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Ironroot Republic Distillery Tour

Ironroot Republic Distillery Tour

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After covering the brother’s unconventional beginnings into distilling, we next learned about their unique distilling and aging practices. Robert explained that in the course of their training, they had met veteran master blender Nancy Fraley and world renowned french brandy maker, Huber Germain-Robin. The brothers were well aware that their whiskey would be something different. After all, Kentucky whiskey isn’t going to be made in Texas. What they weren’t sure of was exactly what processes to employ. So with Fraley and Germain-Robin working as consultants the brothers began to forge their own path.

Evan Williams Bourbon Experience Review

Evan Williams Bourbon Experience
528 West Main St
Louisville, KY 40202
Phone: (502) 272-2623

Welcoming Visitors Since November 2013

The Evan Williams Bourbon Experience has been welcoming visitors to Louisville’s Whiskey Row since November 2013. The Shapira family, owners of Heaven Hill Distillery in Bardstown, had wanted to bring a visitor experience to Louisville. The company’s first foray into bourbon tourism was the Bourbon Heritage Center which opened at their Bardstown facility in 2006. Surprisingly, to find a space in Louisville they had to look no further than their own backyard, so to speak. It turns out that 528 Main St. had been under their proprietorship since 1945.

The property even had its own whiskey history. Built in 1871, the tall townhome measures out a mere 27 feet in width, however the 5 stories, in addition to the basement, ensured adequate space. The Phil. Hollenbach Co moved its cooperate office to this location in 1911. Hollenbach juggled numerous occupations from whiskey blender, rectifier, and distributor to wine merchant and importer. He was even the first to distribute Anheuser-Busch in Louisville. A storefront on “whiskey row” helped to assure his company’s continued success.

The Evan Williams Bourbon Experience Review
The Evan Williams Bourbon Experience

Prohibition Brings Unwelcome Change To Louisville

Prohibition, along with the Great Depression, however brought unwelcome change. While the Hollenbach Company survived, “whiskey row” mostly disappeared after prohibition. According to bourbon historian Michael Veach, American lifestyles were changing. For example, with the increased availability of the automobile along with drivable roads, it no longer was important for a business to have an office in downtown Louisville. As a result, by 1945, the former home of the Phil. Hollenbach Co. had a new owner.

Long before their dabbling in whiskey making however, these new owners had been in the dry goods business. The Shapira family had purchased the Louisville building to serve as a warehouse, distribution hub, and office space for their chain of junior department stores. Fast forward 75 years or so and while the junior department stores have ceased to exist, Heaven Hill Distillery continues to thrive, remaining family owned and operated.

Who Is This Evan Williams Anyway?

So who exactly was Evan Williams? He was a colonial distiller, of course. The former native of Wales relocated to Louisville in the early 1780’s and according to the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, by the late 1780’s Williams had set up and began operating Kentucky’s first commercial distillery in downtown Louisville. Furthermore, It turns out that distilling was just one of his many occupations. Williams served as wharf master of the bustling Louisville docks, an elected trustee for the city of Louisville, and as a master stone mason he oversaw the construction of the first jail and courthouse in Jefferson County.

Evan Williams History Sign
History of Evan Williams

Evan Williams Bourbon Introduced

Heaven Hill introduced his namesake bourbon brand in 1957. The Evan Williams brand would go on to become Heaven Hill’s top selling flagship bourbon. So it should be no shock that the company would choose to name their Louisville experience after this well-known whiskey making Louisvillian who set up shop near the banks of the Ohio River over 200 years ago.

Evan Williams Bourbon
Evan Williams Bourbon

The Evan Williams Bourbon Experience Becomes Louisville’s First Bourbon Tourist Attraction

The Evan Williams Bourbon Experience ushered in bourbon tourism to downtown Louisville by becoming the city’s first major bourbon tourist attraction. Three unique experiences are offered: The Traditional Tour & Tasting, The Speakeasy Tasting Experience, and The Ideal Bartender Experience. While the Traditional Tour & Tasting is offered daily with the exception of Mondays (the Experience is closed), The Ideal Bartender and The Speakeasy Tasting Experiences are much more limited, each being offered only Thursdays & Fridays and Saturdays & Sundays, respectively. All 3 experiences include a tasting. The Tours and Experiences generally last 45 minutes to an hour. The cost runs from $18 to $35.

Online reservations are definitely recommended and really are a must during the busy summer months. The Evan Williams Bourbon Experience is open Tuesday-Thursday from 11-5, Friday and Saturday from 10-5, and Sunday from 1-5. If a tour is not in the cards, check out the ON3 Bar. Yes, it’s ON the 3rd floor. ON3 serves up cocktails, individual pours and tasting flights from Heaven Hill’s vast lineup of bourbons. Talented mixologists, ours was Micah, create a varying array of delicious daily specialty cocktails. Micah and company are ready for your pour Tuesday-Sunday. ON3 follows the same operating hours as the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, but closes 30 minutes prior to the Experience at 4:30.

