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Texas’s Rising Star Spirits Shoot Over Fort Worth

Elyse Glickman / photos by author

The old saying goes that good things are bigger in Texas, and this holds true with the growth of boutique spirits enterprises

 
Downtown Fort Worth


Fort Worth, TX is one of those big little cities that stuns and surprises, especially now that the much-awaited Sundance Square development came to fruition last November. Although there have always been superb steakhouses, bold barbecues and stompin' saloons, its transformation to desirable destination is now fully realized.

When a city is ready for its urban chic closeup, it's inevitable that a food and wine festival will appear on the events calendar and rope people in from miles around. That said, the first annual Fort Worth Food & Wine Festival went beyond being a success, with sold out events, nearly flawless crowd control and great local enthusiasm for local chefs as well as distillers from Fort Worth and throughout the state.

"I think one of the things that made the festival such a success is that Texans are proud of their state, and therefore, will support products made here in Fort Worth and elsewhere," says Mike Micallef, co-founder of the Fort Worth Food & Wine Festival and president of the Reata Restaurant Group. "TX Distillery’s whiskey, for example, is emblematic of that success, at our restaurants and other places around town. They've done a fantastic job with their marketing...and more importantly, they have a great product."

   
 Sundance in Fort Worth, TX  
Micallef says that in the long term, the organizers' collective goal is to work toward having 50% of the attendees come from outside of Fort Worth. As a city's appeal is inexorably tied to its restaurants and bars, the themed events promote local chefs as well as ways each one fits into a visitor's or local's experience of the city. Although the featured spirits are from distilleries all over Texas, the foods and the proud, epi-curious attendees make the Fort Worth Food & Wine Festival a tailor made showcase for the products in on- and off-premise contexts.

"What gave us the idea was going out to the Buffalo Gap Food and Wine Festival, which is popular that tickets for their big Saturday night event sells out in 15 minutes," continues Micallef. "Given that event is staged in a town of people, 30 minutes outside of Abilene, it should work in Fort Worth. Also, when we first saw the plan for the Sundance Plaza, that gave us the impetus to say we needed to do one in Fort Worth."

Many excellent Texas were featured at the festival, but TX Blended Whiskey, founded by Leonard Firestone and Troy Robertson, was one if not the most buzzed about product pouring samples and dispensing a signature cocktail ("The Stetson," a modern take on a Brown Derby). Firestone and Robertson started developing the business five years ago, with the whiskey coming to market throughout Texas in 2012.  It opened out to Louisiana last October, and they're riding high on their Double Gold win at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition and recognized as Best Whiskey. There is also a bourbon in aging that is set for a launch next year.
   
   Leonard Firestone and Troy Robertson of TX 

Part of Firestone’s and Robertson’s strategy, of course, is to come directly to their target audience with an impression-making appearance. “We were very pleased to participate in Fort Worth's first food and wine festival because it was a great opportunity to share our award winning whiskey with a large number of new consumers,” said Firestone. “However, and perhaps more importantly, we were excited to be part of the festival's purpose, which is to prominently showcase all the culinary and beverage talent that we have in Fort Worth. A lot of people were surprised to find that there is so much world-class fire power here.”

In terms of building beyond Texas, the duo are taking a "leave them wanting more" approach in their marketing, which is proving to be quite effective.

"While we've gotten a lot of requests (to distribute outside of Louisiana and Texas), we've decided to stay close to home for now," Firestone continues. "We are careful about growing too quickly as we want to develop their product the right way in the Texas and Louisiana markets. We do hope to be in California and other states, and the reaction to the product outside Texas has been amazing so far, as we've gotten press from all over the U.S. and internationally. We've heard TX has gone to other states via Texas retailers who can ship out of state."

Besides scarcity and smoothness of this whiskey working in its favor, it also has a luxury niche of collectibility, thanks to its hand-crafted stoppers made from fine leather scraps from local bootmakers like Justin's and Leddy's.  

