Man wants whiskey distillery in Waco

October 12, 2008 10:06:25 PM PDT
Chip Tate hopes to join the ranks of the less than a dozen distillers operating in Texas by producing small-batch whiskey reminiscent of scotch in Waco. Last week, the 33-year-old applied for state and federal licenses to start a distillery.

There are only nine Texas distillers in operation, including a bourbon maker. The oldest distiller is Tito's Vodka of Austin and it's only 11 years old.

Tate said his company, the Balcones Distillery, will use Scottish techniques and peated malt, but his products will have a regional flair.

"We're drawing on a lot of old traditions, but this will be a Texas whiskey. We're not apologetic about that," he told the Waco Tribune-Herald for its Sunday editions. "We're hoping to be the original Texas whiskey. ... I think it will be something that both bourbon and scotch drinkers will like."

Tate also plans to sell a liquor called Rumble, which is similar to rum but contains Mission figs, Texas wildflower honey and turbinado sugar.

"It will have a honey aroma, some floral and buttery notes, but it's not sweet," he said. "I don't know of anyone selling it."

Waco-based Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission Lt. Tom Dickson said the burgeoning of the handmade spirits industry reminds him of the Texas wine boom of 10 or 15 years ago.

He said that in the last four years, the number of wineries has more than doubled, from 64 to 132, producing 2.52 million gallons of wine a year.

Meanwhile, eight of the nine distilleries have started since 2003.

Austin-based Tito's Handmade Vodka sells some 200,000 12-bottle cases a year, with half the sales made in Texas. But Jenna Popiel, Tito's Texas manager, said that getting started was "very, very difficult." Tito Beveridge, the founder and owner, started the company by maxing out 19 credit cards.

Tate, who has experience working at a brewery in Indiana, has also worked as an insurance specialist and a Baylor college administrator. He owns Tate Technologies in Waco, a technological consultant to higher education agencies.

He studied distilling and passed a three-day exam to become an associate member the International Guild of Brewing and Distilling. Last summer, he worked at a distillery in Bruichladdich, Scotland. He has a major investment partner, a friend from Austin, plus financing from Community Bank and Trust of Waco.

"You've got a guy with industry knowledge coming in with good financial backing, so it was an easy loan to make. I think it will work because it's small. He's not jumping in and trying to be the biggest distillery from day one," said Ben Lacy, a vice president at Community Bank who made the loan.

"The number of people who appreciate good whiskey has increased," he said. "The whiskey boom is growing. Fifteen years ago, whiskey and vodka were old men again, and there

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