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Texas whisky beats Scotland's finest in London blind tasting

Photo: Photo by Scott Andrews, License: N/A

Photo by Scott Andrews

Chip Tate and his hand built condenser.


If all goes well, Forsyth’s company, which supplies the lion’s share of the whisky industry in Scotland, will be fabricating new, much larger, stills that will be placed in the monstrous four-floor warehouse that occupies half a block several streets over from the building under the bridge. Before we drive over to see the facility (and aging barrels held within) we go back to Tate’s office, where he spends a few moments to take notes o his main job — whisky blending. This demands a little tasting. Trenton Smith, a young but avid assistant, sets up a collection of glasses filled each with a dram from barrels intended to become Brimstone, which must be monitored as they age. “This is barrel 2617, most recently re-barrelled on 1-13, 227 pounds of spirits, 61.5 percent alcohol,” explains Tate. “It’s pretty nice, it’s going the right direction, but it’s just not there yet.” If the barrel isn’t going in the right direction, Tate will “redirect it.” Perhaps a little more, or less, heat is needed.

*****

In the warehouse it gets to, says Tate, 137° in the summertime — a searing heat that forces some visitors to rush out of the building. Known to outsiders as hot country, Texas has an incredible range of temperatures, but does tend to range on the warm side. This, says Tate, is the reason Texas whisky can age so quickly. Maturation is heat activated, but most importantly, it’s the temperature change in coming into spring, and out of the summer, that accelerates the aging. Daily fluctuations help, too. Maturing whisky at high temperatures is tricky, though. Leave it in the barrel just a bit too long, and it literally gets burnt, resulting in an overbearing — and somewhat simple — wood taste. “It’s what we call our Navy Seals training program for whiskies,” says Tate. “Not every one is going to make it. But the ones who do are going to be some badass whisky.”

The warehouse is a beaut, a far cry from the cramped quarters of the original building. Rows and rows of barrels, ranging from five to 60 gallons, are lined up on the four floors. But whether the Forsyth Company will build the huge still Tate envisions, is a matter still to be decided. On one hand, it makes sense to take the momentum — both of his company, and of the craft distilling movement — and run with it. But there is a tiny problem.

“There’s no exit strategy,” Germer explains. Most investors hope to recoup their money with a profit when the company sells. “But,” Germer says, “Chip’s dream is to run a distillery where he makes all the calls, not to get rich. That’s not why he’s doing it. That means, we’re not selling. Ever.” I ask if he’s serious, or just trying to make a point.

“We don’t do focus groups, we do what we do because we think it’s awesome,” Tate explains. “And of course, we hope people like it. But we are performing in front of a crowd, and not to one. That is a key artistic principal to me. You have to consult yourself first and foremost — it’s not that you don’t care what other people think, but otherwise, intentionally or not, you’re pandering.”

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