Rising trend of local distilleries coincides with popularity of TCU’s Science and History of Whiskey Course

According to the American Craft Spirits Association, the number of craft distilleries in America totaled 1,315 as of August 2016. This number, compared to 204 distilleries reported in 2010, represents a 544 percent increase of distilleries in the country, marking a dramatic shift in the presence of these establishments in America in recent years.

There are four distilleries in the Fort Worth area.

Firestone & Robertson Distilling Co. produces TX whiskey, Acre Distillery makes Longhair Jim straight bourbon whiskey, and the Trinity River Distillery crafts Silver Star whiskey. BlackEyed Distilling Co. LLC produces TreyMark Black-Eyed vodka.

After the rise in popularity and continued success of craft breweries, the craft spirit industry finally had its time. The difference, however, is the difficulty of owning and operating a distillery compared to a brewery.

Tony Formby, owner of Acre Distillery in downtown Fort Worth, said to get into distilling is a lot more complicated and expensive than the brewing business.

“It requires a lot more capital and the competition from the older establishments is rigorous,” Formby said.

The craft distillery trend can be attributed to a variety of causes. Dr. Eric Simanek, professor of chemistry at TCU, largely accredits the trend to changing laws and accessibility.

In 2013, Texas passed a bill enabling distilleries to sell their specialty products on-site. This act had been illegal since the 1920s, which halted growth for numerous distilleries.

Formby said one reason he decided to open the distillery was because of this new law.

“Local and in-state sales are the backbone of small, growing distilleries,” Maggie Lehman, associate director, American Craft Spirits Association, said in a craft spirits economic briefing. “They allow these businesses to survive the early difficult years of getting off the ground.”

 

Along with the continuous rising trend of local and countrywide distilleries, TCU recently designed a class focused on the history and science of whiskey.

According to the course syllabus, the class is designed to teach students the fundamental concepts in general and organic chemistry, biochemistry, molecular biology and engineering as they apply to the manufacture of distillates, as well as the historical context of some of these products.

David Livchak, a senior accounting major, said “Dr. Simanek does a great job of making otherwise tough-to-grasp information digestible for non-science majors.”

The rising trend of craft distilleries shows no signs of stopping. Harry Kohlmann, co-founder of Park Street said he foresees 2,500 distilleries in operation by 2020 during a presentation at a craft spirits economic briefing.