Experiences mean everything when visiting a distillery here in Kentucky. My first distillery tour was a memorable one for certain, but unfortunately at the time I had no idea what was about to take place. It was an overcast day in Clermont driving into the long driveway of one of the most iconic bourbon brands distillery. I was meeting one of Jim Beam’s Whiskey Professors David Mays to join them on a press tour, tasting and luncheon with Fred Noe, 6th generation Master Distiller for the company. I had no idea at the time, the magnitude of what I was about to experience.
On my last visit to Dallas I had the opportunity to visit Balconies Distillery located in Waco, Texas. From the second I drove up to the building, I wondered if I made a bad decision. From the outside the distillery reminded me of an abandoned warehouse in West Oakland. The distillery is located on a fairly run down side street where parking is limited, and homeless people preside. I was a little uneasy leaving my rental car parked across the street, but decided to take my chances.
I walked through their front door, which unveiled a beautifully barrel themed lobby. The walls proudly displayed their most recent awards. Unfortunately there was not a greeter at the desk, so I was a bit confused as to where I needed to be. I followed the noise around the corner, and was greeted by a friendly staff member. She explained the tasting options, fees, and how I could buy a bottle of their whiskies when I was finished. As a sales person myself, I appreciated the pre-sell technique, however I needed to taste first.
The tasting bar was ridiculously packed, and everyone was extremely busy. It took a little while to get a bartender’s attention, but eventually I was given a sheet listing my tasting options, and a small clip board listing prices of each tasting, and signature cocktails.
I ordered a flight featuring two American Whiskies and one Single Malt. I was handed a pre-poured flight which struck me as odd, and after giving the bartender my credit card was sent on my way. Absolutely zero communication, not even the gratuitous “welcome to…” courtesy.
I was extremely disappointed the flight did not come with an explanation about each whiskey, stories about the distillery’s history, and production size, since I was sent off to taste on my own. I found a seat against the wall, and decided to let my phone assist with my tasting. I proceeded to look up tasting notes on line for each expression to guide me along. I feel extremely sorry for any newbie that comes into Balconies Distillery. They will go out of there just as confused as they were coming in.
That being said, the intent of this trip was to review Balconies Whiskies, so here it goes. The whiskies I chose for review were Baby Blue, Rye 100, and “1” Texas Single Malt. Below are the distillery tasting notes along with my comments about each expression.
This was my first bourbon distillery tour, and I was extremely lucky to have been ushered around the facilities, learning about bourbon production, and tasting from the mash tubs with Fred! Although at the time it was a lot of information to absorb, I was in awe of everything around me. At the end of the tour (and corn mash snack) I got to sit next to Fred at the amazingly beautiful Knob Creek House for lunch. It was at this moment I realized how down to earth even legendary people were in Kentucky. There I sat next to one of the most recognized distillers in the world, and he talked with all of us as if we were dear old friends.
Six Kentucky trips later nothing has changed except for a few shuffles of distillers who have retired such as Jim Rutledge from Four Roses and Ken Pierce from Barton. Even with the continued growth in bourbon popularity personal attention and time is dedicated to each individual who visits each distillery.
Many of our readers have no doubt visited wine country numerous times. Wineries in Napa and Sonoma are breathtakingly beautiful, and each has their own unique charm. If you are lucky you will encounter a friendly yet knowledge staff member during your tasting, however it can often be hit or miss especially if you visit during the weekend! Although the distilleries in Kentucky are not as accessible as the wineries are in wine country, you will not be disappointed at the high level of friendliness and expertise of staff as you visit each distillery. And just like the
wineries, each distillery has its own personality. An necessary experience for all to enjoy!
To find out more information visit the Kentucky Bourbon Trail website.