Balcones Whiskey Dinner February 12, 2011

Chip Tate in front of his hand built still at Balcones Distillery, Waco, Texas

Texas is the home to a number of new craft distillers of high quality spirits, Tito's Vodka, Paula's Orange to name a few. The Turtle Restaurant and Enoteca make a point of serving our great state's home brews, wines and spirits. We're here to help you discover the best that Texas offers in the way of food and drink as we welcome Balcones Baby Blue and Rumble to our spirits of Texas shelf.

Balcones Distillery is located under a bridge in Waco, Texas and is the closest distillery to Brownwood. Released in 2009, Baby Blue not the moonshine often associated with corn whiskey in the little brown jug. “Most of the stuff that’s marketed as corn whiskey on the shelf is junk,” Tate says during an Edible Austin interview. “We’re not just trying to make whiskey in Texas; we’re trying to make Texas whiskey. We are trying to create a tradition.”

Chip built his distillery system from scratch with a two-person crew in an old Waco warehouse under the shadow of the 17th Street railroad bridge. His stills are self built instruments with which he creates his spirits as a composer creates a symphony, layers of taste evoking memoeries and emotions. Chip was a dedicated homebrewer for 18 years then spent two years learning the art and science of distilling, including an apprenticeship in Scotland. His philisophy is learn from tthe best, use the best ingrediants, make the best spirits, do your best.

To make a unique and outstanding product, Tate imports Hopi blue corn from New Mexico. While he could purchase generic corn for 15¢ a pound, Tate insists the blue corn is worth the $1.60 price tag. “I just wanted the best corn,” he says. “It’s a question of flavor.”

Tate speeds up the maturation process by using much smaller barrels than other distilleries. “Our stuff is typically about four months old,” he notes, “which is about the equivalent of five to seven years in a larger barrel.” This is because there is more barrel surface available to each cubic centimeter of liquid and because of the atmospheric conditions in the distillery. For a more detailed explination, talk to Chip.

Baby Blue customers can be found coast to coast and in London, surrounded by coasts. Balcones Distillery won a double gold medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition which just confirms what we already know, that Baby Blue, Texas first whiskey since prohibition is first in taste.

Baby Blue, as well as their small barrel-aged fruit brandy, Rumble have become staples for bartenders in Texas' capital, like Tipsy Texan’s David Alan, who says that Baby Blue’s unusual flavors make it fun and challenging to work with. (Attention! David Alan will appear at The Turtle Enoteca on February 24 as a guest bartender. David is a master bartender and teacher) Lara Nixon, also a member of the Tipsy Tech teaching team and Balcones Distillery brand ambassador agrees. “The blue corn is delicate and complicated,” she says. “I like bright flavors and products that build on, and enhance, the blue corn properties. For example, lemon, cherries, oranges and blueberries . . . those are bright, fresh flavors that open up the blue-corn taste.”

Lara won the 2009 Edible Austin Drink Local Cocktail Contest with her Baby Blue-infused entry, We’re in It for the Corn (click to see the recipe). We are considering serving a taste of her cocktail with the chef's canapes as guest arrive or perhaps something new. Lara will be here at The Turtle along with Chip and his wife to meet and educate our guests about Balcones Distillery spirits. You will get to taste an early version of Baby Blue to compare with the significantly improved Baby Blue being bottled in 2011. Chip will also bring some Brimstone, a newly unvailed smokey whiskey to taste as a special bonus. This is Chips' version of "scotch" only instead of peat smoke we taste bar b que smoke destined to become an iconic spirit for Texan cuisine. (At least that's my thought)

We'll finish up with a taste of Rumble with or after dessert. Rumble will most certainly be IN the dessert. Dessert makers out there listen up, Rumble is a wonderful flavoring agent for all kinds of sweets. “It’s a play on rum but not really a rum,” says Chip. “It’s between rum and brandy, with single malt and tequila notes.” Rumble isn’t overly sweet but has a honeyed and slightly smokey aroma. “We sell a consumable fragrance,” says Tate. Smell is in fact the major part of the way something tastes. We eat with our eyes first, then our nose while our taste buds just confirm the first two senses. Rumble is in a category of it's own. Not a rum but almost a brandy. Rumble is distilled from Texas Wildflower Honey, Mission Figs and Demarara Sugar.

Here's the menu:

Chef's choice of canapes

First course: Chestnut gnocchi with smoked bacon, roasted garlic, wilted greens and veal jus (vegetarian option available)

Main course: choice of - Steak au poivre with potato and fennel gratin, wild mushrooms and brandy-mustard sauce
Duet of roasted duck breast and duck confit with mole sauce, wild rice pilaf

Dessert: assorted whiskey filled chocolates and Balcones Rumble Cake

$65.00 per person includes approximately four shots of various styles of distilled spirits from Balcones Distillery, a cocktail taste, coffee and tea. Plan to spend at least two hours over dinner and tastings. Seatings at 6:00, 6:30 and 7:00. Dinner without spirits is $40.00 Reservations can be made over the phone 325-646-8200 or on line The Turtle Restaurant is located at 514 Center Avenue, Brownwood, Texas