It’s All About History

All of the experiences at the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, but in particular The Traditional Tour and Tasting, focus on the past. In fact, history hogs much of the glory in this story. After all Evan Williams was a historical figure from the colonial days of Louisville. The tour tells the story of Williams and his namesake (the bourbon). Visitors also get a peek into the history of Louisville and how bourbon helped to shape the city through re-creations of the colonial riverfront and whiskey row spanning from the late 1800’s through prohibition.

But Wait! There’s An Artisanal Distillery Too!

And while history may be the star of the show, there is of course the discussion of bourbon. As the explanation of the bourbon making process takes place on the tour, a screen slowly rises unmasking its glass wall and revealing the Evan Williams’s artisianal distillery. Two Vendome copper hybrid pot stills stand proudly, gleaming as though they are only for show.

Rest assured, they are not just for show. We got a closer look at this amazing artisianal set up thanks to Assistant Artisanal Distillery Manager, James Cox. Our first stop was in the basement at the back of the building. The quarters were fairly tight, and housed the mash tun (cooker) and two closed fermenters. James explained that the lack of adequate space prohibits the use of an in-house mill, so as a result, the grains arrive in recyclable plastic tubs, milled and ready for duty. They are stored on the floor above and are transported down to the mash tun via a chute. The mash tun then cooks 750 gallon batches of grain and water once a day. When the cook is complete, it is then transferred to 1 of 4 fermenters, 2 in this room and 2 with the stills.

The Evan Williams Bourbon Experience Stills

Once fermentation is completed, in 3-5 days, the distillers beer moves on to those two lustrous looking hybrid pot stills. We made our way back to their location on the first floor. Here James shared that before his days as Assistant Artisanal Distillery Manager, it was his responsibility to keep those stills shining. Every week, he hand polished all that copper. Needless to say, James certainly does not seem to miss that chore.

Next we learned more about these 2 copper beauties. Both stills are hybrid stills, part pot and part column. The larger still is the stripping still. The process begins here. Once the mash moves through this first distillation , the liquid heads to the smaller finishing still and its final proof of 135-140. The new make is proofed down (water added) to 120-125 and barreled. All barrels are then transported to one of Heaven Hill’s many rickhouses in and around the Bardstown area.

As we wrapped up our time in the distillery, James left us with a few interesting facts. First, the stills operate 5 days a week and produce 1 barrel each day. Second, due to the small scale of each mash, the distillery has experimented with about 20 different mashbills. Lastly, in May of 2021, the Evan Williams distillery released its first bourbon produced onsite. Square 6 was a high rye bourbon and was sold almost exclusively at the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience gift shop. It’s safe to say there will certainly more to follow.

The Tour Concludes

Although the Traditional Tour & Tasting does not actually go through the distillery, if the timing is right, it’s possible to see the stills in action. The tour finishes up on the second floor and ends with the tasting in the 1950’s style bar, Max and Harry’s. Once the tasting is finished, the exit conveniently leads tour guests into the gift shop. The shop is well stocked with a variety of Evan Williams products and memorabilia.

Check Out The Evan Williams Bourbon Experience For Yourself!

Clearly the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience is more than just a history lesson. It’s history with a sizable pour of bourbon. The Shapira family’s trailblazing effort successfully introduced bourbon tourism to the city of Louisville. The building at 528 Main St. reminds us that history and bourbon had already been long acquainted in this riverside town. This experience will delight history and bourbon fans alike.

We hope you have enjoyed our Evan Williams Bourbon Experience Review! If you would like to learn more about Evan Williams’ flagship bourbon, check out our Evan Williams Bourbon Review! To help plan your visit, check out all of our Evan Williams Bourbon Experience Facts below.

Would you like to learn more about distilleries and bourbon? Are you planning a trip to Kentucky Distilleries? Maybe you would like to live the bourbon life vicariously through us?🙂 If any of these are true, then check out today!

Buy Bourbon Obsessed Hats & Glencairns

Evan Williams Bourbon Experience Facts

Days of operationTuesday-Thursday 11am-5pm
Friday & Saturday 10am-5pm
Sunday 1pm-5pm
Closed Monday & Tuesday
Paved Drive / LotNo Lot. There is some street parking, but it’s expensive. City parking lots are much more reasonable.
Motorcycle ParkingN/A
Motorcycle unfriendly featuresN/A
Number of tours per dayTraditional Tour & Tasting
Tour runs at the top of the hour & every 1/2 hour Fri-Sun
Speakeasy Tasting Exp.
Saturday & Sunday only
The Ideal Bartender Exp.
Thursday & Friday only
Length of Tour(s)Traditional Tour is 1 hour.
Both experiences are 45 minutes.
Advanced topic tours?No
Advanced topic tour namesN/A
Tours by owners /distillers available?No
Number of different types of tours3
On-Line Tour Reservations AvailableYes
Advanced Reservations Recommended/RequiredRecommended on weekends and during summertime
Cost for tour(s) in $Traditional Tour is $18
Speakeasy Experience is $25
Ideal Bartender Exp is $35
Tasting Included?Yes, for all 3 tours / experiences
Number of samples included in tasting4-5 depending on experience
Tasting Only Option?Yes, at the ON3 Bar
Tasting Only Option Cost$12-$25
High-end tasting option?Yes
High-end tasting option cost?$65-$80
Designated Driver OptionNo
Handicapped Accessible?Yes
Souvenirs included with tour?Yes. Both the Bartender and Speakeasy Experiences come with a take home souvenir.
Gift shopYes
On-Site bottle sales?Yes
On-site food: Restaurant/Cafe/SnacksNo
On-site Cocktail barYes. The ON3 Bar is located on the third floor.
On-site event spaceYes
Should I visit? (Yes, Perhaps, No)Definitely
Unique FeaturesUnique urban artisanal distillery. Experiences focus on history as well as bourbon
James B Beam Distilling Tour Review

