The world wants more Waco whiskey, and Balcones Distilling is ready to oblige.
The distillery is preparing for the arrival of a second set of four-story copper stills, now in transit on a ship from Scotland, that will allow it to double production capacity. The stills will be lowered by crane into the existing distillery room next month.
In the meantime, Balcones is suspending tours until April but is expanding tasting opportunities at the facility at 225 S. 11th St.
Once the work is complete, the distillery will be able to produce up to 90,000 cases of spirits a year, helping Balcones to catch up with pent-up demand across the country.
Balcones opened its $15 million new facility a year ago. The first liquor from the new facility, the lightly aged Baby Blue corn whiskey, is now on the market. Rumble and Texas single malt from the South 11th Street site should be available this summer.
Balcones CEO Keith Bellinger said the company has been working with retailers to improve reliability of its supplies.
“One of the things we did over a year ago was to realize we were spreading ourselves too thin,” he said. “We retrenched and refocused on what we call our own — the Texas market. There’s a considerably higher percentage going into the state of Texas, and we’re starting to reap the benefits. People in Waco are able to find it a lot easier.”
In Waco, Balcones is available at several bars and liquor stores, including the Spec’s and Twin Liquors chains. Twin Liquors on Bosque Boulevard currently has a large display of Baby Blue by the counter.
“It’s been very popular,” said Ethan Ham, a warehouse assistant manager for Twin Liquors. “People call from out of town to see if we have it.”
He said in addition to the quality that has been recognized with awards and media attention, Balcones appeals to state pride.
“It’s from Texas, and people care about Texas,” he said.
The distillery’s gift shop also sells a range of Balcones spirits and started this month offering hourly tastings on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, with a “flight” of samples costing $10.
“We started last weekend, and the reception was very good,” Bellinger said. “We’re upset we can’t give the tour right now, but this seemed like a fair compromise.”
The Balcones store and tasting room has drawn about 1,500 visitors since it opened in November.
“It’s been a good mix of people,” distillery ambassador Winston Edwards said. “A lot come from out of town, people day-tripping to see the distillery or coming to Waco for Magnolia (Market). But a good portion is also local.”
Among the Balcones pilgrims this week was Tim Gregg, a Branson, Missouri, country singer. Though the store is closed on Monday, a sympathetic employee let him in to buy some merchandise.
“I was coming to Texas to do some shows, and I said, ‘We got to stop in Waco to go to Balcones,’ ” he said.
Edwards said now that Balcones’ supply has become more dependable, the company has hired new employees to build business at bars and stores in Dallas, Austin, Houston and San Antonio.
“Some retailers are still a little gun-shy, but they’re starting to wake up and see that you can actually put it out on the shelf and not hide it in the cabinet in back,” he said.