Glen Garden Transforms Into Whiskey Ranch

One of Fort Worth's oldest golf courses is now a whiskey distillery. Here's a peek inside.

As you enter through the guard gate, you will notice the 100-year-old golf course has a new name — Whiskey Ranch.

But, not to worry, the famous golf course is still intact and will remain one of the primary features of this unique 112-acre property that is now home to Firestone & Robertson Distilling Company. Owners Troy Robertson and Leonard Firestone wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I don’t think there is anything like this anywhere … a distillery set in the midst of a golf course,” Robertson said. “When we purchased the property, the Glen Garden memorabilia came with it. So, you will see memorabilia that tells the story of Glen Garden Country Club history blended with our own.”

Robertson and Firestone are both golfers so keeping the course and preserving its history were important to them. “We reconfigured four tee boxes and added two more holes to make it a full 18-hole course. It is now a par 67 golf course,” he said. “To be clear, we are not going into the golf business. We are in the whiskey business, but the course will be maintained and will be available for corporate use and private events.”

The setting of the new, state-of-the-art distillery and corporate headquarters is lush, overlooking a lake and dotted with crepe myrtles, cedars and oaks.

When Firestone & Robertson launched their TX Straight Bourbon last January, people stood in line for hours to get their hands on just one bottle. “We can’t bottle it fast enough,” Robertson said. This expansion means they can keep pace with the growing demand for their TX Whiskey and TX Straight Bourbon products.

The long lead time it takes to produce their bourbon cannot be rushed. Aging bourbon barrels for around four years requires a lot of space. Now they have plenty of it as well as room to grow.

The charcoal gray building seen as visitors arrive looks like it could be a new hotel or dormitory with rows of evenly spaced windows all around. That is the first Barrel Barn on the property (Barn A), and the windows provide the necessary ventilation along with natural light (the less electrical wiring the better when you have wooden barrels stacked to the ceiling).

Firestone & Robertson plans to build five of them as it continues to grow. Each Barrel Barn adds a storage capacity of 20,000 — 53 gallon barrels.

The main building, adorned with pergolas at its entry, is called the Ranch House, which is a stunning visitor center and event space. Guests will arrive to see details like a wall of basket-woven barrel staves and a backboard decorated with a colorful collection of Firestone & Robertson’s handmade leather bottle tops (one of the brand’s signature features). The welcome desk itself is a formed concrete counter perched atop whiskey barrels.

This flows into the retail space, the Ranch Store, filled with merchandise that has been curated from around the state of Texas and, of course, TX Whiskey and Bourbon for purchase, along with T-shirts, hats and all the rest of the F & R-branded accoutrements. Soaring wooden rafter beams with their decorative black braces blend with rustic reclaimed materials used for wall finishes.

Visitors can even design their own leather bottle top here to commemorate their trip or to give as a special gift.

The tour continues through a narrow corridor filled to the brim with bourbon and whiskey barrels. The design is a replica of what is inside the Barrel Barn (since touring that space is simply not practical). “It is a classic rickhouse [or rackhouse] design, allowing for maximum storage as well as proper airflow while aging whiskey,” Firestone said.

At the other end of the hallway, the racks of barrels open into The Tavern, a window-filled tasting room and bar, with its inviting patio beyond. This gives fans and first-timers a chance to sip and savor the distillery’s wares. The Tavern will house some inspiring Ben Hogan and Glen Garden memorabilia in recessed wall cases.

The same barrel-lined hallway also takes a right turn. This leads into the main event space, The Oak Room, which is a grand reception hall. It will host weddings and corporate events. The focal point is a floor-to-ceiling, tiered rock fireplace. Sealed concrete floors glimmer with the light from two round chandeliers and industrial metal pendant lighting overhead. The Oak Room can accommodate seating for 180 and opens onto a two-sided deck and covered patio, with additional seating space for 130.

The patio area, known as The Back Porch, wraps The Oak Room on two sides, one covered and the other open air. Each side has a separate fireplace and soaks up commanding views of the course and existing lake beyond. The course itself has been reconfigured so that the 18th hole now ends at the Ranch House.

Wrapped in reclaimed barn-wood finishes, the design of the deck gives a nod to the craftsman style of the original Glen Garden Club House, circa 1912. The design incorporated thoughtful elements like heavy stone bases supporting the wooden post beams, and classic stickwork beams. The original Glen Garden Club House has been retained and will continue to function as the Club House for the golf course.

A wide staircase with wooden rails leads down to Benders Lake, which will eventually have a dock overlooking the water. “We planned every aspect of Whiskey Ranch with a respect for the history of the area,” Firestone said.

When Robertson and Firestone bought the property, they didn’t know about one amazing secret Glen Garden was just waiting to reveal. While walking the grounds one winter day, they glimpsed something hidden behind decades of overgrown landscaping, through the leafless trees — it was a spectacular view of the downtown Fort Worth skyline.

They cleared away all the brush and trees to reveal that view. The entire layout of the property has been oriented to maximize it.

The Courtyard is surrounded on three sides by buildings (Ranch House; Stillhouse, the distillery; and what they call the Farmhouse, which serves as their corporate offices). It is lined with a grove of trees and has a cozy fire pit. Its lush, paved walkway leads guests toward that downtown vista and an open grassy bluff. The space is ideal for outdoor weddings and cocktail parties (tented or open-air) and easily accommodates several hundred people.