Please enjoy our James B Beam Distilling Tour Review

568 Happy Hollow Rd
Clermont, KY 40110

The Jim Beam Story

The clock never stops ticking with regards to history and its stories. The stories that comprise the life and livelihood of the Beam family and bourbon are many; the first began some two hundred and twenty-seven years ago when farmer, Jacob Beam, distilled his excess corn and sold his first barrel of sour mash whiskey. A seemingly simple decision gave rise to a family legacy and a business empire.

So how does one barrel sold in 1795 lead to today’s 17 million and counting? Answers to this and much more are waiting to be discovered at the James B. Beam Distilling Company’s recently renovated visitor center, the American Outpost. The Outpost reopened in October 2021 after closing to visitors back in March 2020; first because of Covid-19, then to implement and complete a long planned renovation of the entire campus. 

The New Visitor Experience

The time off was worth the wait. Beam has created all new visitor experiences / tours. Bourbon enthusiasts can choose from tours, cocktail classes, tastings, warehouse education or a full distillery dive. For the Bourbon Obsessedsm, try the Behind the Beam with Fred and Freddie Noe. Once a month, this experience offers a VIP tour of the distillery, a guided tasting with the 7th and 8th generation of Beam master distillers, Fred Noe and son Freddie, and wraps up with lunch at the Beam Kitchen Table restaurant.

The James B. Beam American Outpost is open Wednesday-Saturday, 9am-5:30pm and Sunday, from 12-4:30pm. Winter months are less busy during the week, however weekend tours sell out regularly all year long. Online reservations are encouraged and can be made at Tickets vary in price depending on the experience. The 1 1/2 hour Beam Made Bourbon tour including a tasting is $22 plus tax and fees. Military visitors gain free admission with their military ID and while visitors under 21 are welcome on tours, tastings are for those who are 21+ only.

Take A Walk Through Beam History

Whether you’re booked for a tour or not, arrive at least 15 minutes before tour time. This allows time to check-in or to secure a spot and time to check out the wonderfully spacious James B. Beam American Outpost. An introduction to the history of the Beam family and bourbon begins on the walls of the Outpost. Through the magic of its digital display, the Beam family tree highlights the succession of Beam family master distillers. Also interesting is that the display includes the many other Beam family members who worked at various other distilleries over the years as well as those that currently do so.

Opposite the digital wall display, visitors get another reminder that while Jim Beam is a brand and a company, it is also a family. Photos of generations past and present line the wall along the staircase, as though it’s the family home. In a sense it is; the Beam family wants everyone to feel not just welcome, but part of the family. So much so, that at the bottom of the staircase, the Beam Foto booth offers folks the opportunity to commemorate their visit to the distillery with a photograph of their own. Visitors are even provided the opportunity to add their photograph to the Beam family’s wall.

Following our own advice, we arrived early, first checking in for our scheduled tour. Arriving early gave us the opportunity to check out the new space and discover the impressive family lineage, courtesy of the digital wall. Shortly thereafter we met Megan Breier, Experiential Programming & Education Manager (who made our visit possible), and our guide, Justin, and immediately set out for our introduction to everything Beam.

The James B Beam Distillery Tour

Our tour started at the beginning of the Beam Made Bourbon Tour. As we stepped inside the heavy industrial looking black doors marked “Beam Made Bourbon”, an enormous man-made waterfall overtook our senses. Over the roar of the rushing water, Justin explained that this room was designed to highlight the importance of the ingredients that make up the Beam brands of bourbons. Water, grain, and yeast are all crucial pieces of the puzzle and each of these had life-sized representation to view as Justin covered them one by one.

For example, a 1935 vintage Cadillac parked inside represents Beam’s same yeast strain since 1935. Hmm? How so? It’s interesting, but wasn’t uncommon back in the day. Come take the tour to solve this piece of the puzzle. For those new to bourbon, the standards of bourbon are also on life-sized display. These visuals along with the guided explanations really help to clarify each topic at hand.


