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A Look Into the Art of Balcones Distilling’s Award-Winning Whiskey Blending

The team of the Waco-based distillery bottles the liquid gold after an intense blending process.
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Balcones Distillery in Waco. Balcones Distilling

Whiskey-making requires a bunch of “-tions.” There’s fermentation, distillation, and maturation. In Texas, where whiskey distilling is in its adolescence, meteorology is thrown into the mix. The state’s whiplashing climate causes barrels to breathe at an accelerated rate, a variable Waco-based Balcones Distilling has embraced since its 2008 founding.

But then there’s whiskey blending. Blending is different. Blending is art, especially when it’s done the “Balcones way.”

“Blending is like a puzzle you have to put together,” Waco’s Balcones Distilling blender Emma Crandall says. “It’s a unique kind of challenge. It’s taking all these pieces and trying to build something new from them, and figuring out how the barrels work together and how the barrels don’t work together.”

Blending is the creative process of selecting aged casks and combining them. It is the process that creates the flavor outcome. Balcones Distilling is one of the first distillers to begin producing whiskey in Texas. The prized craft distillery began distilling in 2009 in an old welding shop-turned hand-built distillery.

In 2016, they expanded to the 65,000-square-foot historic Texas Fireproof Storage Building, producing super-premium and above premium whiskeys, including seven year-round spirits. For Balcones Distilling, blending is the step that requires the team to show up wholly. 

“Balcones has always had a very different kind of compelling semi-avant-garde approach to how we do stuff,” Balcones Distilling spirits manager Gabriel RiCharde says. 

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The whiskeys at Balcones. Balcones Distilling

The blending process at the craft distiller is a process completed at a table of whiskey samples pulled from different casks. The whiskeys “walk” the blenders through a journey. Before diving into sniffing and tasting, the team reads poetry and prose. They reflect on their individual mental, physical, and spiritual states followed by intention setting. It is a “centering” process that upholds the “why” of whiskey making.

“Being able to step into a space and see your co-workers choose to be vulnerable with each other and open themselves like that to get in this headspace to work on creating a blend together, it’s really powerful,” Crandall says. 

The centering is vital to the final product. It allows the team to be receptive to the whiskey’s aromas, complexity, depth, layers, and finish. The finished product is a bottle of the finest whiskey the team can be proud of. To them, a bottle of whiskey is more than just a spirit. 

“People will take what we blend, and they’ll take it into their homes, and they will share it with their friends and family,” Crandall says. “They will celebrate with it, they will mourn with it. Stories will be told over a glass of it. It is so much more than just a beverage. It is so creative and focuses on people and storytelling.”

In 2023, Balcones Distilling celebrated 15 years. The anniversary was sweetened with an outpouring of accolades including winning New Orleans Spirits Competition’s whisky of the year and New York International Spirits’ Texas American single malt distillery of the year. This year, Balcones Distilling was crowned Icons of Whiskey America 2024’s craft producer of the year. 

Along with making memories, Balcones Distilling is making history. 

“Bourbon has been doing this for 150, 200 years, scotch has been doing it for four or 500 years,” RiCharde says. “Texas is just getting started, and by no means are we done.”

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