There are other hot local companies riding hot on TX's trail. Gompers Gin, which is distilled in Oregon and marketed in Fort Worth by Jessica and Michael Hart, has a body and flavor profile that appeals to gin and non-gin drinkers alike, especially with dominant pear notes.

"We used to drink a lot of different gins at home," says Michael Hart, who explains Jessica first suggested starting a distillery business. "Although we've got our favorites, we were inspired to create a gin that was smooth and flavorful enough to drink on its own or in cocktails. We have been making it for two years, and launched our bottles in November. The Fort Worth Food and Wine Festival, meanwhile, was a great way to introduce Gompers Gin to a large number of people who are interested in great food and great tasting spirits on the town and at home. This weekend, we poured our “Gomperita” and also offered club soda, Indian tonic and ginger beer.”

   
Longhorn Vodka  

Fellow newcomer Cinco Vodka and Longhorn Vodka are also enjoying out-of-the-gate success. Fort Worth-based Longhorn Vodka, founded by Matt Hawkinson and John Marcoux, is a gluten-free, six-times distilled vodka using white instead of yellow corn, imparting a sweeter, smoother finish that's not just ideal for fresh fruit and herb cocktails but also infusions. While they can be found at Goody Goody's, their rep mentioned they are looking to get into other states.

Austin-based Tequila 512 is an example of a Texas spirits company whose management believes its appeal extends far beyond its city limits. According to Sales Director Eric Rieger, participation in the Fort Worth Food & Wine Festival was a terrific success.  

“It was exactly what a new bootstrap effort company like Tequila 512 needs to let the fine people of Fort Worth and surrounding area know that our ultra premium tequila is available in North Texas,” he said. “This was an excellent avenue for us to not only share the story but to share the great taste of Tequila 512.  Tequila 512 has experienced steady growth over the 17 months that we've been available.  Events like FWFWF allow us to find a large cross section of people from North Texas that were previously naive to our existence.”  

Rieger ads that feedback from festival attendees was incredibly positive, as well as helpful for future marketing efforts.  
   
   Tequila 512


“We were able to point many of the festival-goers to their closest store selling Tequila 512,” he added. “However, others were taking our information so they could show their favorite stores what tequila they would like them to start carrying. For a young company, we need large scale revelation, and FWFWF gave us great exposure. We will have a better idea of how well that reach worked for us as we will monitor sales orders, etc. from the Fort Worth area. I can say without reservation that we are excited about our appearance in the 2015 FWFWF.”

You can mark your calendar for next year’s Fort Worth Food and Wine Festival, taking place March 26-29, 2015. In the interim there are still plenty of ways a mixologist or buyer can get acquainted with Texas' array of home grown spirits. The expansive liquor retailer Spec’s has locations all over the state, as well as a nifty web site (http://www.specsonline.com). The retailer carries a full selection of Lone Star State delicacies including, TX Whiskey, Gompers Gin, Longhorn Vodka, Deep Eddy flavored vodkas, and others prominently displayed and nicely merchandised spirits, along with a calendar of off-premise events.

Checking out local cocktail bars can also be both fun and informative, especially among those that have live music and their own cache of Texas' liquid gold. With many of the cocktail offerings, bartenders will oblige if you want to swap your go-to vodka out with Longhorn or Cinco, or your favorite Scotch out with TX Blended Whiskey. The classic Blood and
   
Sundance Square  
Sand at Spec's Jazz Lounge with TX becomes a whole new cocktail. Although Whiskey & Rye anchors the Fort Worth Omni hotel, a very respectable number of locals fill up the bar several nights a week.

"We feature all of the local spirits and others from elsewhere in Texas, and because we have so many visitors from out of town as well as a good sized number of regulars, our place is great showcase for our home grown Texas brands and regional cocktails," says Jacob Peters with enthusiasm. "Our goal is to make such an impression that people will take the cocktail ideas and the products back to their home towns and tell their friends."

Beverage director Thomas Turner adds, “We feel that Whiskey & Rye is very indigenous of the culture of Fort Worth, which is becoming recognized as the city of ‘Cowboy’s and Culture.’”