With some background information covered, we headed up the stairs past the grain hopper display to learn all about fermentation. Unfortunately the area was off limits for the day, so we spent a few moments staring through the glass window soaking in the view. Justin noted earlier that Beam supplies nearly 50% of the world’s supply of bourbon. This would explain 22 massive fermenters, each 45,000 gallons. Incredible, especially since this is their “small” distillery. The lion’s share of production takes place at the Booker Noe Plant, a few miles down the road in Boston, KY where the majority of the production is Jim Beam “White Label” Bourbon, the number one selling bourbon in the world.

The Still

Our next stop was the Big House, its slogan, “Hardest Working Still in America”, proudly displayed on the side of the building. So it came as no surprise that this 50 year old six story behemoth works 24/7. Every minute it distills 200 gallons of mash resulting in 30 gallons of white dog. Even more impressive is the fact that Beam uses this same still to make smaller batches of white dog that come off the still at different proofs. Another life-size display notes that Jim Beam is off the still at a final proof of 135, Knob Creek at 130, and Basil Hayden at 120. Monstrous, yet versatile.

The Casehouse

Following Justin, we moved from the Big House to the Casehouse. This newly designed area covers barrels, barrels, and more barrels along with the nitty gritty of the distillation process. The introduction to barrels begins with a video from Independent Stave Company (ISC), the maker of Beam’s barrels. The video explains the life cycle of a barrel, from tree to char. The Knob Creek single barrel display is a hands on display showcasing the single barrel process along with a discussion of the small batch process.

James B Beam Distilling Barrels - Independent Stave

Also of note in the Casehouse is the art of the distillation display. Here miniatures of each apparatus involved in the entire distillation process line the wall, with the still represented by a live digital display. From the grain hopper to the cistern tank, Justin took us through each step, and together with the assistance of the visual aids, the production of Beam bourbon became remarkably clear. Finally the new make (aka. white dog) is barreled. This is demonstrated by the Barrel Fill display. Another hands on display, it mimics the actual process. In one last barrel exhibit, Beam shares more information on the aforementioned bourbons. This time comparisons are made for barrel entry proof, time aged, and bottling proof. For example, Basil Hayden Bourbon enters the barrel at 115 proof, ages a minimum of 6 years, and then is bottled at 80 proof.

The Knob Creek Bottling Line

Before we headed off to see how Beam stores their barrels, we made a quick stop at the Knob Creek bottling line. Visitors have the opportunity to bottle their own Knob Creek single barrel bourbon on the tour.  We took advantage of this option and enjoyed seeing the action of the workings of a high speed bottling line up close.

Barrel Warehouse F

While our Knob Creek Bourbon bottle would make its way to the the American Outpost Gift Shop for purchasing at the end of the tour, we were off to Warehouse F to learn about barrel storage. Even in the frigid temperatures, the sweet smell of the spiritous liquid wafted ever so slightly throughout the structure. The north/south facing warehouse F, built in 1948, houses just under twenty thousand barrels.

According to Justin, across its 550 acres, Beam’s current warehouse count stands at thirty-six. Their newest warehouse can be seen upon arrival or departure as it sits at the entrance to the campus. Warehouse F serves as the teaching warehouse. The barrel display here helps visitors learn about how barrels are aged at the James B. Beam Distillery. We also learned about the loss of whiskey volume due to evaporation, also known as, the “Angels’ share”. Justin wrapped up our warehouse time by pointing out a few other teaching tools and then it was time for a little tasting.

The Tasting Rooms

On the Beam Made Bourbon Tour visitors head back to the second floor of the James B. Beam Distilling Co. American Outpost for their tasting. Aptly named Kentucky Hug and Kentucky Chew are the 2 rooms which host the tastings for this tour, as well as the Meet The Family Tasting. The Beam Made Bourbon Tour finishes with a guided tasting of Jim Beam, Knob Creek and Basil Hayden. We however weren’t quite ready for our tasting as our final stop would be Jim Beam’s new experimental and educational space, the Fred B. Noe Distillery. 

The Fred B. Noe Distillery

The Fred B. Noe Distillery is named in honor of 7th generation and current Master Distiller, Fred B. Noe. Innovation, experimentation, and education take precedence here. The distillery is under the well groomed leadership of the 8th generation Beam family member, Freddie Noe, son of Fred B. The building features a state of the art yeast propagation area and classroom as well as a hands-on blending lab. While the Beam brands of Booker’s, Baker’s, and Little Book continue life under this roof, creativity and exploration also have prominence. The distillery has everything that the next whiskey rooted generation would want, including its own tasting bar. Located on the lower level, the area is geared toward sampling the distillery’s creations and new releases for those in the spirits industry.

The Tasting Bar at the Fred B. Noe Distillery

While our enlightenment of everything Beam came to a conclusion, we were ready to try the finished product. Justin had our tasting set up right here at the Fred Noe Distillery bar, so we happily took our seats as he walked us through each of the samples. Justin encouraged us to take note of the color and nose each sample. We discussed flavors in the nose and those in the taste and finish. Before we knew it, our samples were empty and our time had come to a close.

