Did Chip Tate decide to explore brandy-making because the recent Balcones debacle has banned him from making whiskey for the next 15 months? No, that’s hardly enough time to lease a space and get your permits in order, let alone have a quality batch of any whiskey or brandy prepped for market. So let’s start with that. If Chip Tate wanted to be making whiskey and whiskey only, that’s exactly what he’d be doing.
Turns out, Tate’s interest in making a Texas brandy predates his fallout with Balcones.
“It was probably at least two years ago,” said Tate. “I’ve always been into beer making, wine making, coffee, cheese, chocolate. I love a good wine, and I had toyed around with making some wine in Texas, until I’d done some research. Then I realized you have to be a special kind of crazy, and I say that with the deepest love and respect.”
The crazy factors include agricultural disease and limited grape varietals. However, Tate points out that just because a certain grape doesn’t yield a good table wine, that doesn’t mean you can’t make a good brandy. Case in point: Cognac.
“There are some really great American brandies, but the ones I find compelling are American-French brandies,” said Tate. “They’re made in a similar method. It would be interesting to develop a new type of American brandy.”
Balcones didn’t set out to craft a Scotch-like whiskey made in Texas, after all.
“The authenticity of your voice has a lot to do with who you are and what you are. Until you accept who you are, you don’t have anything original to offer. We need to think about what we should make here in Texas and how it’s going to be affected by our heat and ingredients.”
For now, those ingredients will consist of what’s already growing in Texas: peaches and muscadine grapes.
“We should make shirts that say ‘we love ugly fruit.’ We want the perfect blind man’s fruit. We don’t care if it’s scarred or bruised as long as it just fell. The super, super ripe stuff is beautiful.”
And what kind of taste does super ripe fruit produce?
“The flavor profile will be bolder. We’re going to get more aromatic spiciness, really lively fruit characteristics.”
The nature of the business will be highly collaborative, honest, and shtick-free.
“I want to see craft distilling mature in a good and healthy way. I think that integrity is important in craft. People have a higher bar for a craftsman–you really have to be upfront with what you make. We need to make something of enduring value.”
Famed for creating much of Balcones’ equipment from scratch, Tate goes on to elaborate on the importance of craftsmanship.
“We’re kind of struggling with the implications of the industrial revolution. It’s easy to romanticize a time where we made everything in a different way. I don’t know if we’ll make everything, but I have the toys. I got a welder that takes three times as much electricity as the whole house.”
And for a man who’s established himself as the breakout star of Texas whiskey, Tate is optimistic that his customer base will embrace Texas brandy.
“If you can bring something that is both good and different to the table, then you have a good shot.”
Tate admits there’s something very American about whiskey, but believes there’s a possibility for brandy to have the same reach. The idea of Texas brandy might be confusing at first. Does Texas really have the right ingredients for a proper brandy? Decades ago, perhaps not. But nowadays, as Chip explains, distillers have the ability to be creative and to think beyond their obvious resources.
“If you look at the origin of distilling, it’s very agricultural. Historically, whiskey was something that grain farmers did and brandy was something that grape growers did. But I’m not a grower. For those of us who are distillers, we can think about things differently. It’s a collaboration. If you were in the position of your distilling forefathers, you wouldn’t think of certain possibilities, but now it’s different. You have to learn the lessons that are there to be learned, but you can’t just do what great winemakers and distillers did. You have to do your own thing.”
Author Aliza Kellerman is a spirits writer and advocate who’s written for numerous websites and serves as the Brand Ambassador for Adirondack Distilling Company. She is interested in the story behind the bottle and believes that the more you know about what you drink, the better it tastes. Find her at Aliza Drinks and @aleezabeeza.