Heywood's Take: Whiskey

When your whiskey dreams die, you write about them. Here's Heywood's take on the industry.

As you learned on page 146, about three years ago, a couple of guys named Leonard Firestone and Troy Robertson decided to buy Glen Garden, a legendary country club located in southeast Fort Worth that was built over a hundred years ago. It just happened to be the place where a couple of young guys learned to play golf as caddies. You may have heard of them. Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan.

The club had been up for sale for quite a while, and all of us assumed the new owners were going to renovate the golf course. I didn't see a particular reason for doing that. After all, there are not many golf courses where you can drive all the par-5s. But that was not their plan.

Leonard and Troy wanted to create my favorite hole on any golf course. The 19th. Why? Because that's the one with a bar. But this 19th hole was going to be a little bit different. Those two weren't going to be serving alcohol. They were going to be making it. The name of their company is Firestone & Robertson Distilling Co., and they have only been in business since 2011. Their brands, TX Blended Whiskey and TX Straight Bourbon Whiskey, are two of the best whiskeys around. In fact, TX Whiskey was named "Best American Craft Whiskey" in 2013. That's quite an accomplishment in such a short period of time. But some of the best craft whiskeys and beers we have now also didn't take long to get started.

When I was growing up, I had dreams just like all my other little friends I hung around. Some wanted to be a fireman. Others wanted to be a policeman. I wanted to own a brewery. Still do. I think it'd be fun. (Hey, I was born premature and remained that way.) But I finally gave up on that dream when I couldn't seem to come up with the billions of dollars I would need to purchase one. But apparently some other folks shared my dream, and several years ago decided to just start making it themselves. They were originally called microbreweries because they were in contrast to macrobreweries like Anheuser-Busch and Coors. Microbreweries eventually morphed into the term "craft" beer. Of course the macrobreweries didn't pay much attention to them because they never thought they could compete for market share. They probably figured they'd have a harder time than Kim Jong-Un trying to reach for something on the top shelf. They couldn't have been more wrong. Witness the success of local craft beers like Rahr & Sons in Fort Worth and Revolver in Granbury.

There are over 4,000 craft breweries in the U.S. now, and their market share grows every year. So somebody figured that if craft breweries work, how about craft distilleries? Now one of the earliest craft distilleries in the United States popped up during Prohibition. In fact, you probably have one where you're living. It's called a bathtub. And because gin was the most popular drink back in the 1920s, it was called bathtub gin. It was a pretty nasty concoction of ingredients. The only reason it wasn't called kitchen-sink gin is because the bottles they used were too tall to be topped off with water from that tap, so they had to use the one in the bathtub instead. It was disconcerting to whoever was bathing at the time. Fortunately, Prohibition ended, and people didn't have to drink that nasty stuff anymore. It supposedly tasted worse than fat-free mayonnaise.

Craft distilleries only started taking off again when some folks started noticing the success of craft beers. In fact, there are already over 1,000 of them, with many located right here in Texas. Tito's Handmade Vodka comes to mind. And the growth rate for these distilleries is actually higher than the craft beer industry. Yep, some people are getting rich doing this with relatively little start-up capital. So who knows, one day I might try it, and my childhood dream will come true. But I don't care about getting rich. I just want to make enough money to finally be able to afford name-brand aluminum foil.

| illustration by Charles Marsh |