We felt fortunate to have had a peek inside the new Fred B. Noe Distillery. Neither the family nor the company is content to rest on their respective laurels. The Fred B. Noe Distillery provides the optimum setting for the Beam family of distillers to continue their invaluable contributions while providing the James B. Beam Distilling Co. the crucial edge any company would need to stay at the top of their game. 

The Gift Shop and The Kitchen Table Restaurant

We thanked Justin for a terrific tour as we headed back to the James B. Beam American Outpost. No visit is truly complete without a solid scouring of the gift shop, and the one at the Outpost has plenty to offer. One other new building on campus also had our interest; the new restaurant, The Kitchen Table. Since we were famished, that’s exactly where we headed next. The menu is compact and heavy on the smoked meats, which is something else the Beam family knows. There is a craft cocktail menus using Beam whiskeys, and beer and neat pours are also available. The food and cocktails were delicious. This is a restaurant deserving of many repeat visits.

Until Next Time

With our stomachs happily filled, we took our leave of The Kitchen Table and were ready to head home. Thanks to Justin and the walls of the Outpost, our insight into everything Beam had greatly improved. Jacob’s excess corn has led the Beam family down the whiskey path for over 200 years and the rest really is history. So whether history buff or bourbon nut, a stop at the Jame B. Beam Distilling Co. has plenty to offer both. The family gladly shares their stories while the company welcomes visitors to the many brands that are the James B. Beam Distilling Co.

We hope you have enjoyed our James B Beam Distilling Tour Review

Would you like to learn more about distilleries and bourbon? Are you planning a trip to Kentucky Distilleries? Maybe you would like to live the bourbon life vicariously through us?🙂 If any of these are true, then check out today!

Buy Bourbon Obsessed Hats & Glencairns

James B Beam Distilling Details

Days of operationWed-Sat 9:00-5:30pm
Sunday 12:00-4:00pm
Paved Drive / LotYes
Motorcycle ParkingNo separate parking
Motorcycle unfriendly featuresNo
Number of tours per dayVaries by tour
The standard tour is
Beam Made Bourbon
Tours run every 30 minutes.
Wed-Sat from 9:30 to 3:30
Sunday from 12:15 to 2:45
Length of Tour(s)1h 30m
Advanced topic tours?Yes
Advanced topic tour namesNoe Your Cocktails;
Behind the Beam w/Fred & Freddie Noe;
Thief Your Own
Tours by owners /distillers available?No
Number of different types of tours3-5 (Varies by day)
On-Line Tour Reservations AvailableYes
Advanced Reservations Recommended/RequiredYes, particularly for weekend days and during summer
Cost for tour(s) in $The standard tour is $22 + tax and fees; Others are $18-$1000
Tasting Included?Yes
Number of samples included in tasting4 (in Beam Made Bourbon Tour)
Tasting Only Option?Yes, book
Meet the Family Tasting
Tasting Only Option Cost$12 + tax & fees
High-end tasting option?No
High-end tasting option cost?N/A
Designated Driver OptionNo
Handicapped Accessible?Yes
Souvenirs included with tour?No
Gift ShopYes
On-Site bottle sales?Yes
On-site food: Restaurant/Cafe/SnacksThe Kitchen Table
Current Hours are:
Wed-Sat 11am-5pm
Sunday 12pm-4pm
On-site Cocktail barYes
On-site event spaceYes
Should I visit? (Yes, Perhaps, No)Most definitely
Unique FeaturesInteractive educational exhibits in the Casehouse
Balcones Distilling Visit Tour

Balcones Distilling Visit and Tour

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We had the pleasure of visiting Balcones Distilling late last year. We spent an enjoyable few hours there, learning all about the distillery, tasting some great whisky and making some new friends. It’s been a long time coming, but we finally have our full Balcones visit write up on in the Distillery Reviews section.

Balcones Distilling Review and Tour

Please enjoy our Balcones Distilling Tour Review!

Balcones Distilling – The beginning

In 2008, Balcones Distilling quietly sprang to life in the unassuming Texas town of Waco. The following year, this former welding shop turned homemade distillery began producing its own whiskies and by April 2010, it became clear that the tiny underpass (the building sets under the 17th St bridge) operation was something special. The reason being was that the distillery, not yet a year and a half old, walked away with a double gold medal in the corn whiskey category at the 2010 San Francisco International Spirits Competition. The Balcones Baby Blue Corn Whisky had wowed the judges.

Success has its price

More recognition and awards continued to follow, and in no time Balcones had a demand that outweighed their supply. To solve this problem, the distillery desperately needed more space, not to mention larger pot stills. In 2011, the solution began to slowly materialize when the distillery purchased the historic Texas Fireproof Storage Company building located in downtown Waco, just a few blocks from Balcones’ original home. In 2015, after a few years of wrangling, Balcones began construction on its new facility. Retrofitting the 100 year old historic property was a Texas-sized undertaking. The result however was impressive. By February 2016, the distillery now had 4 stories, 65,000 square feet of space, and perhaps most importantly, new custom Scottish pot stills with which to continue to create their original brand of Texas whisky.

