As a booze enthusiast and native Texan, I’m quite proud of how far the state has come in terms as how we brew, distill, harvest and imbibe. In fact, Texas — boasting more than 130 distilleries — now trails just California, New York and Washington in terms of its sheer volume of producers. And one Texas town that’s been right at the forefront of that movement is Fort Worth.
The 13th-largest city in the States, Cowtown now offers a variety of distilleries creating delicious spirits via innovative methods. From premier vodka crafted with Texas-grown black-eyed peas to small-batch grain-to-glass bourbons, local spirit-makers are combining regional and unconventional ingredients with experimental techniques that fuse Texas tradition with advances in distilling.
In terms of where to start, you can’t talk spirits in Texas without mentioning its booming bourbon business. Generally, Texas bourbon features flavor notes that are distinctive to the region. As Blackland Distillery master distiller Ezra Cox says, “The maturation revolves around environmental conditions. It gets super hot here in the summer and it gets super cold here sometimes in the winter, and those things can affect maturation in a different way than what happens in Kentucky or Tennessee.” Unlike the whiskey-producing states east of Texas, where there are clearly defined seasons, the Lone Star State’s weather is generally dry and hot. Those conditions cause barreled alcohol to expand, which helps the distillate reach deep into the pores of the wood, where many of the flavors originate.
“It’s about the grain and that’s pretty much true for just about every Texas distillery … Texans are all about Texas. We buy nothing but Texas grain because there’s a lot of things that grow here,” Cox says. Blackland purchases all their grains from a local Fort Worth-based malting house called TexMalt. “They’re kind of our middleman between what we do and the farmers themselves … We buy everything from TexMalt, and they source everything from within Texas,” Cox adds.
Another key player shining a spotlight on Texas grain-to-glass whiskey is the first craft bourbon and whiskey distillery in North Texas, Firestone & Robertson Distilling Co. They make the award-winning TX Straight Bourbon, which comprises Texas-grown corn, wheat and barley, pure Texas water, and a proprietary strain of yeast taken from a Texas pecan. The distillery’s Whiskey Ranch features 19-foot-tall sliding barn doors that open to a 50-foot copper column still and a custom copper doubler.
Most whiskey lovers know the importance of water quality in the distillation process, and Trinity River Distillery, the creators of Silver Star Spirits‘ bourbon, whiskey and vodka, also source theirs with the utmost care. As Master Distiller Kirk Richards states, “We have a rain watering harvest system basically designed for us and it’s on the roof — we have 30,000 square feet of roof — and we harvest what I like to call ‘angel’s tears.’ Rainwater. We catch it in the tanks, then we take it through a reverse osmosis double filtration process.” Housed in the iconic Ranch Style Beans factory, Trinity River Distillery cuts all of its spirits with the rainwater collected from the storage tanks.
Of course, bourbon isn’t the only category of spirits on offer in Forth Worth. Blackland, for example, uses local ingredients from the Texas prairie to create vodka, gin, bourbon and rye. Part of their five core spirits in addition to their two best-selling bourbons and rye whiskey are gin and vodka. “There’s good vodka and bad vodka all over the map. The one thing that I brought to the table that makes us truly a premium vodka, frankly, is filtration. That’s really what we do that puts our stamp on it and makes it different than other vodkas,” Cox says. Using carbon filtration to get the vodka as neutral as possible contributes to its subtle, sweet, clean flavor.
And then there’s the gin: after more than 100 iterations and experimenting with 50 different botanicals such as clove, fennel seed and ginger (which didn’t make the final recipe), Blackland Gin infuses Texas red winter wheat with 12 botanicals including juniper, coriander, orris root, angelica root, chamomile flower, licorice root, galangal, grains of paradise, lemon balm, grapefruit peel, lemon peel and orange peel. The result is a perfectly balanced, handcrafted gin that’s slightly earthy, floral and citrusy.
There’s also Black Eyed Distilling, which is the first distillery to distill vodka from black-eyed peas, a core Texas crop. Operating out of a historic fire station in Fort Worth’s Near Southside neighborhood, the distillery uses charcoal filtration in addition to 22 distillations to soften the spirit’s notorious burn and create their flagship farm-to-bottle (cooked, distilled and bottled) BLK EYE Vodka.
Another distillery producing an array of award-winning spirits is Acre Distilling Co. They have more than 18 different spirits, including vodkas, gins, bourbons, single malt whiskeys and rum, plus flavored liqueurs and cordials. Hailing from downtown Fort Worth’s Hell’s Half Acre neighborhood, Acre Distilling Co. is one of the few distilleries in the U.S. running entirely on solar energy. (The also take those sustainable initiatives up a notch by using disposable cups made of corn, straws made of actual straw, and hosting a program that allows customers to reuse their bottles for a discount.)
Already home to distinct bars and luxe hotels that sling high-quality cocktails, Forth Worth has always been a great town for drinking. But now, with an impressive array of distilleries housing some of the swankiest tasting rooms in the country, Fort Worth might be something even greater: America’s next great booze destination.
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