?' And I tell them it is out."
True Blue was officially released in June, but Tate hasn't yet written a press release, and suspects a few retailers were keeping it off their shelves until after August 31, when a biannual floor tax is assessed. According to Tate, liquor dealers like to deplete their inventories in advance of the tax.
But, now that it's September, Tate's hoping more fans of Baby Blue -- the blue corn whiskey released last fall by the Waco-based distiller -- will track down a bottle of the undiluted stuff.
"It's a deep, gutsy, soulful expression of blue corn," Tate says. "There's something really intense and robust about undiluted."
Whiskey-making's hard on small distillers, because it requires years of aging. Distillers typically don't see a profit for years after they've barreled their first batch; dilution's handy because it allows distillers to stretch their early product and start selling. When a distiller has enough quality whiskey to release a cask-strength version, it qualifies as "a milestone," Tate says.
But dilution's not a cheat: Some connoisseurs prefer a softer spirit such as the Baby Blue, which is bottled at a ratio of one part water to four parts whiskey. While True Blue presents a fabulously smoky, peaty, layered flavor, Baby Blue has a clean taste of corn.
"One of the reasons I still like Baby Blue is the masa comes through," Tate says. "It's like the question of whether fancy polenta or simple polenta is better. It's just different."
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Tate adds the distillery crew has always preferred the undiluted version.
"We'd take whatever barrels we'd pick, mark them with a Sharpie marker, and that'd be what we'd sit around and drink," Tate says.
True Blue, Baby Blue and Rumble -- a "unique Texas spirit" made with honey, figs and sugar -- are available at Centennial, Goody Goody, Kindred Spirits, Monticello, Perry's Liquor and Spirits Liquor Co. Tate reports he's had a tougher time winning over drinkers in Dallas than in Houston and Austin, where whiskey lovers are more experimental.
"You get a different vibe in every market," Tate says with a sigh. "Dallas is pretty sure they've got stuff all figured out."