Visitors welcome

In 2016 with its new digs in place, Balcones eagerly began to welcome visitors. As of January 2022, tours are offered on Thursdays at 4:30 and 6:00pm, Fridays at 2:00, 3:00, 4:30, 6:00pm, and Saturdays at 12:30, 2:00, 3:30, 4:30, and 6:00pm. Visitors must be 19 years old to book a tour and 21 years of age to partake in the tasting at the end of the tour. Please note that the distillery cannot accommodate infants and children on tours. The Distillery Tour lasts about an hour as one covers on foot the various areas of Balcones’ distilling process. Tours can be booked online and the cost is $20 + tax/fees. If you’re short on time, Balcones’ Bottle Shop is open for bottle sales, tastings, cocktails, and beer. Bottle Shop hours are as follows: Mondays: 12pm-5pm (bottle sales only); Tuesdays-Saturdays: 12pm-9pm; Sundays: closed.

Our visit to Balcones Distilling

Our tour kicked off on a crisp November fall morning. Alex Elrod was our guide extraordinaire. He is the Single Barrel & Brand Education Manager for Balcones. A perfect fit since we were here to learn what makes Balcones Distilling a unicorn among the 2063 distilleries currently operating in the U.S. (Figure is from the American Distilling Institute as of February 26, 2021.) 
After quick introductions, Alex began with a history lesson. Much of it noted above, he relayed the company’s journey from its humble beginnings to its now very spacious campus. The name of the distillery comes from the Balcones fault which runs through Waco. We learned that it is customary to name Scottish distilleries after local geographic features. So what do Scottish distilleries have to do with Balcones?  Stay tuned. Alex also pointed out that although early success allowed the company to expand quickly, from day one, the primary directive has been to make the best whisky possible and this continues to be the driving force for Balcones. With a bit of background covered, we followed Alex outside where the show and tell part of our Balcones education began.

Balcones’ Grain

As is the case with most larger distilleries, Balcones stores much of its grain outdoors in gigantic silos. This was our first outdoor classroom stop. According to Alex, there are 2 main grains in use at Balcones, Blue corn and Golden Promise malted barley. The Blue Corn is grown in the panhandle city of Amarillo, sent south to Abilene for roasting, and arrives at Balcones ready to use. Blue corn is the grain of Balcones Baby Blue Corn Whisky and is also used in other whiskies such as the Balcones Texas Pot Still Bourbon. The Golden Promise malted barley on the other hand makes the trip across the pond from Scotland. This grain puts the single malt in Balcones Texas Single Malt Whisky. These are not the only grains in use at Balcones, but they are the mainstays of many of their product lines.  

Balcones Single Malt

Speaking of product lines, Balcones Baby Blue Corn Whisky, released in 2009, was the first TX whisky released since prohibition. The distillery specialized in American Single Malts from day one. While single malt whiskies have traditionally been made in Scotland, Balcones has helped to launch American single malt as a recognized and valued category in the spirits market worldwide. Balcones creates their single malts much the same as the Scottish distilleries. While there is no current (as of this writing) legal definition of an American single malt whisky like there is for bourbon, Balcones follows the rules of the American Single Malt Commission.

American Single Malt must be:
– Made from 100% malted barley
– Mashed, distilled, and matured entirely at one distillery in the the United States
– Matured in oak casks of a capacity no more than 700L(184.92gal)
– Distilled to no more than 160 proof
– Bottled at 80 proof or more

The most notable difference between the American and the Scottish single malt rules is the time aged. While the American variety has no requirement on time of maturation, Scottish single malts require no less than 3 years of maturation.

Milling and Mashing

Next it was time to learn what happens to all this grain. Back inside, the next lesson was milling and mashing. The process for making single malt whiskies differs slightly from making bourbon. Balcones wants to create the most authentic American single malt; one that would be a Scottish single malt if Balcones was plopped somewhere in the Scottish highlands. That being the case, the distillery has 2 separate milling and cooking systems. They use a roller mill and mash tun for single malt batches. Whereas, a hammer mill and cereal cooker prepare the grains for bourbon/rye batches.

To clarify further, the hammer mill basically pulverizes the corn and other grains used for a bourbon cook. The milled grains are then sent to the cereal cooker where water is added and the grains are cooked. Once the process is complete, the entire contents of the cereal cooker are transferred to the fermenter. Then, there is nothing left to do but rinse and repeat. As for a single malt batch, the malted barley is crushed more gently by a roller mill. It then enters the mash tun along with water for its mash(cook). Once the mash is complete, the mash tun by design allows only the liquid to be transferred to the fermenter. The grains left behind must be sent to the spent grain vessels outside before another batch can be started. Interestingly, Balcones’ mash tun is a hand me down purchased from the Speyside Distillery in Scotland.


