Phone Conversation with Chip Tate: Wyatt Earp or Dr Egon?

I had the pleasure of speaking with Chip Tate on the phone this weekend, discussing his new venture, his old venture, trends in the marketplace and life in general.  If you have read previous articles about him, keep reading, because you may see a different side of Chip compared to how he has typically been portrayed.  When I started this blog a couple weeks ago I never expected to be invited to chat on the phone with Chip Tate, especially after I completed bashed Balcones; I just wanted to blog about bourbon.  But life is a journey and I’m just following the road…

My general impression of Chip prior to my conversation was a man with a similar demeanor to a Wyatt Earp gun slinging Texan intertwined with knack for distilling; but very quickly into our hour long conversation, I realized that the reality is very different.  He is thoughtful, reasonable, entertaining and scientific.  He is far from the portraits painted online, but if there was going to be a fight at the O.K. Corral, I’d still rather be on his side than facing him…

When I phoned, cell reception was poor and he inquired if I lived in a steel framed house (I don’t, I just happen to live a couple miles north of the nearest cell tower in CT).  This morphed into a four minute explanation of electricity, cell phone signals and their reactive properties with steel frames.  Extremely thoughtful, but not pretentious, Chip’s attention to detail for his work starts right at the beginning of the story of his new distillery.

Post-physics lesson, I asked Chip what he has been up to and he said he has been building stills for Tate & Co Distillery, his new company.  Most distillers purchase their stills, but not Chip, he’s been welding them for a while–an admitted repeat still builder.  The new stills are going to be between 8-12x larger than the previous ones at Balcones and the total distilling capacity is going to be upwards of 30x, or 150,000 cases of annual production at full capacity.  While not expecting to run at capacity, their flexibility will allow Tate & Co to do one off seasonal specials like small batch brandies when certain fruits are ripe.  Their size will also allow them to engage in collaborative projects with other distilleries which promises to be exciting.  Not apply to stills, Yoda’s wisdom does…

Any conversation with Chip would not be complete without discussing “craft.”  The whiskey word of the year injects fear in the heart of many producers, forcing many to drop it from their labels (in addition to handmade, hand crafted, small batch, etc.).  Chip asserted that “[craft producers] need to add a lot of equity to the craft brand.”  After so much dilution from other so-called craft distilleries, the term craft needs to be re-established.

Chip joked that some of the largest producers have launched into the craft game by assembling myriad random barrels, slapping on fun looking labels and with full fanfare and backing by their monstrous marketing teams, announcing to the world a new craft brand.  While on the other hand, some other producers just lie about their product (you can guess which one he was talking about).  One of them recently “got their asses kicked for good reasons, as their sins are egregious.”  Chip claims there are a lot of NDPs out there that he really enjoys , but voiced his issues with the ones which spew falsehoods.  It’s one thing to omit the truth, but publishing lies is pretty low for anyone, and the consumer deserves better.  Like Chip’s previous projects, his future projects embody craft.  I mean, who builds their own stills?

I will post Part 2 of my conversation with Chip later in the weekend.

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