Waco’s Whiskey Wizard

Balcones head distiller Jared Himstedt on making a pour that captures the spirit of Texas


Himstedt amid barrels resting at the Waco distillery.

Age: 46

Home base: Waco, Texas

Known for: Released in 2009, Balcones Distilling’s Baby Blue whiskey, made with roasted blue corn, was the first Texas-made whiskey legally sold in the state since Prohibition. Head distiller Jared Himstedt has since expanded the distillery’s experiments to craft bourbons, ryes, rums, and single-malt whiskeys with a sense of place.

Different by design: “Smaller distilleries will sometimes apologize that their bourbon doesn’t taste like it comes from Kentucky or Tennessee, but that’s why it’s useful. It has a voice and a perspective to add to the conversation. It has a reason to exist.”

Sip of Texas: “A lot of our flavors center on the character of Texas and how to communicate that, not just by using locally grown ingredients. With Brimstone, our smoked whiskey, we use post oak and scrub oak. Like a Texas brisket, it’s a very specific flavor.”

Liberating history: “The biggest thing about making whiskey in Texas is the climate—the temperature swings, the dryness, the elevation. We talked to many Scotch and Kentucky bourbon guys and kept running up against the fact that nobody knew the answers to many of the questions we had. The absence of a two-hundred-year-old history could feel terrifying, but for us, it’s freeing.”

Beating the heat: “I get calls from distillers all over the world in places where it’s warmer than it used to be. Their products are changing, and they don’t know what to do about it. We’re making whiskey in a place that behaves very differently from most regions, and it’s starting to become helpful to a lot of other folks in the industry as it’s getting hotter farther north.”

Try, try again: “When I worked with clay in college, we talked a lot about getting familiar with the material. You have to try a lot of things and see how it behaves before you can get an idea of how to make the most of it.”

What’s in a grain? “We’ve played around with a lot of corn varieties in our bourbon mash bills. We’ve got some Oaxacan green corn, and we just laid down some pink stuff. We’re far from figuring out how these different corn varieties affect a bourbon’s profile.”

Rock on: “It never ends if you stay curious. I’ll be long done, sitting in a rocking chair on a front porch somewhere, before we’re remotely finished with the things we want to try.”