At Balcones there are 7 fermentation tanks, each holding 7,000 gallons. The fermentation lesson took place back outside. The massive tanks are located adjacent to the back end of the building. We followed Alex up the slew of stairs and were rewarded with a bird’s eye view of the fermenters as well as a great view of the surrounding downtown area. According to Alex, Balcones’ fermentation takes approximately seven days. Liquid yeast is hand pitch into the fermenters as they are semi-open. One might wonder how fermentation can take place during the brutal summer heat in Texas. The answer is each tank is fitted with a glycol jacket which allows the tanks to maintain their optimal temperature for fermentation. We let the yeast get back to work and made our way back inside to continue our Balcones’ education.

Fermenters - Balcones Distilling
Grains, Tanks & Breweries

As mentioned earlier, the 65,000 square foot building has provided the much needed respite for helping to resolve Balcones’ supply and demand issue.  We continued on the first floor with Alex making note of various distillery areas that are certainly important, but don’t stand out in the limelight so to speak. One is the inside grain storage area. Here, 2,000 pound sacks of Texas grown elbow rye, a staple of the Balcones Texas Rye Whisky, were waiting their turn at the mill. We viewed the distillery from its underbelly with its dizzying array of piping running every which way imaginable. These tanks are for the low wines; those tanks are for the feints (tails); those stainless steel beauties are our microbrewery. Wait a minute. What? Microbrewery? Yes, with a square foot to spare, in 2020, Balcones tucked its own little brewery in a corner and sells its brews exclusively in their visitors center. How’s that for unique!

Dumping and Bottling

For the final 2 stops on the first floor, our lessons included the dump station and bottling. At the dump station, a handy hydraulic lift picks up each barrel with ease, dumping the contents into the stainless steel trough-like apparatus. A fine screen at the bottom of the trough filters out the unwanted char that makes its way out of the barrel along with the liquid. Alex explained from here the whisky is then sent off to one of the holding tanks. The whisky is held in the tank where it can be proofed down or batched with other barrels. When the whisky in the tank is finished, the spirit is sent next door to bottling. The bottling line at Balcones is semi-automated. Bottles are filled, labeled, and capped by machine; then visual inspection and casing are done by hand. Not only is Balcones distributed throughout the United States, but its international markets include Australia, the UK, and the EU.

Barrel Warehouse

Our lessons on the 1st floor had come to an end. So, we next took a step back in the process and headed to the 4th floor via the building’s original elevator lift. Stepping out of the lift, we were now surrounded by bountiful barrels. Alex explained that Balcones stores about 3,000 barrels onsite at the distillery. They warehouse remaining barrels in two 6 story buildings located on the outskirts of town, each with a 25,000 barrel capacity. Furthermore, he pointed out the variety of barrels in use. For example, Balcones uses new American oak barrels and new French oak barrels. That’s just the beginning. Used port, Oloroso, PX sherry, and even Texas Madeira casks are filled with Balcones Texas Single Malt Whisky for a new twist on their original classic whisky. Also in use are Spanish barrels which they fill with their single malt whisky and age by incorporating the solera method (the fractional blending of barrels so that the finished product is a mixture of ages and whereby the average ages gradually increases as the process continues over time). Thank you, Wikipedia.


For a distillery operating at the 12 year mark this is amazing. Balcones embraces innovation as though its lifeforce depends on it. Perhaps it does. So while Balcones has its line of classic/year round whiskies, they also offer annual releases and special releases. Whether it’s a new barrel, used barrel, or perhaps one of each, every whisky bottled showcases Balcones’ hard work, innovation, and creativity.

Bird’s Eye View

Before leaving the barrels behind, we were excited to get an overhead peek inside the stillhouse. We followed Alex out onto the narrow 4th floor catwalk where we gained a grand view of Balcones’ 4 enormous copper pot stills. Also providing an imposing view were the helical lyne arms of the spirit stills. As we would learn shortly, these 2 massive circuitous copper portions of the still are crucial in creating the unique flavors of Balcones’ whiskies. As we stood two stories above the floor of the stillhouse taking in the amazing view, I was thankful that our visit was in November and not July. While we could definitely feel the toastiness of the air even on this fall day, the temperature in July would most certainly be unbearable.

Balcones’ Pot Stills

We would take our final lessons back on the second floor. Alex led the way to the stillhouse and here we met the still operator, Josh. We learned that in keeping with Scottish traditions, Balcones double distills using both a wash still and a spirit still for their system. In fact, Balcones Distilling has two of each. Each set, along with the spirit stills’ coiled lyne arms, were designed and built by the famed Scottish still building company, Forsyths. These stills were specifically designed to mimic the original stills used when Balcones opened. Any change in a still, whether in design or size, can affect the final product. Balcones did not want its whisky to change at all in flavor with the move to the new distillery. According to Alex, scaling the stills to their current size was a challenge, particularly the lyne arms. Had the lyne arms remained straight, they would have spanned the entire length of the stillhouse and wound up in another room. The solution to maintaining the lyne arm length and conforming to a small footprint was to coil them atop each spirit still.