Lined up opposite the beckoning view, at the other end of The Courtyard, is the main attraction — Stillhouse, where the magic happens. The total covered space being utilized by the distillery itself is approximately 80,000 square feet.

Since a tour of Stillhouse will be the highlight for most visitors to Whiskey Ranch, like the rest of the property, an amazing amount of thought went into its design. “We want to hit all the senses on our tour,” Robertson said. To that end, Stillhouse is not just a functional, working distillery; it’s a gasp-worthy spectacle.

Two 19-foot-tall sliding barn doors open to another awe-inspiring view — a gleaming copper column still which stands 50 feet tall. That is over three stories in full view. “We had it installed so you can see the entire column, which is another unique feature. Most distilleries simply enclose it. But we wanted people to have that visual,” Robertson said. Grand staircases frame the space on either side.

The soaring column still was made by Vendome in Kentucky, and it is the first of its size (the largest west of the Mississippi). The column still has a viewing window (sight glass) on its pot. This still has the capacity to produce 40-45 (53 gallon) barrels per batch in a single eight-hour shift. Robertson says it allows them to make whiskey continuously, ensuring that production will never lag. Although they will not need to run the operation around the clock, they could.

Visitors to their first distillery, located at 901 Vickery Blvd. (simply referred to as “901” by its owners), are familiar with the copper pot stills in use. Whiskey Ranch has one large pot still as well (known as the doubler), and it has been fitted with an oversized sight glass so guests can get a peek inside.

Also on the tour is the Bottling House. Here you will find the Blending Room, the Bottling Room with two bottling lines, and the Storage Room, where the bottles are packed and readied for distribution. All blending and bottling operations for the company will be moving from “901” to Whiskey Ranch.

The company hopes that taking the tour will help educate the public about the process and all that goes into each bottle of TX Whiskey and TX Straight Bourbon. “People may not understand that you can’t rush it; you cannot accelerate the distilling and aging process. It’s a very sophisticated process to create something of quality,” Firestone said.

Every ingredient contributes to the flavor. “The grain we use makes a difference, and we source our corn and wheat exclusively from Sawyer Farms in Hillsboro, Texas,” Firestone said.

F&R developed its own strain of yeast, known as Brazos (captured from a Texas Pecan tree in Somervell County), and will be utilizing the four deep water wells on the property for its water source. These wells draw fresh water from the Upper and Lower Trinity Aquifers. The water in these aquifers is very rich in limestone, which is also great for whiskey distilling.

Standing out back, near their shiny new grain silos, the duo’s perfectionism was on full display. They pointed up at the maze of pipes leading from the silos toward the Stillhouse and explained that even the pattern of those conduit lines had been precisely engineered by Century Mechanical and installed for aesthetic purposes, to look as orderly and even as possible.

The grain passes from the silo to the mill room. Next it moves to the scale, then on to the hopper, followed by the cooker. Then it goes to the fermenter and finally on to the still.

Even though the back-of-house operations, like those more-tidy-than-average conduit lines, will never be seen or noticed by the public, every aspect was a part of their intended vision, and each one has been executed with precision. No detail of the operation, no grain of wheat nor kernel of corn, has been overlooked in the crafting of the entire campus of buildings.

Office space is located in what Firestone and Robertson call the Farm House. The reception desk is a custom design incorporating an opened and arched barrel. The flooring is reclaimed wood from old truck beds. The 1-inch-thick bed-lining is stained and worn, adding instant patina to the Farmhouse. Wainscoting on the walls comes from wood found at their Vickery distillery.

Firestone and Robertson worked on the design with David Tryba, of Tryba Architects out of Denver. Local construction firm, Steele & Freeman, along with architect of record, Hahnfeld Hoffer & Stanford, made their vision a reality.

“We never thought we would be this far, this quickly. Fort Worth has truly embraced us, but our success has been all organic … all word of mouth,” Robertson said. “It’s also a testament to the product. People like our product,” Firestone said.

“Texas is the second largest whiskey-consuming state, and nobody else was doing it,” Robertson said. “Whiskey actually ages best with heat and temperature fluctuation, so we thought the North Texas region ought to be a benefit in the process,” Firestone said. Their intuition has certainly paid off, and the Fort Worth-based whiskey distillery has a growing fan base to prove it.

Two years ago, the company expanded to markets in Oklahoma and Louisiana. And, just four months ago, it began distribution in Arkansas, Tennessee, Georgia and even New Jersey. With the new facilities at Whiskey Ranch, their distribution should finally be able to keep pace with the high demand for their products.

Whiskey Ranch is not just a corporate campus and production facility. The distillery was designed to welcome visitors and entertain gatherings in its event spaces. The intentional design and forward-focused permanence of the place are truly impressive.

The distillery, with its layout, amenities and killer views, is a testament to the long-term staying power of this up-and-coming brand. Firestone and Robertson plan to grow their brand’s own history on these storied acres for generations to come.

Whiskey Ranch is destined to become one of Fort Worth’s must-see tourist destinations. The investment that Firestone & Robertson have put into its new distillery and corporate headquarters is showcased here on a grand scale.