Three Distillers and Their Path To Whiskey

Balcones Distilling head distiller Jared Himstedt doesn't lose his creativity outside of work; brewing beer and ceramics are just two of his hobbies.

Three Distillers and Their Path To Whiskey

March 9, 2023 –––––– Laren Stone, , , ,

Jared Himstedt, Harlen Wheatley, and Caleb Kilburn talk about how they got into distilling, how they’ve seen the industry grow, and their favorite way to drink.


Jared Himstedt

Head Distiller, Balcones

Jared Himstedt’s journey into distilling took an unlikely path. While pursuing a career as a social worker (his chosen major in college), he began making home-brewed beer in his spare time. Before long, he was hooked. That passion turned into a calling in 2007 when he co-founded a beer bar in his native city of Waco, Texas. From there, It was only a matter of time before he came upon whiskey, and that happened when he connected with Balcones founder and previous owner Chip Tate in 2008. Himstedt was offered the opportunity to help build the Balcones Distillery in his hometown, overseeing label design, barrel selection, and various other aspects of the project.

Since that start, Himstedt has seen quite an evolution in the whiskey world, with whiskey lovers constantly searching for new and exciting things. It’s important to keep up, Himstedt notes, and certainly Balcones has done more than its share of that. Himstedt’s own creativity and innate curiosity, his fascination with the unknowns and unanswered questions surrounding the craft of making whiskey, which leads to some undeniably fresh and innovative ideas. When he isn’t blending or brewing up new concepts, Himstedt can be found in the ceramics studio or outside—biking, camping, or jamming to good music with family and friends.

Preferred way to drink?

While Himstedt will happily enjoy a whiskey-forward cocktail, his favorite way to drink it is neat–preferably in a glass with decent volume and a taper to the opening, like a Glencairn or brandy glass.

Favorite whiskey cocktail?



Harlen Wheatley

Master Distiller and Director of Maturation for Sazerac/Buffalo Trace Distillery

With nearly 30 years at Buffalo Trace Distillery to his credit, Kentucky native Harlen Wheatley is a force. Before all that, he worked full-time at a chemical company while completing an engineering degree at the University of Kentucky. This formal training in distillation and separation techniques laid the groundwork to ultimately become Buffalo Trace’s master distiller.

Since not long after his start as a Buffalo Trace supervisor in 1995, Wheatley has been at the sharp end of the whiskey boom. The distillery introduced its flagship Buffalo Trace bourbon shortly after he started, and it became a major turning point. Today he oversees all aging and distilling operations for Sazerac, and notes that each of the company’s hundreds of brands has its own detailed plan. And as a proselytizer and educator for Sazerac’s bourbons, Wheatley is constantly trying to match up people’s tastes to one of his labels. Being outdoors is an important part of Wheatley’s life, and in his free time he loves to go boating, fishing, hunting, golfing, or do just about anything outside.

Preferred way to drink?

Wheatley keeps it simple with a bourbon on the rocks.

Favorite whiskey cocktail?



Caleb Kilburn

Master Distiller, Peerless Distilling Co.

Raised on his family’s dairy farm in Salt Lick, Kentucky, Caleb Kilburn knows a thing or two about hard work. He grew up helping with the farm’s sanitary processes, mechanical systems, maintenance, and problem solving, which gave him a strong mechanical background before he ever considered a career in distilling. He also had a knack for science, and it all combined to create the perfect recipe for being a master distiller. Kilburn quickly discovered an interest in whiskey sciences while studying at Morehead State University, where he drew connections between his upbringing on the farm and the skills required to become a distiller.

Kilburn’s career kicked off when several of his instructors at the Distilled Spirits Epicenter in Louisville took him under their wing and introduced him to Carson and Corky Taylor, owners of Peerless, who were building a new distillery. Still in school and working as a laborer for Peerless, Kilburn caught a few mechanical issues during construction. The leadership at Peerless was so impressed that, by the time he was 22, Kilburn was overseeing the installation of production and process equipment. Now, almost 10 years later, he’s been a driving force in growing the team, and he’s excited to see the connection between whiskey drinkers and distillers continue to grow. Having just welcomed his first son into the world, Kilburn splits time between his new family and work, which he says is more fun for him than any hobby.

Preferred way to drink?

Kilburn likes to drink his whiskey neat because there already are so many variables inside that glass of whiskey.

Favorite whiskey cocktail?

When he wants to turn off his work switch and enjoy a drink without having to analyze it, he asks the bartender to mix up their favorite whiskey cocktail for him.

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