Each copper wash still is 3,200 gallons while each spirit still is 2,200 gallons. Once fermentation is complete, the job of the wash still is to decrease the volume of the wash and to rid it of any remaining solids. The product of this first distillation, called “low wine”, has an ABV of around 25%. The low wine then heads to the spirit still. This second distillation at Balcones takes a lengthly 12 hours (most distilleries run 8 hours). Balcones carries out this process low and slow which allows the cuts to be made with greater precision and in turn rids the distillate of unwanted congeners.


We thanked Josh for his time and his crash course in Balcones’ distillation techniques and then made a quick stop in the blending room, where we met Gabe RiCharde, Stillhouse Manager for Balcones Distilling. Blending doesn’t usually make the cut on most tours, so we were happy to get a peek at the process. This room had no nifty bells or whistles nor any shiny copper gadgets, just counters and tables covered with small yet wide mouth jars. Each jar was labeled and coded noting the spirits’ type, age, and barrel. Gabe chooses barrels for blending by batching them by date of distillation. He also pointed out that aging isn’t linear, meaning barrels filled around the same time aren’t necessarily all ready at the same time. Some bottles in the room are ready, and there will be some that are not. The goal is to consistently bottle the best whisky.

Blending Room - Balcones Distilling
Blending Room – Balcones Distilling

With some hands on show and tell so to speak, we were going to put this objective to the test. We followed Alex and Gabe next door where we eagerly took a seat, excited to sample a few of Balcones’ single malt whiskies and bourbons. On the table were Balcones Lineage Texas Single Malt Whisky, Balcones Dusk  & Dawn Texas Single Malt Whiskies, Balcones Texas High Rye Bourbon, and Balcones Texas Wheated Bourbon, the latter two at barrel proof.  Balcones has an amazingly wide range of products. Gabe spoke first and in greatest detail about the Lineage. According to Gabe, this newest (2020) classic release is very approachable making it a good gateway whisky. Lineage is made with both Scottish and Texas grown malted barley, matured in both new and used barrels for 3 years, and comes in at a respectable 94 proof. Although this whisky is a great place for newcomers to start, the distillery has many other products to intrigue, captivate, and delight the more seasoned whisky drinker as the 4 remaining whiskies showcased. After sampling the line up, there was no question that Balcones produces innovative and high quality whiskies.

Tasting Line Up & Gabe - Balcones Distilling
Time to move on

While we could have easily stayed the rest of the day sampling the distillery’s hard work, it was time to to move on. However, no self-described whiskey nerd would ever depart without a visit to the gift shop, and so this was where we made our final stop. Once again Alex and Gabe led the way and offered some much appreciated direction as to our whisky purchases. So many whiskies and swag, so little room in the suitcase. We made our choices and thanked our more than gracious host, Alex, and of course, Gabe for the incredible experience.  And with our heads still spinning from the wealth of whisky knowledge imparted upon us, we took our leave.


Thanks to Balcones Distilling as well as several other attractions, such as Magnolia Market at the Silos, Waco is no longer a sleepy little Texas town. So what makes Balcones unique? A Scottish-ish distillery located in the heart of Waco, Texas? Perhaps. Is it the distillery’s incorporation of these Scottish distilling techniques in a climate that unlike that of Scotland’s, has Texas-sized extremes? Maybe. Could it be visiting the distillery tasting room and discovering the distillery’s own beer. Possibly. Most likely though, it’s the whisky. Innovative award winning Scottish style single malts (and bourbon) in Texas. Enough said.

But wait, there’s more!

Be sure to check out the information table below. We hope you have enjoyed our Balcones Distilling Tour Review! If you would like to read about more distilleries, check out our many Distillery Reviews!

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Balcones Distilling Information

Distillery NameBalcones Distilling
Days of operationMon 12-5pm:...(bottle sales only)
Paved Drive / LotYes
Motorcycle ParkingNo
Motorcycle unfriendly featuresNo
Number of tours per dayThursday:.....4:30 & 6pm
Friday:..........2, 3, 4:30 & 6pm
Saturday:.....12:30, 2, 3:30, 4:30 & 6pm
Length of Tour(s)1h
Advanced topic tours?Not currently
Advanced topic tour namesNA
Tours by owners /distillers available?No
Number of different types of tours1
On-Line Tour Reservations AvailableYes
Advanced Reservations Recommended/RequiredYes
Cost for tour(s) in $$22.20
Tasting Included?Yes
Number of samples included in tasting4
Tasting Only Option?Yes
Tasting Only Option Cost$12 for flight of 3 tastes
High-end tasting option?Varies
High-end tasting option cost?Most whiskies available for tasting
Designated Driver OptionNo
Handicapped Accessible?Yes
Souvenirs included with tour?No
Gift shopYes
On-Site bottle sales?Yes
On-site food: Restaurant/Cafe/SnacksNo
On-site Cocktail barYes
On-site event spaceNo
Should I visit? (Yes, Perhaps, No)Definitely
Unique FeaturesScottish style whiskies produced in TX as well as Texas Bourbons. Also serving Balcones own microbrewed beer in the distillery bar.
Date VisitedNovember 2021
NotesMondays are only for bottle sales, bar is closed

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