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.

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.