For more information, visit: www.fortworthfoodandwinefestival.com

 

Cocktail Recipes


     

The Brown Stetson

2 oz. TX Blended Whiskey
½ oz. Clover Honey
½ oz. warm water
1 oz. grapefruit juice (freshly pressed)

Combine and thoroughly stir TX Blended Whiskey, honey, water and grapefruit juice in a chilled mixing glass. Fill shaker with ice. Cover and seal the mixing glass with shaker. For 20 seconds, shake vigorously to mix, chill, dilute and aerate until completely cold. Strain into classic martini glassware and garnish with thin slice grapefruit.


Jalepeno Hop
Jacob Peters, Whiskey & Rye

1½ oz Tito's Vodka (Longhorn Vodka can also be used)
½ oz lemon juice
¼ oz agave nectar
muddled jalepeno slices (1 or 2)

Shake and strain over ice in a tall glass and top with Corona


The Depot
Jacob Peters, Whiskey & Rye

1¼ oz TX Whiskey
½ oz. Grand Marnier
½ oz lemon juice
4-6 muddled blackberries
1 Tbs sugar
Lemon-lime soda topper

Shaken and pour over ice, and top with lemon lime soda


Lone Star Sour
Submitted by Cinco Founder/Distiller Trey Azar

1½ oz. Cinco Vodka
¾ oz. simple syrup
¾ oz. lemon juice
2 slices jalapeno pepper

Muddle jalapeno slice in a mixing glass. Add the remaining ingredients and shake vigorously. Double strain with a small mesh strainer over ice into glass and garnish with lemon zest and another jalapeno slice.


Cinco Gimlet

2 oz. Cinco Vodka
¾ oz. simple syrup
¾ oz. lemon juice
Club soda
Mint or cucumber slice

Pour the ingredients except soda into a mixing glass and shake vigorously. Strain over ice into a glass, and top with club soda and garnish with mint or cucumber slice.


The Gomperita
Jessica & Michael Hart 

2 oz. Gompers Gin
1oz. Fresh Lime Juice
1 oz. Simple Syrup or Orange Liqueur

Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake and strain into Margarita glass with a salted rim. This may also be enjoyed on the rocks in a lowball glass.


Signature 512 Margarita

2 oz. Tequila 512 Blanco
2 oz. fresh lime juice
½ oz. light agave nectar (more if you like it sweeter)

Shake well and serve over ice. It's also great in large batches for a thirsty crowd.


512 Margarita con Naranja ("The Natural")

2 oz. Tequila 512 Blanco
1½ oz. orange juice
1 oz. fresh lime juice
½ oz. light agave nectar

Shake well and serve over ice.


512 Caliente

2 oz. Tequila 512
2 oz. lime juice
1 oz. orange juice
½ oz. agave nectar
1 thin slice of jalapeño

Muddle jalapeño in 2 oz of lime juice in a glass. Add Tequila 512 along with rest of recipe. Shake with ice, strain over ice.


512 Mexican Mule

1 oz. Tequila 512 Blanco
1 tsp. agave nectar
½ cup ginger beer
1 slice of lime
Fresh lime juice

In a glass, pour Tequila 512 Blanco over ice. Add agave nectar and lime juice. Top with ginger beer and stir. Garnish with a lime slice.


512-Pom-Bomb

2 oz. Tequila 512
1 oz. lime juice
2 thin slices of ginger root
¼ tangerine or clementine
2 oz. pomegranate juice
½ oz. agave nectar

In a glass, muddle ginger root, tangerine wedge and lime juice. Add 512, pomegranate, and agave nectar. Shake with ice, strain over ice.

Featured Spirits at the Fort Worth Food & Wine Festival


Treaty Oak Distilling
www.treatyoakdistilling.com


Firestone & Robertson Distilling Co./TX Whiskey
www.frdistilling.com


Cinco Vodka
www.cincovodka.com

Gompers Gin
www.gompersgin.com

Tequila 512
www.tequila512.com

Rahr Brewing
www.rahrbrewing.com

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