A drink with… Jared Himstedt, Balcones
As Texas distillery Balcones celebrates 10 years of operation, its head distiller talks about experimentation in American whiskey.
How did you become involved in the drinks industry?
It was kind of an accident. Right out of college, I started getting into home brewing beer, and a friend bought me some brewing equipment as a wedding gift. Soon, I realised I was spending a lot of time and money on exploring that hobby and, in the end, I left my job to open a craft beer bar.
Where did your interest in whisky come from?
I never really liked whisky too much. But a friend got me some Ardbeg, and suddenly it was like: ‘Oh, now I get it.’ So it went from discovering Ardbeg to pretty much devouring any Islay whisky I could find.
How has the whisky landscape changed since you launched Balcones?
There’s a voracious appetite for trying whisky and exploring it; it’s great to see where consumer interest has gone. Consumers want to ask questions about entry proof, pH and fermentation. We have much more informed, educated and committed consumers.
How has Balcones changed in the past 10 years?
We have more people in the warehouse today than we had in the whole company nine years ago. It’s difficult to go from very small scale to double or triple the staff and the output. Logistics and the day-to-day running of the business can make it feel different but I know what my priorities are. You’ve got to stay connected to the reasons that drew you to the job in the first place.
What is one thing you’ve learned in the past 10 years that you’ll take into the next decade?
The whole process has always been to try something, see what the result is, then try something else. So for me, that spirit of exploration and discovery has always been a part of our in-house culture. That feels like what the next 10 or 20 years need to be about.
You recently moved into your new distillery: how does the new site compare with the old one?
It’s great; we have larger equipment and more control, and that has blown the doors wide open for us. Our fermenters at the old building didn’t have a temperature control, so ester profiles, mouthfeel and body were varying massively at different times of the year because we had to use an air conditioner to set the fermentation temperatures. Now, we can do legitimate research and can control variables.
How will you celebrate the 10th anniversary?
We have 10 new releases; it’ll be sharing a bit of our research and development. They are all things we haven’t done before or that we haven’t released before. We’ll have our first multigrain mash bill, a wheat Bourbon, a wheat whiskey, a 100% rye and we started playing about with peated Golden Promise barley. We had some barrels made out of Texas live oak and those are ready, and we’ve had a go at the traditional finishing stuff. We haven’t completely finalised the list but there are so many things to pick from.
What will the next decade hold for Balcones?
I hope the exploration and discovery aspect will continue; that’s why it’s still fun and interesting to me. The tweaks will continue to get subtler over time. So now, it might be more drastic things, like a cask finish, but soon it might be something consumers never know that we played with, like fermentation temperatures. I don’t ever feel like we’re really done with anything that we make; we’re constantly playing with products. We’re always trying to find new ways to make them; some of it is for efficiency and some of it is looking at how we can enhance the elements we’ve always loved about these products.