Chip Tate Phone Conversation, The Conclusion: The Lawsuit, Baby Blue and the Undiscovered Country

If you didn’t read part 1 of my conversation with Chip Tate, please catch up on my blog:

I felt I could not have a call with Chip Tate without asking about the lawsuit.  At this point in the conversation I had determined that he wasn’t the Wild West character he often is portrayed to be, and was thoroughly confident that my safety was not in jeopardy if the question was posed tactfully.  It turns out my knowledge was incomplete based on the New York Times article.  Ultimately, significant bad blood remains between some of the former investors and Chip, but Chip made clear that he is moving past this and on to bigger and better things.  Balcones was his baby, and it is not easy to let that go, but sometimes business decisions trump emotional ones.  Chip is trying to embody the old adage that the best revenge is living well as opposed to the old Klingon proverb that revenge is a dish best served cold.  His revenge?  Well, having stills that are much bigger than the last time, production that will dwarf the old capacity and producing a better product through using the institutional knowledge gained from Balcones.

I also wanted to know about Baby Blue.  Those who read my blog a couple weeks ago know my disappointment from my purchase, so I inquired what was different between now and before.  I additionally asked for his opinion to whether it was new Balcones that screwed it up so much after his departure.  (To be fair, I have never tried the Baby Blue from years past so if anyone reading this has an old sample they are willing to share, please DM me.)  Chip compared Baby Blue to a 16 year old on an Olympic team… Paraphrased: “there aren’t many 16 year olds on teams like this, most are 26yrs old, and it’s certainly not any 16yr old that makes the team… the person has to be very special.  Most great athletes at 16, wouldn’t make the cut, even if they do by the age of 26.”  This long metaphor is how he sees Baby Blue, finally crystalizing the point that “not all great whiskeys are great at a young age.”  He claimed that when he was bottling at Balcones, he would taste every barrel and find the ones that were, and he admitted this was an oxymoron, “young mature whiskeys.”  Only the exceptional ones would make the final product.  Chip said that out of 300 barrels, only 20-30 would be considered for Baby Blue.  I asked him if he thought that instead of only pulling 1 out of 10 to make the final product if Balcones was now using the entire production.  He replied that he does not know what they are doing now, but reading between the lines, I get the feeling that he believes they are, and that’s why the final product has suffered.

Our conversation touched on how he views investors, as some articles have intimated long standing battles between him and former investors.  He wanted to make sure that everyone understood that he 100% believes that investors should profit from any investment in his ventures, as it’s a business and if you invest, you should make money.  Going forward he plans increased discretion and enhanced due diligence on potential investors in addition to modified investment structures.  He clarified for the new venture, he’s going to be running the business and that no one should invest if they don’t have full faith in him to do it.  “Don’t bet on the horse if you don’t think he can finish the race.”  Whether it’s 16 year old Olympians, horses, Wyatt Earp or the physics of cell phone reception, Chip always has something interesting to say in a colorful fashion.
Chip expects to be up and running by the Fall, with young whiskeys and other spirits following soon afterwards.  What does not kill you makes you stronger is a cliche that appears to fit with the Chip Tate story.   A deeply thoughtful man, passionate about his work but without pretension; Chip is one of the few people in the industry that has the attention to detail from the very basic fundamental level all the way to the top with the ability and desire to roll up his sleeves to get into the mix as well.  It was a pleasure to speak with him and I look forward to trying the new product once Tate & Co is fully operational.

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